Personal Responsibility

When making sense of societal problems, conservatives often emphasize individual-level contributors such as personal initiative and responsibility to manage one’s own life.  In turn, it is common for conservatives to accuse liberal policies of undermining personal responsibility by providing systemic excuses for personal weakness or failure that really need to be addressed by challenging people to be stronger/better/more motivated.  

By contrast, liberals often emphasize social responsibility and the role of the collective community in caring for individual needs - including as a way to make sense of recurring social problems. From this vantage point, there is  greater danger of ignoring the systemic factors than ignoring personal responsibility - with accusations commonly made of conservative policies that undermine collective support in the name of “personal responsibility.”

It is also worth noting that many strands of happiness research and the personal growth and spirituality movements emphasize that taking responsibility for one’s one mindset and outlook on the world is a key prerequisite to happiness.  Thus the Buddhist practice of mindfulness emphasizes learning how to control one’s awareness so that one is less reactive to the world.


Michael Strong

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