Thursday, February 26, 2009

Article 5 of 6: The Role of Responsibility

...Bo Short

“There is a price tag on human liberty. That price is the willingness to assume the responsibilities of being free men.” – Eugene Holman

When it comes to describing the importance of responsibility, I think Winston Churchill summed it up best. He said, “The price of greatness is responsibility.”

It’s that simple. Greatness is yours. It’s there. It’s within your reach. But you will never attain any lasting success unless you first decide to accept responsibility. We all need to assume responsibility for our successes and our failures. If we are not willing to shoulder the lessons of our own defeats, then we will never enjoy the euphoria of triumph. Stand tall, measure up, and claim the losses as well as the victories.

Every successful individual — entrepreneurs, business owners, athletes, musicians, artists, teachers and elected leaders will tell you winning means paying the price. And that price is responsibility. Real success requires that we take control of our destiny, that we stop letting life be something that just happens.

John D. Rockefeller, the great American industrialist, said, “I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity an obligation; every possession a duty.”

Look for a moment at the word “responsibility.” It combines “response” and “ability.” We each have the freedom to choose our response.

Proactive people recognize and accept their responsibilities. Truly accepting responsibility is like becoming a parent. Any healthy man can father a baby, any healthy woman can give birth. But having children means only that the work of becoming a parent has begun. The biological event is very different from the actual responsibility of being a parent — the love and commitment… the skinned knees and the dirty diapers… the faithfulness to homework and Little League… the sacrifices for music lessons and college tuition… the laughter and the tears. Accepting these responsibilities, ideally with love and grace, add up to earning the title, “mom” and “dad.”

It’s assuming responsibility for your successes as well as your failures. I grew up in Virginia right across the Potomac River from the Washington Monument. My father was Senator Strom Thurmond’s Chief of Staff. One day my dad and I were walking with the Senator. He was 96-years-old at the time. We were walking over to the 16th annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service in Washington, DC, right in front of the Capitol building. I asked Senator Thurmond a very simple question. I said, “Why is it some people succeed and other people fail when offered the exact same opportunity?” He looked at me and didn’t bat an eye. He said, “Because they don’t accept responsibility.” It was simple. Simply put, you have got to be responsible.

Responsibility Empowers You

America’s first seven astronauts were put through an incredible battery of tests as they prepared for their first mission into the final frontier. Some of the toughest tests were simulations of the launch and then re-entry into the Earth’s orbit. The astronauts were exposed to extremes in temperature, turbulence, g-forces, and other stresses that most of us would not want to experience.

The mission control staff conducted an important experiment involving responsibility. They constructed two simulators. In one, the astronauts were simply buckled into their seats and had no control over their surroundings. They were along for the ride, so to speak. In the other simulator, there was a switch, a simple toggle switch. If the stresses became too much to handle, the astronaut had the option of reaching out and switching off the simulator.

No astronaut ever even reached for the switch, let alone used it. But as the mission control staff monitored the simulations, they learned something really interesting about human nature. When they were in the simulator with the switch, the astronauts displayed lower blood pressures, lower body temperatures, and slower heart rates.

In other words, they were able to cope more effectively with the extreme stresses and pressures when they were given responsibility for controlling the test. The ability to accept responsibility over their surroundings actually relaxed the astronauts. They were empowered by it.

We’re the same way. Taking responsibility strengthens us. Obviously, life does not come with an on/off switch, we don’t have the option of saying, “Stop the world, I want to get off!” But taking responsibility for whom we are and what we do is a heck of a lot better than just being along for the ride. If we accept responsibility, then we help control our journey. The alternative is just to sit back and let life pass us by. If that happens, I guarantee that you will end up somewhere you don’t want to be.

I had an interesting experience in my own life that reminded me about the importance of accepting responsibility. I visited my old high school a number of years ago. I stood next to my old locker and when I looked up I saw my reflection in the window. I saw a man who was 40 years old. And this is what hit me; I have made a lot of great decisions in my life. I have made a lot of bad decisions.

But here’s the point ­— I’ve made decisions. Sometimes they were right and sometimes they were wrong. But I made the decisions and I accepted the responsibility for them.

Some people go through life and don’t make decisions. They keep putting them off. It always seems a lot easier to do that. So people put them off, life goes by, and then they die. Then it’s too late to make decisions and live with them.

Accepting responsibility when things go wrong is extremely important as well. Ronald Reagan had a sign on his desk in the Oval Office that said, “You can accomplish a lot if you don’t care who gets the credit.” So here’s my advice to you when you’re working with other people. If something goes right, give your team the credit. if something goes wrong, you accept the responsibility for it. People will respect you for doing it.

The most eloquent line in the Declaration of Independence is the last. It reads, “We mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” Let me repeat, “Our sacred honor.” That’s responsibility. We can’t have one without the other. With all of our rights, come responsibilities. Just as we have a fair claim on our rights, America’s sacred honor — our sacred honor — has a claim on us.

If you are a leader, if you are living to win, then you have an opportunity… you have a responsibility… to serve others. It’s our sacred honor.

As Americans, we live in a nation that is now the only superpower on earth, with opportunities for true national greatness. Let’s think a moment about the true measurements of greatness. We are obviously the strongest military power in the world. We have the greatest political influence. Economically, we are probably stronger than any other nation. We enjoy a tremendous amount of basic rights. So the question becomes, are we measuring up as a nation, which means are we measuring up as individuals, to our responsibilities? A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Are you contributing to the strength of our nation? You must. A strong nation rests on the rock of responsibility. Our sacred honor.

We are, each of us, beneficiaries of those who came before us — and not just those who served in the armed forces in times of war. They paid the highest price. Their mark stands forever. But we are all indebted for our institutions, our laws, our music, our paintings, our way of life to those who went before us. This nation just didn’t happen. The outcomes of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, and World War I and World War II were not pre-ordained. They didn’t have to end the way they did.

But people stepped up. They measured up. They took responsibility for the life of our nation and the rest of the free world. As Winston Churchill said, “We haven’t come this far because we are made of sugar candy.” And remember what else Churchill said, “The price of greatness is responsibility.”

One of the lessons of history is that we must appreciate what we have and accept responsibility for maintaining what we have… improving and perfecting it. I believe you have the opportunity to achieve greatness in your life. I know you can. I know you will achieve greatness by making decisions, accepting them, and moving forward. Make the tough decisions. Don’t let your life go by without making the decisions that will ultimately decide what your quality of life will be. You are too important for that, your family is too important.

Coming Next: The Role of Character in Pursuit of Success.