It’s not an obligation or a responsibility that anyone deserves by force


Over the past year or two, I’ve come across an incredible increase in articles and reports and stories with a common element at the foundation of whatever the issue. And that element is someone blaming someone else for a perceived lack of action.

Person A is mad that Person B didn’t… voice an opinion… make a donation… take a stand… whatever, fill-in-the-blank… to support a certain, for lack of a better definition, a certain cause.

And make no mistake… the charge is clear that Person A believes Person B had an obligation to act… a responsibility to act. And it almost seems that the lack of effort is arguably more important to Person A than the cause itself.

Most often the charges are made in areas involving origin, race, gender, religion, physical ability, sexual identity and age. We’ve all seen them… effectively the areas of discrimination… and I’m not looking to direct my writing here at a specific topic, so I’m going to purposely leave it vague and general for now. The concept though becomes an amazingly interesting part of this, because discrimination of any kind is… simply put… a very important, never to be taken lightly, inexcusable part of any situation.

Suffice to say I think in most cases the accusers… the Person A… are blatantly overstepping their bounds, and could likely use a good rap across the knuckles. (Not a punishing and damaging rap across the knuckles. Just a figurative, attention-getting, slightly-painful, awareness-raising rap.)

And with that, I mean… seriously… Person A needs to shut up.

While I am (always have been and always will be) a huge supporter of the theories involving personal responsibility issues, the reality is that no one is on the hook of indebtedness “just because” they fit a certain definition.

I am not obligated to support any politician.

I am not required to donate to a specific charity.

The list continues… and can cross into some fairly significant and serious areas. So to sum it up in mild terms…

Being from Rhode Island does not require me to order “a grinder and a cabinet” when I’m looking for a sandwich and a shake.

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There are certain things we all need. And perhaps you know the game. “If you found yourself on a deserted island, what…” and the idea usually involves ranking the importance of a list of items you can salvage from the wreckage of a plane or ship.

In the real world, the listing includes food, water and shelter. These are the essential needs. The ones we couldn’t survive without. (And if you ever do play that game, don’t underestimate that fragment of a broken mirror. Not the main point here though…)

I would contend that being required to act a certain way or agree with a specific point of view… for whatever reason… is not an essential need.

So right there… you don’t need to read any further… there is no obligation or responsibility for Person B unless it involves the requirements for life.

No “but”… no “what if”… and no exceptions.


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Is life ever easy?

Of course not.

I was reading a book by James Burke (I believe it was Connections: Alternative History of Technology). In it, as I recall, Burke explains how the origin of a civilization is essentially found simply in the ability of a group to produce food at a better ratio than one person providing enough to feed one person. Here’s what I mean…

If I have to spend all of my waking hours providing for those essential needs that I outlined a moment ago, then I will not have the ability to do anything else. Sleep… work on shelter, food, water… sleep… work on shelter, food, water… repeat.

It doesn’t matter if I am surviving on my own… deserted on an island… or living in a group of twenty, forty, or two thousand people. If providing for those basic needs takes up all of my time… all of our time… there is no way to expand into a civilization. All I’m part of is… let’s call it a survivalization.

But… if we can figure out a way so that twenty of us can do the work necessary to feed our group of one hundred… then we have something. Because now the other eighty people can work on producing goods and services, developing the arts, invest time in education, provide protection, and… hopefully you start to see where this is going.


Burke points to the plow.

For my argument though, we have now crossed a different line between Person A and Person B. Because my first argument was that Person B didn’t have an obligation to act in any fashion to the whims and desires of Person A.

The obligation is to survive.

Ahh… but being civilized. Perhaps that is a different story.

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I think we need to pause for a moment and allow a disclaimer.

There are certain responsibilities all of us need to share. I’m not positive I want to call them a legal responsibility, meaning following the law. That’s partly because I’m not trying to develop a strange definition of survival and obligations when it comes to legal ramifications. Mainly though, it’s because instead we are getting into what makes civilized living possible for all of us when interacting.

The difficulty in doing this is that a “live and let live” mentality doesn’t really cover it. What is normal and acceptable to you may not be the same as normal and acceptable for someone else. So while we need those laws… the organization, if you will, that keeps traffic moving and life balanced… the idea here is more allowing for the differences that are settled by offering another respect.

(Here ends the pause and disclaimer, and begins the transition to respect.)

When I was younger one of the funny sayings was that when you point a finger, three are pointing back at you.

I wish that applied here.

(It doesn’t.)

Unfortunately, we’re often faced with extremists, looking for attention, and they usually march to the drumbeat of their accusations. The problem isn’t that they live by what they preach… instead it’s that what they preach isn’t necessarily something others need to support.

I personally do believe that all of us should attempt to make the world a better place, as much as it is within our abilities to do. That may mean donating millions of dollars to a charity… that may mean volunteering for thousands of hours around a community… that may mean picking up a piece of paper off the ground and paying attention to recycling in the home.

The difficulty is that it’s not for me to decide what is best for you. It’s not up to me to determine your connections to society and civilization.

I can only hope that whatever decisions you do make, they are ones that allow you to be the best person you can be… that you sleep well at night and feel good about your contributions.

And in the end, I hope you recognize your extra efforts as a choice. We are all responsible for our actions. We all have obligations we must face to provide for those necessary elements of survival. None of us should be forced, threatened or shamed into action though.

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More often than you might think, the socially accepted right thing to do is not what every person believes should be done… and when Person B doesn’t agree with you, that doesn’t mean Person B has to change.

Notice I didn’t say Person B was being civilized. It doesn’t mean Person B is wrong (or right).

It simply means that the requirements… the obligations… of what a person must do and must not do, once we get past those essential needs of life and civilized living, should not be created by force.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at