The Popularity of Purpose means Recognition of Responsibility

Warren Kinston 13. July 2012 18:00

Purpose is popular.  How times have changed.  And science can't take the credit.  People can. But is responsibility popular?  Is it obvious to you that purpose and responsibility are very nearly the same thing?

Probably not. (But correct me by commenting below!) As a result, I can't help but notice that this emergence of purpose into consciousness has not yet got very far.  Let me explain.

Purpose is like a three-sided coin.

On one side, purpose is the notion of something specifying a part of the future, and existing as an attractor that helps us get there and find it more or less as we wanted.

On the second side of the coin is the energy that purpose gives us.  It is directed energy—what we call motivation.  We are moved to pursue the purpose that we genuinely hold.  If I am not motivated by my purpose, it will be evident to others that I don't take the purpose seriously.  Even if I pretend to myself, it will never amount to much of a purpose. 

And then there is a third side to this coin.  A side that people are only half-aware exists.  A side that I still feel slightly uncomfortable and preacherly when I write about.  On this side, the coin is inscribed in large letters: RESPONSIBILITY.

I describe the 21st Century Enlightenment as being characterized by: 

awareness to complement reason (from the 18thC Enlightenment)
responsibility to complement freedom (from the 18thC Enlightenment).

But as I write this, I worry that people will think I am trying to dump obligations on them, that I want to interfere and curtail their freedom.  Not at all.

I am just pointing out that if you have purposes, if you have values, then as night follows day you have the responsibility to pursue those purposes, to affirm and apply those values.  I suppose I could have written: purpose complementing freedom (rather than responsibility complementing it) but that would be avoiding the issue.

Responsibility shows up in different ways in regard to purpose.

Just think about freedom and it is evident that this is not simply about liberty to move about or not be tortured by government agents.  Yes, I certainly want to avoid that but this is just too primitive a conception.  Nor am I free in some abstract sense without any meaning.  I want to be free to decide what I think is important and to pursue my own goals in accord with those values.  When I experience freedom by experiencing purpose that is truly mine, then I am filled with energy.  At the same time, I carry a responsibility to apply that energy in pursuit of that purpose.  So responsibility applies as much or more to myself as to others or wider society.  So responsibility is about being me—just the opposite of being interfered with.

The second aspect of responsibility relates to the quality of my purposes.  I only have one life.  Am I going to waste it on pointless purposes?  On simple items and things that give me a quick thrill?  Or am I going to set myself a challenge?  Should I select a purpose that gets my pulse racing?  That can make a difference.  That demands creativity.  That excites my friends.  I would certainly like their purposes to be like that.  So this is a responsibility too.

I emphasize responsibility for a third reason.  The biggest issue in setting any goal is staying the course.  It is so easy to give up, to be blown hither and thither by expedience, to be seduced off my position by the views of others.  It's hard to have goals and values, to be a person of principle.  So an awareness of responsibility can help you remain true to yourself.

You may recognize that you are much happier to hold other people responsible for sticking to what they say and plan, than you are to hold yourself responsible.  When you adjust yourself—adjust your reality—you know the good reason.  When others do the same, you don't care about the reason.  You just know you can't depend on them. 

Even if it seems that I can independently set my goals, it seems that I must recognize both my dependence and inter-dependence on others … what do you think about that?  



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21st Century Enlightenment | Purpose & Value

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Warren Kinston is the creator of the THEE-Online website as an open forum for the further discovery and development of THEE. He writes this blog as an escape valve for the excitement and frustrations of the work. More info here.

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