The Diffusion of Responsibility

There’s a reason that we say ignorance is bliss. Consciousness can often be a burden. Once you know what needs to be fixed in the world you can’t un-know it. Once you know, you feel burdened to fix, fix, fix. And then, once you decide that you will fix something, once you pick your causes, and you try in your own small way to shift the world from negative to positive— you realize that maybe your impact wasn’t as much of a ripple effect as you would have hoped. Not everyone has the same cause. Not everyone has the capacity for activism. Not everyone is a leader. And not everyone feels compelled to help others when their own lives are tearing open at the seams.

I think in some honest part of ourselves we all believe that someone else will pick up the slack. That there is a more passionate leader out there who will lead us in some crusade to save the world. I hate to sound like a cynic, but saving the world is a lot to put on one person’s shoulders— and when you’ve awoken to all that needs to change in this world, it can feel like nothing can be done. That you need unlimited resources of money, time, and will to make a difference. The reason we want someone else to do the work of saving the world is because most of us feel hopeless that one person— us!— can make a change.

I don’t believe it’s selfishness. I believe if we all had a clear path which would alleviate the suffering in the world, we’d more often than not take that path. Most of us vacillate between the belief that one person can make a difference versus the disbelief that they can. It’s difficult to hold out hope for a better world and to then take on the responsibility of creating that better world.

I know we want to point fingers and blame the people who are not helping, but what good does that do? Especially when it can seem hopeless that anything will change. Because, it always seems like there are people with more money and more power and more influence who are making decisions that we have to suffer the consequences of. We have to give up responsibility and instead demand accountability. It’s not us— the conscious, the aware, the ones who hope for better lives and better worlds and better conditions for this Earth— it’s the ones who are lawless and defy a greater accountability.

We all want to connect with others and sometimes going against the grain to shift things makes us feel isolated. It can be lonely to continually bring up situations that are emotionally taxing. It can eat away at your emotional and physical health to be consistently reminded of how much pain there is in the world— especially the type of pain that you, alone, cannot suppress. I think this is why we push the responsibility onto others, why we are not always as charitable as we believe we should be, and why the diffusion of responsibility can often mean that only a few people are caring about an issue that needs more widespread attention.

There’s a lot that needs to be addressed. More than can be dealt with in one lifetime. It’s not always easy to be the leader, spearheading reform and change. Other people need to make money, cultivate relationships, and generally live their lives in such a way that when there is time left over, it doesn’t always have to be for activism.

So, the next time we want to condemn others for the help they are not giving, I think we can instill within ourselves an understanding of their situation. I genuinely believe everyone is doing the absolute best they can. And, maybe our obligation is to help when things are good. To make our lives the best they can be so that we may pay it forward. Maybe the responsibility doesn’t land on our shoulders right away, but eventually. And, maybe that’s okay. Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Artwork by Michelle Favin of Whys LA for Poppy + Seed. Connect with her @whyslosangeles.

Comment