On the Art of Responsibility

Why not make a daily pleasure out of a daily necessity?

Peter Mayle

There are a number of reasons why I love reading Peter Mayle’s narratives of life in Provence. None the least of which is the culinary adventure that invariably takes center stage in every story. Three-hour lunches over bottles of rosé, assorted goat’s milk cheeses, and saucisson. Six-course dinners that would rejuvenate and revivify the weariest of souls. Peter Mayle makes me want to cook. To spend long, lazy days in the kitchen baking tarts, madeleines, making confit of summer vegetables, picking, chopping, and relishing in bouquets of fresh herbs from the garden.

But, I digress

Given the introduction, you may be wondering what on earth Peter Mayle and the accompanying quote have to do with a blog post on “the art of responsibility”. A lot, actually

It’s my experience that most discussions of responsibility center on stuff we need to do whether we like it or not. Fulfilling social roles, familial obligations, earning a living, suitably maintaining our health through diet and exercise, being conscious of and respecting others (whether we like them or not), taking reasonable care of our belongings, personal property, etc. And while these are all surely dimensions of responsibility, they are not what interest me here. In fact, I’ll go a step further and suggest that any definition of personal responsibility that only focuses on these things is woefully inadequate. Because it omits the obligation to be fully alive.

And for as many years as I’ve been writing about this topic—about what it means to be fully human, to cultivate our passions and potentialities, to engage fully, actively, and sensorially with our environment—I hadn’t thought to put it terms of responsibility. That is, I have a responsibility to be alive during the moments of my life. In fact, this is the greatest responsibility I have to myself. Not to be inert. Not to be passive. Not to engage in behaviors that dull or distract me. But to be alive

The basic step in achieving inward freedom is ‘choosing oneself.’ This…means to affirm one’s responsibility for one’s self and one’s existence. It is the attitude which is opposite to blind momentum or routine existence; it is an attitude of aliveness and decisiveness; it means that one recognizes that he exists in this particular spot in the universe, and he accepts the responsibility for his existence.

Rollo May

To my mind, per May’s definition, responsibility is an art, central to all others. It is the decision to be alive. To transform that which is necessity, that which is routine, into a form of enjoyment. Because when I choose otherwise, I am choosing a kind of inertia, a kind of blind acceptance. There is a major difference in attitude here between picking up our burdens and carrying them as a matter of responsibility and creating, or co-creating, the moments of our lives, much as an artist would. In the former, there is no possibility of joy, of gratitude, transformation, or creativity—the highest of human potentialities.

I have a responsibility to myself to be alive during the moments of my life. To use the life within me to beget a more creative life. To transform drudgery into play. To transform the necessities of life into ceremony, celebration. To accept suffering when it comes, while remembering that there is always a reason to be grateful. Indeed, to be fully alive is to be grateful. It is a move toward beauty and goodness. 

I like thinking this way. That I am my own source. That being the creator—that being the artist—of my life is not a luxury. It is an obligation. Quite possibly the greatest obligation I have to myself. Yes. Yes, I think so.

10 responses to “On the Art of Responsibility”

  1. Oh My! This is so so wonderful! There are so many things you have penned in this piece that make me want to run over to your house and sit down and talk about 🙂 Spot on, my friend. I love how you have made responsibility a beautiful opportunity to be active and creative in our own lives…tapping into our artistry that we are all born with…engaging with life with gratitude and active choice to pour into this world our unique fully lived life…soooo good, my friend. You made my day 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, my friend. I do believe we owe it to ourselves to live creatively–to fully engage and make something special out of the routines of our existence–to enjoy life, and that to do otherwise is, in some sense, irresponsible. I am so glad this post resonated. 🙂 Of the many different meanings of “responsibility,” I think we often forget the most rudimentary: to be alive and all that entails. I always enjoy reading your comments, and I hope you have a wonderful day!


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