Tag Archives: Responsibility

Becoming

There’s a poster in the bathroom at the climbing gym that says: Ask yourself if what you are doing today is getting you closer to where you want to be tomorrow.

I really like this. I am moved by it every time I see it, and I have seen it many times. It has pushed me to be a better climber: Do the pull-ups, go through the routine on the hangboard, take the lead fall. It has pushed me to stop running, climb more frequently, and dedicate an afternoon a week to core training. When I started climbing a few years ago, I knew I’d found something special, something that I really loved the way I hadn’t loved anything since I moved away from snow and left my skis behind. I want to be good at it and I have been working to make that happen.

The climbing gym has other inspirational posters (Sometimes stillness is harder than movement and Climbing is like dancing on the wall) that never fail to catch my attention but this is the one that speaks to me the most.

Ask yourself if what you are doing today is getting you closer to where you want to be tomorrow. Just last week I wrote this on the board for my grade 12 students. They are currently sitting their mock exams in preparation for their real AP and IBDP exams in May. Most students’ university acceptances depend on these exams and they are learning right now how prepared they are. So, this is a pivotal time. This is an opportunity for students to gain confidence in what they know and make adjustments to habits and patterns in response to what they don’t know. Are you, right now, doing what is required to get you where you want to be? There is force and agency behind this question, as well as the explicit onus of responsibility.

But there is a significance far beyond grades and university acceptances. There is the cold, hard fact that all of our actions have consequences. The choices we make, and we are constantly making choices, set us on certain paths and allow for different possibilities. This not only affirms who we are, whether or not that is who we want to be, but also lays the foundation for who we will become.

I’ve been thinking back lately to the understanding I had of myself and those around me when I was younger. Over time, I have met people who I look up to, admire, and still aspire to be like, years later. But I have also met people who have had quite the opposite affect. The memories of the words and actions of these people still send anger coursing through my body. Years and years later.

Part of our understanding of where we want to be, therefore, should come with an awareness of who we want to be around. We want to be around people who will lift us up rather than tear us down, people who will answer the phone far too late just because we called when it was far too late. We want to be around people who challenge us in constructive rather than destructive ways, people who give us room to grow. If we are lucky, we will also surround ourselves with people whose trust goes unquestioned, people who have already forgiven our trespasses. And when we find people like this, we should hope that we will know better than to let them go.

Where we are thus encompasses who we are, and who we are helps us make choices about where we want to be. I could not be planning yet another move alone to yet another country had I not made the choice to be the person who makes the most sense to me. And this choice has not come easily, which is also how I know it is right. The life I am living is a life I never could have imagined and I would have laughed at anyone who told me three, six, or ten years ago that this would be my world. Thinking back to what I thought I wanted, and thinking ahead to what I dream about, is sometimes a masochistic exercise fuelled by hard liquor and late nights. But this is the driver of change. Ask yourself if what you are doing today is getting you closer to where you want to be tomorrow.

And according to an artist whose work I bought many years ago when it brought me to tears: If you want something you have never had, you must do something you have never done.

East Coast Park, Singapore – March 2021

What is it with people?

I moved apartments at the end of July and I now live an easy bike ride away from school. I often ride in the company of a friend who lives in the neighbourhood. As we rode in this morning, my friend asked, “What is it with people? Do they actually not care or do they really not look?”

It’s a good question, one that I ask of myself and of others with some regularity. Let’s explore further.

“What is it with people? Do they actually not care?”

Care is a verb. As I have written similarly about love and about giving, it is very important to understand this. Caring means acting in a way that is responsive to those around us. I actually disagree with the standard dictionary definition here, which suggests that caring is a feeling or an action.

A feeling is not enough. To care is a verb and verbs are actions.

We cannot claim to care if we then proceed to do nothing, though unfortunately I think this is often the case. I suspect that for many people, feeling is enough. A moment of pause in their own lives while they look in the general direction of someone else and then right back to normal. After all, how often do we hear, “I do care but I just can’t do anything about it”?

I think this is wrong.

Again, caring is an action. True caring requires something from us, some sort of participation that goes beyond personal acknowledgement of a situation. We don’t need to donate a kidney to the next person who walks by in pain, but if we claim to care about people, it’s not too much trouble to look them in the eye and genuinely ask, “How are you?”.

Interestingly, however, there is a lot of literature about “self-care” out there and we’re pretty clear what we mean in regards to ourselves. We do what makes us feel good because we want to do it. It only makes sense to apply the same to others, but we don’t stop to think about what others might need. We are too wrapped up in our own minds for that.

Do some people actually not care? Yes, I think that is the case. Care is one of those words we have thrown around and we have neglected what it actually means. We talk about it but we don’t act on it. This is a problem.

“What is it with people? Do they really not look?”

I know a lot of people who use “being busy” as an excuse for their myopia. The problem is that this excuse becomes our way out of interacting with anyone or anything not directly related to our personal wants and needs. We avoid looking because looking would mean that we have to do something. And if we turn away, who are we? We aren’t willing to go here.

Not looking is an active choice to disengage. This choice is indicative of indifference to those around us, and both history and life experience teach that indifference is at least as harmful as outright harm. Sometimes, people really don’t look. Sometimes, people really cannot be bothered. This is a problem.

Likewise, it is common to assume other people will look, perhaps people who better understand a situation or who have been around longer. The argument might go, “Perhaps I’m not the right person to get involved.” Well, why not? Who is? It is also easy to deny responsibility with excuses like, “It’s just not my place to intervene.” Well, what is your place? How would you like to be treated in this situation if roles were reversed? You are now culpable.

We could go down a rabbit hole of hypotheticals here and if we do that, the principle must remain. For instance, if you see a child drowning, do you jump in? Psychology would say that you’re more likely to act if you’re alone than in a crowd of people, but I think this one is pretty easy. Yes, you see the child and you jump in. Are other situations so different?

How do we fix this?

I admit that this post is largely negative and I’m sorry about that. My friend’s question on our ride to work really got to me because I really do try to make the world a better place. I really try to do the right thing and to be involved even when I’d rather not be. This is true in a variety of situations, from answering the phone call or message that will likely lead to a very late night to approaching an administrator when I have concerns about a colleague.

Doing the right thing matters.

How do we make the world a better place when people refuse to acknowledge that there’s anything amiss at all?

Here is what I can suggest:

  1. Decide what matters to you and live according to those principles. Become the person you uphold in your mind as a good person.
  2. Understand that everything you do is a choice and make choices based on your principles.
  3. Hold yourself and others accountable to what has been said and done. Ensure that what is done aligns with what is said.
  4. Treat people well. Think long and hard about what that means and act accordingly.
  5. Do the hard work to do the right thing because these are the things that matter.

For a long time, I’ve collected quotes that I’ve come across in any number of places. I don’t remember where I first read the motto of Jainism, but I think it fits well here. Allow me to close with that.

Parasparopagraho Jivanam – The function of souls is to help one another