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Responsibility is a walk in the park

It’s early morning in New York’s Central Park after a heavy downpour yesterday. The smell after the rain is intoxicating.

As I pass a carpet of emerald lawn, I notice a man in the distance with a stick and a bag. On closer inspection, he is collecting small pieces of litter left over from the day before with a long pair of pinchers.

Around the next corner I find a group of ladies tending a flower bed. On the back of their overalls I read ‘Volunteer’.

And when I reach the famous ‘Mall’, an avenue lined with magnificent Elm trees and built wide enough for carriages of old, a man in front of me carries a large bag of recyclable waste on his back.

And with that begins another day in Central Park as runners, cyclists, people of all ages arrive. And with them all manner of excited dogs, followed by their besotted owners, poop bags at the ready.

A travel booklet points out that since most people in New York don’t have a back yard, Central Park is everybody’s back yard, all six square kilometres of it.

It wasn’t always like this

But it wasn’t always like this.

New York’s ‘clean up’ and drop in crime during the 1990s is “one of the most remarkable stories in the history of urban crime,” according to University of California law professor Franklin Zimring.

In the 70s, 80s and 90s the city was crime-ridden. Many parts of the inner city were dirty and full of litter. The trains were not safe. Urban open areas were filthy and unattractive. Photographs from the 70s show New York taxis next to overflowing garbage cans with litter on the streets.

The beautiful Bryant Park on Avenue of the Americas, where you can now enjoy French coffee and pastries as you recharge your phone in the sockets among the ground cover, or lounge on the lawns, used to be an open-air drug market.  

Central Park itself was given a face-lift and supervisors were allocated to different areas of the park to maintain what they had created. There are now a happy band of people on foot and in golf carts maintaining the park with pride.

New York is now one of the safest cities in the world as a result of committed work by public and private agencies and the people themselves.

It is an example of what can be achieved when responsibility is driven at all levels of society.

A Statue to Responsibility

I had a conversation with someone in the United States who was involved in raising funds for The Statue of Responsibility, driven by the Covey Foundation.

‘We have the Statue of Liberty’, he explained to me, ‘but what we need now is a statue of responsibility. With liberty comes responsibility’.

The project was first envisioned by Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist who survived the horrors of the concentration camps.

His book, Man’s Search for Meaning, remains a classic of 20th century literature.

In his book, he wrote:

“Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness”

He recommended that The Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.

The statue and its surrounds expect to open to the public in the Spring of 2023. Conceptual drawings show that it will be the same height and size as the Statue of Liberty.

‘We have rights!’

‘We have rights!’ is a common refrain by people all over the world.

A light-hearted post on social media shows someone holding a banner claiming free housing free medical care and free education.  On the picture alongside it, a relaxed farmer with a straw hat, his face weathered by the sun, says in the caption: ‘Have you tried prison?

My morning in Central Park reminded me again of the power of instilling a sense of responsibility in a city and its people. And if we could do this in our private and public world, how many things could change.

I believe that if we all start by taking responsibility for the small things that we do have control over, we can enrich our lives, our careers and the world around us.

The truth is that you do have rights, both in your work life and as a citizen of the world.

Here are just some of them and what you can do to enjoy them.

You have the right to be here

You have the right to be here as much as every other person on this planet.

Your right to be here is not dependent on your looks, your intellect, your family history, your education or your wealth.  The only qualification required is that you were born into this world.

That means you don’t need to be apologetic about being here. You don’t need to act like you are ‘less’ than other people in some way. You don’t need to apologise for having a dream and for enjoying the opportunities that life has to offer.

But the right to be here has a responsibility too.

We have the responsibility to make a contribution, to do what we can to help make this world a better place. You don’t have to build a statue or change the world single-handedly.  You simply have to do what you can, day by day, to make a difference.

The Dalai Lama said: ‘If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito’.

How do you want to make a difference?

You have the right not to be discriminated against

You have the right not be discriminated against on account of your age, gender, race, sexual orientation or indeed any other reason.

That means you don’t need to be apologetic for who you are. We all have many choices in life, but how we arrived on this planet is not one of them.

With that comes the responsibility to not discriminate against other people for any arbitrary reason. It’s so easy for us to judge other people, make assumptions about them and treat them differently because they are different to us.

Is it time for you to reject discrimination from other people?

You have the right to speak up

You have the right to speak up and to share ideas.

Increasingly the workplace seeks innovation, collaboration and contribution. But none of that is possible if we don’t share ideas and opinions and invite others to do the same.

You don’t have to be older or more qualified or more experienced before you can share your opinions and ideas. Just give up always having to be right or to have the final word.

Our responsibility of course is to allow other people to speak up too without having to agree with them.  Sometimes the best ideas come from the most unlikely people when they are given an opportunity to contribute.

Is it time for you to speak up?

You have the right to feel and express your feelings

We are emotional beings and our emotions are messengers. How you feel is real and you have the right to express your emotions, if you want to.

Our striving for rationality can undermine our emotions that are screaming for attention. We have been told to be in control, to be logical and rational. But even robots can do that.

Accepting and sharing your feelings does not give you permission to fall apart in a flood of tears when someone doesn’t like your proposal at work.  But you can still express strong emotions about those things that matter to you.

You do, however, have the responsibility to stop blaming other people for how you feel. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said: ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent’.

Showing empathy is one of the most powerful things we can do as human beings. It allows you to acknowledge how other people feel without judging them or telling them what they should do.

Is it time to acknowledge and embrace your own emotions?

You have the right to make mistakes

You have the right to make mistakes.

‘You got that wrong!’ ‘Don’t make another mistake’ ‘You are so stupid’ may be ringing in your ears from years of schooling, education or a toxic work environment.

