Responsibility is the ability to respond to a situation or circumstance and not just react. At least that is my definition. In my devotion this morning, it was about abandoning blame. I’m always leery of those who eschew what they consider to be ‘blame.’ Especially when the one railing against it appears abusive or oppressive. That type of stuff can quickly devolve into victim-shaming, excuse making, and an overall lack of accountability.
Part of taking power back after someone hurts, abuses, or objectifies us, is the difficult work of taking responsibility for our own circumstances – whether we created them or not. As a victim of abuse I understand the psychological hurdles that must be overcome. We may identify root-causes but at some point we have to determine how we will respond. Injustice is not fair! Sounds redundant, I know. But the point I’m trying to make is that we live in a corrupt, unjust, fallen world. Injustice is not surprising. So if it is not surprising then we can in some ways prepare ourselves for and bolster ourselves against it. We can be responsible – that is able to respond.
This got me to thinking, about my people… Black people… I got a question for us…
What things help us to be response-able?
The more we know about something the better equipped we are to respond to it.
There are some circumstances that befall us all that we did not ask for or create – such is life. C’est la vie!
The fact that we did not cause or create our circumstance, does not absolve us of the reality that we still (and always) have choices to make. This is not to say that our ‘choices’ are easy or palatable but we must make them! We didn’t cause or create ‘it’ but we must control our responses. C’est la guerre!
How we respond to our circumstance determines whether or not said circumstance defines us or drives us – we choose the direction.
We can learn from our suffering. We can instrumentalize it (I know that sounds like a made-up word but you get my drift). Our suffering may well temper, refine, and strengthen us – that is give us the tools to overturn – that is to create the revolution that finally conquers and dismantles the very systems (people, circumstances) that wounded us.
Response Ability? The ability to respond.
My inclination to demand personal responsibility from the people I love and serve does not undermine or preclude the need to address the corrupt systems and structures that place and keep people in bad situations. Don’t misread me.
These words are actually half of a conversation that I must constantly have as a black preacher. I must speak truth to power, but I must also speak truth to my brothers and sisters:
The system is not fair. The deck is stacked against us. It was not created for us or by us.
We’ve got to live and function in this system.
Faster, smarter, stronger, wiser, more ethical – that is the demand – we must accept this responsibility. Fair or not, we must respond. The legacy of our ancestors bears witness.
We are greater than this system.
While we work to reform the existing system, we must also work to create alternatives for ourselves – this is a very long game – and it will not afford an ‘either-or’ approach. While we seek to reform and exploit this existing system, we are actively engaged in erecting a new system. Why?
We are better than this system.
We must be willing to do what’s necessary for the protection and prospering of our people – for the future of our families and children, and for the advance of our communities. We must pursue every avenue that will promote this good.
This was never the goal of the existing system.
We must invest every ounce of our social, political, intellectual, artistic, and spiritual capital in advancing the cause, restoring the dignity, and liberating the bodies, minds, and spirits of our people.
We must be bold and courageous in speaking truth to power. We must be tough and unsentimental in demanding responsibility from our brothers and sisters.
We must do both in the name of love. Because we believe.
GOD is greater than this system.