“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” Eleanor Roosevelt.
Living the value of responsibility is about being answerable or accountable for things, such as our behaviour, over which we have control.
Jane, my wife, and I love going out to explore the countryside on our bikes, along the track around Rutland Water. It is a privilege we never take for granted, giving us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the beauty of the natural world. Some days we are lucky to see ospreys circling overhead. During April our spirits are lifted by the majesty of the bluebells, as we ride past ancient woods.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, the cycle track was closed to visitors. It recently reopened and we were thrilled to once again cycle our favourite track. We were not alone in returning to experience the tranquillity and beauty of the natural environment. As we returned from one of our local rides, Jane asked me how many plastic supermarket bags, filled with rubbish, I had seen left along the track? She wondered why visitors hadn’t had a sense of responsibility to take home their rubbish? We both find it difficult to get into the mindset of people who visit a place of outstanding beauty, yet do not take responsibility for disposing of their own rubbish.
Responsibility begins to form and take root in our early childhood; through the learning experiences our family and school give us, as we are introduced to the world and its natural riches. Responsibility is experienced through access to a curriculum based on first-hand experiences, which invites the child to see that they are an intricate part of the whole and not separate.
Sadly, an increasing number of parents have not been educated in this way, as school systems have been shifted by political pressure, to ones that value data, based on a narrow range of numerical and literacy outcomes. Schools are implicitly discouraged from giving children the “basic” experiences, which will make them responsible citizens. They have not been encouraged to develop values awareness in children, so that they see the link between their behaviour and the general welfare of others and the planet.
However, there is a growing renaissance of understanding about how children best learn; how we as parents and schools should support their natural development, which among many things helps them to be responsible citizens. I have been reading about the inspirational teaching of Vasily Sukhomlinky, who inspired a generation of teachers by his ability to connect to the internal world of his pupils, enabling them to grow into humane, well educated citizens. I would recommend to you his book, My Heart I Give To Children. Sukhomlinky’s work is set in a different context from the one we experience in 2020, yet the principles he advocates are poignantly relevant today.
I am convinced that in order for the world to change, we have to change first: change means taking responsibility for ourselves. As Victor Frankl reminds us in his book, Man’s Search For Meaning: “Between the stimulus and the response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.” Awareness of the “space” gives us the opportunity to take responsibility for our thoughts and our actions.