Sunday, May 12, 2019

Accepting Responsibility

Life can only be understood backwards;
but it must be lived forwards

Søren Kierkegaard
While in university, many decades ago, as part of first year studies at a university that believed in a well-rounded education, I took my first humanities course; Ancient Near Eastern Studies. While I had never enjoyed a history class before, this was a revelation. In retrospect they were right to require such a course in a bachelor of arts program; it turned out most of what I studied of value while at university had nothing to do with mathematics, and I ended my stay there with a  bachelor degree, major in mathematics and minor in humanities. At any rate, in second year I studied existential thought. Required readings included Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling and The Sickness Unto Death along with some of Sartre's writings. 

Under the heading of wondering where ideas come from, I intend to re-read some of Kierkegaard's writings, if only to see how closely the author's understanding of religion and submission to a higher power parallel my own (or vice versa, I suppose). 

A couple of things that I took away from those readings years ago stand out. First, they reinforced my belief that, although the religious in society didn't want you to accept this, one isn't less of a Christian if you keep your devotion private. In fact, the true Christian is privately devoted first, and publicly devoted second - if at all.

The other thing I took away is that one should accept responsibility for the consequences of their decisions. Perhaps I should have found more balance in this part of my education. As a people-pleaser, taking responsibility came way too easily to me. In retrospect, it would have been a good thing for me to have given some blame to others. I might even have showed anger (heaven forbid) at their behaviour as a way to clear the air. A good argument might have made some relationships stronger. Sadly, you can't go back and fix things. 

It seems to me that a positive result of being determined to take responsibility through one's life is a fearlessness when contemplating consequences. Because you have faced and accepted tough situations without blaming others, you tend to be more decisive when facing choices. Oh, I always gather as much information as possible, but when my mind is made up, it takes me no time to act.

In the future* I intend to remember that taking all the responsibility for situations and being decisive aren't necessarily ways to make lots of friends, in fact you may lose some.

*I've heard the phrase "Going forward" used instead of "In the future" so often lately that it came to mind. I really dislike that phrase but I'm not sure why. 


  1. Hello Deanna;

    In la mode Kierkegaard, I will work backwards through your post. I also dislike, with a passion, the expression 'going forward.' It may have originated as a soccer expression, and that damns it for me. It also is a non-expression as far as I can see, being one of those unthinking examples of useless sentence-fillers.

    One must be careful when taking responsibility that one does it for the right reasons, and I know you are aware of this. I never was a people-pleaser but did feel rather sorry for myself on occasions. [I've done my best for my alcoholic, why doesn't she .....etc.] Yet my two principles in life, for a very long time, were duty and responsibility. Unfortunately, those principles took me a long way down before I learned [not 'learnt' - another bugbear of mine!] the right kind of responsibility, for myself not for 'them'. It becomes too easy to play the victim.

    Finally, I felt quite an uplift when I read your section on being a Christian. I do not claim to be a Christian, mainly because I doubt that the Church or its adherents would accept me as such. Further, I do not know what defines a Christian. Yet I have to say that my commitment to the Christ is strong. If it were not so, what have I been struggling towards all these years? Maybe I should review my the forthcoming future. [Of course the future is forthcoming! But I dislike the word 'upcoming'.]

    I hope my comment has not been too much about me, me, me. Your post did strike a deep chord within me, and offer something that I feel I have lost.

    1. Hello Tom,

      Reading what you think about these things is, for me, what the comment area is about. After all, I already know what I think. Further, reading your thoughts usually gets me thinking even more interesting things! It warms me to think that the impulse to write this might have been a response to a need beyond my own vanity. An acquaintance from years ago (who didn't know I wrote blogs) told me that she would never read a blog because they are all "me, me, me, ... I did this.. I did that..." Sometimes she is right, of course.

      On the subject of claiming to be a Christian, I find it difficult when someone asks me if I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Saviour. Such phrases seem to diminish the thoughtfulness of that process of finding the Christ; as though one is suddenly washed by the spirit and without any introspection one finds themselves transfigured. These door to door Christians and I are unlikely to have much in common. It is much easier to say no, and allow them to beat a retreat from the heathen they have accidentally spoken to.

      And, as a final reflection - working backwards, learning to allow others responsibility for their actions without assigning blame is a difficult lesson. Perhaps the lesson is that sometimes we cannot control a situation, and it is best to just let it go.

  2. Hi Halle,
    I think your takeaways might be a bit more in tune with the existentialist’s movement in general rather than specifically Kierkegaard. For he was also a dour Lutheran who took an active interest in church affairs to which he was a critic. He was also a fervent critic of St Paul who he believed substituted his man made GOD for the one described in the synoptic gospels. Of course the death of most of his siblings into early adulthood profoundly affected him and his search for meaning. As you no doubt appreciate in 'The Sickness unto Death, in this dense work he articulated the idea of a spiritual sickness.
    I found the most helpful way to view his work was to understand thoroughly his synthesis; that is the various factors of being that he postulated make up our existence, married to his so called unconditional. The is the existential way out of the sickness.

    That also involved, as you might recall, his non-rational leap in faith, as in 'Fear and Trembling'.

    But to get some relevance for his philosophy wherever the word GOD was used I outlined the possibility we can always substituted the word CAUSE. This was appreciated by those not religiously disposed in the class I ran last year covering the existentialists. That was a good tip from Hubert Dreyfus on his line u Tube series that covers his tutorials for several hours.
    Sartre on the other hand was a different kettle of fish, whose radical idea of freedom, was encapsulated in his idea the minds consciousness before itself was a nullity. That gave rise to the ultimate responsibility of mankind. Like all philosophers there will always be some fatal flaws, but studying these ideas always provides fresh food for thought.
    Best wishes

    1. It is the fresh food for thought that most interests me at this time of life. However, I do appreciate your suggestions as I approach Søren's works afresh.

      Thank you LIndsay!


  3. Hi Deanna,
    In case you want a good starting point here is the reference to the Dreyfus tutorials. There are 4 in total.

    But bear in mind I am a bit of fan of Dreyfus.
    best wishes