Responsibility is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “something that it is your job or duty to deal with”. The Dictionary.com describes it as “the state or fact of being responsible, answerable, or accountable for something within one’s power, control, or management.” And the Merriam Webster talks about “the quality or state of being responsible: such as moral, legal, or mental accountability”
As always, nuances help to understand the evolution of the meaning given to a word.
Another way to look at a word is by digging into a thesaurus. There the Merriam Webster suggests three options:
“blame, fault and liability” when responsibility refers to “the state of being held as the cause of something that needs to be set right”
“burden, charge, duty” when responsibility is understood as “something one must do because of prior agreement”
And when responsibility refers to the “worthiness as the recipient of another’s trust or confidence” the synonyms named are “dependability, reliability, or trustworthiness”
The first group of synonyms looks at responsibility from a cause and effect point of view. And more precisely, it is focused on situations in which the effect wasn’t the expected one. The second group of synonyms takes the idea that responsibility describes something that has been agreed upon. The last group of synonyms is there to describe the relationship that led to the agreement.
Taking all three together, it becomes clear that the mechanism we see nowadays has little to do with rationality.
Whenever a trainer steps down implying that he is taking the responsibility for the losses, whenever a politician assures that he is taking the responsibility for the situation, people are actually fending the blame and aspiring to reinstall their trustworthiness.
What’s rarely discussed is what the agreed burden could be or has been.
Taking responsibility has become the idea of omnipotence. It’s the assumption that their actions should have guaranteed success.
It’s a fine line.
One that favors running away instead of investigating the situation. One that prefers having someone to blame instead of allowing oneself the time to deal with deception and frustration.
Why learn then?