I wrote this essay for the FT essay writing competition last year. OK, so it wasn’t very well thought out – “to make everyone just a little bit nicer” is so very British and not at all cutting edge. Not surprising I didn’t even get an acknowledgment of receipt. So, prompted by a Blogcatalogue discussion, I share it with you now.
American poet Maya Angelou writes that she takes responsibility for the very air she breathes and the space she takes up. Like Angelou, most people have some sense of responsibility. Maybe we have a subconscious list detailing what falls into our own areas of responsibility and more importantly what our own level of responsibility is. If I could the change anything I would raise the level of responsibility felt by each individual on this planet.
As an example, our own children learning to walk may score a 10 out of 10 on the responsibility-ometer, and an elderly parent needing some support at home maybe an 8. Someone in our community (but not personally known to us) who has suffered a loss may only score a 1 and be seen largely as someone else’s responsibility.
These ratings are personal and have tended to vary according to our own involvement - having a sense of responsibility for local drug addicts leaving syringes in the kids play area, will often depend on whether we have kids ourselves. If it directly affects us, we care. We act.
But we are being asked to change this. As global citizens we can be asked to give to earth quake victims in far flung places, and lobby our MPs on the threat of rising sea levels. Although we might not see the benefit from buying local fruit as opposed to bananas flown in from thousands of miles away, we are beginning to see that our choices have a ripple affect often far beyond our own experience.
On this wider level we are readjusting our sense of responsibility, but this needs to be in effect right across our lives. Everything matters. Over recent decades our species has looked more seriously at issues such as equality, rights, prejudice and the human affect on planet earth. But in tandem with this has been a sense that someone else will take overall responsibility, and as individuals we are not accountable. Perhaps we have become too disconnected with our actions to realise that everything we do, say (and buy) will have an impact on someone (sometimes someone picking bananas on the other side of the planet).
Martin Dickson says in his article that kicked off this competition that he would change the negativity of people towards media and quite persuasively argues that the media are but a mirror on society. However if the media where to tweak the dial on it’s responsibility gauge it would see that just giving the customer what it wants can in some circumstances propagate a wrong.
If our sense of internal responsibility were increased we might dig further into our pockets to give to the homeless, but we would also feed our children well and not blame the TV for promoting unhealthy options. We might buy products with less packaging and not blame local councils for their recycling policies.
And responsibility needn’t be a chore. As Kissinger said, “People think responsibility is hard to bear. It's not. I think that sometimes it is the absence of responsibility that is harder to bear. You have a great feeling of impotence”.
If I could the change anything I would raise the level of responsibility felt by each individual on this planet. What I seek is to up the levels. Raise the stakes. So whilst some will diligently separate their tins from their glass, some will consider carefully the affect their job, actions and even words will have on others. Perhaps a generic raise in responsibility levels wouldn’t bring many of us up to Angelou’s level. But whilst a minor global lift in feeling may not see people sensing the responsibility for the air they breathe and the space they take up, it may help them be better parents, friends, lovers, employees and ultimately happier.
I can quite see why my entry wasn't considered, but there you have it. Let's all be a bit nicer.
Love from a True Brit x