Greenleaf writes: …responsibility is a necessary condition for the wholeness and fullness of life, and he who cannot assume it may be denied the greatest opportunity which life offers to anyone: to be a whole person…

…if a relationship were to change, the one who ‘first’ saw the necessary basis of attitudes clearly had the obligation to hold those attitudes as if they were real, and behave accordingly. This is the root of responsibility, responding to the obligation which seeing the opportunity first imposes. [This is] a character-building, responsible act by the person who performed it.

Greenleaf reminds us that we have Choice. For example, will I Choose to be responsible? More importantly, will I choose to be unconditionally response-able? Do I believe that in any situation I have a choice as to whether I will embrace being response-able and responsible? There are also times when ‘being responsible’ also means that I will choose to be appropriately reactive. My charge is to prepare myself so that I am able to choose when to appropriately respond and when to appropriately react. In addition to preparing myself, I must also choose to be awake and aware and intentional and purpose-full – my commitment to these also helps me decide whether to respond or react; to be responsible. First-Responders, for example, intentionally and purpose-fully prepare themselves so that in a given situation they are able to choose whether to respond or to react (they need to be awake and aware in order to do so – think of the police officer who was not awake and aware and reacted by shooting an innocent person).

What might Greenleaf mean when he writes that choosing to be responsible is a ‘necessary condition for the wholeness and fullness of life’? What does it mean ‘to be a whole person’? An excellent book that can help us understand is Parker Palmer’s ‘A Hidden Wholeness.’ For me, ‘wholeness’ involves nurturing more than depleting the five dimensions that combine to help me develop into a healthy human being. I call this S.P.I.E.S. For me, the first and most important dimension is my Spiritual Dimension (for some, Spirit Dimension resonates more than Spiritual does). For others one of the other dimensions is the most important. For some the Physical Dimension is the most important, for others it is the Intellectual Dimension, for some it is the Emotional Dimension and yet for others it is the Social Dimension (we are, after all, inherently social beings – we are truly interdependent). No matter which is preferred or dominant, we need all of them to work in harmony if we are going to experience ‘being whole.’

Greenleaf also notes that our ‘attitudes’ are crucial. We are charged with discerning the attitudes we have integrated and the ones that are ‘response-ability and responsibility nurturing’ are the ones we are to live into and out of. We choose to be response-able and responsible in this way no matter what the other does. In fact, Greenleaf notes, that in living into and out of certain attitudes that the other will, over time, more positively respond or react to us. By choosing to be responsible we more fully ‘build our character’ in healthy ways.

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