How did you learn to walk and talk and write without making mistakes? If falling over or spelling a word wrong was fatal, none of us would have survived this far.

Perfection is not possible, here on earth, but excellence is.

But that does not give us permission to make mistakes many times over. Our responsibility is to learn from them and to allow other people to make their own mistakes as they learn and grow.

Is it time to make a few mistakes and move forward?

You have the right to say no

You have the right to say no to things that are unreasonable or not possible for you to do.

Just because you have an employment contract or value a relationship doesn’t make you a doormat. This is not an invitation to be uncooperative, insolent or undermining. In fact, it is the opposite.

You can undermine yourself more by agreeing to things you can’t deliver on and making promises you have no intention of keeping. Being unreliable and teaching other people that your word cannot be trusted may be far more career-limiting than setting reasonable boundaries.

I believe our responsibility is always to be as kind and helpful as we can be. We also need to accept that others too have the right to say yes or no for themselves.

When you learn to say yes and no in a way that is helpful, your ‘YES’ will be yes and your ‘NO’ will be no. And that’s good for everyone.

Is it time to say no to a few things in your work and life?

You have the right to ask for help

You don’t have to do it all alone.

Just because you value independence and want it done your way, doesn’t mean you don’t need help from time to time.  We all do.

Asking for help doesn’t mean becoming helpless or not trying things on your own, but it does mean knowing when you need help and need to ask for it. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak or incompetent. Indeed, it will help you achieve greater things and can make your stronger.

Your responsibility is to accept that sometimes people can’t help you and that you will need to seek other alternatives for yourself.

Is it time to ask for some help?

You have the right to earn a living

Finding work and earning a living can be tough.

It is necessary to earn a living, unless someone else is willing and able to support you. And that may not be sustainable, or good for you.

But your responsibility is to get out of bed. To get dressed and pull a comb through your hair like it’s a workday, even if you are out of work. It’s still a workday to find work. You have to make contacts. You may have to work without pay to get in the door. You will have to build relationships and sustain them. You will have to put some effort into deciding what you can offer if you are not sure. And you need a plan A, a plan B and a plan C.

This may sound so obvious, or even sarcastic.  But when you are out of work and feeling ‘down and out’ each one of those things can be very hard to do. And sometimes all you need to do is start anywhere, in the simplest possible way.

And when you find work, in any form, you have the responsibility to turn up, to follow through, to do more than you are asked to, to say thank you.

And, importantly, you have a responsibility to yourself to not give up. You may have to kiss a few frogs before your find your Prince, or Princess, but they’re out there looking for you, they just don’t know you exist.

Is it time to find work?

You have the right to learn

You have the right to learn and accumulate knowledge.

But you have to take responsibility for your learning. Learning takes effort and time. It messes with your family time and social life. It means getting up early while the house is quiet or working after others have gone to bed. It may mean battling through stuff that may be tedious or not easy to grasp first time round.

If formal education is not an option for you, consider correspondence. Read books. Find free online courses.  Explore programmes through government and social agencies. Learn from someone who is already doing the job. See if you can arrange a job rotation in your workplace where you get the opportunity to learn someone else’s job while they learn yours. Ask a friend to help. And sometimes, you have to bite off more than you can chew, then chew like hell and learn as you go!

But you have to give up your excuses. You have to stop blaming other people for your lack of your skill or education. You have to give up expecting someone else to motivate and encourage you all the way.

Is it time to start learning again?

You have the right to be ‘not OK’

Where is it written that you must always be cheerful, motivated and in perfect health?

Sometimes despite your best efforts, you become sick, down in the dumps and unproductive. So, you take another pill, push yourself to exhaustion and hope that your body will somehow hold up, because it often does. Except sometimes it doesn’t.

You too have the right to be ill, tired and a bit ‘down’ from time to time.

But you have the responsibility to not blame other people for your condition and to do what you can to get back on track. Get the best help you can, but don’t hand over your responsibility to manage your health and your energy.

Is it time to be kinder to yourself when you are not OK?

You have the right to a dream of your own

We all have the right to a dream of our own. Have you been living someone else’s dream, or one you pursued earlier in your life because it was all you knew then?

Just because it was right then, doesn’t mean it is right for you now.

Pursuing a dream is not free either. You have the responsibility to take the action to make it happen. You may have to let go of pleasing everyone else, to get out of your comfort zone, to create new opportunities and to do the work.

Leo Buscaglia said that: ‘No one sees the long and arduous journeys of those we call lucky’

Not everyone will understand your journey, but then it’s not their journey.

Is it time to take your dream back?

You have the choice of taking responsibility

When I need some space to think, I often drive into the Karoo, a most beautiful part of our country where the air is dry and healing, the space seems endless and the stillness is a balm for the soul.

The road winds through the beautiful Hex River Valley in the Western Cape with its tapestry of vineyards. Once over the Hex River Pass you will reach the village of Touwsrivier. And on the left-hand side of the road is a large sign that reads:

‘RESPONSIBILITY IS A CHOICE. Enjoy a safe journey’

But this sign speaks to more than road safety for me. I believe our key to a safe journey through life is also dependent on our ability to take responsibility for our lives.

Corporations want employees to take more ownership for their work, their careers, their behaviour, their financial sufficiency, their deadlines and for resolving client problems.

In life and work it’s so much easier to blame someone else and ‘pass the buck’ when you make choices that don’t work out too well.

You probably know the story of Adam and Eve from the Bible.

Adam and Eve live in the garden of Eden, the most beautiful garden with everything they could possibly want, the trees hanging with fruits of every kind. Adam and Eve have been created in the image of God with every available human faculty, including free will.

Then they make a choice that doesn’t serve them well, they eat a forbidden fruit.

But watch what happens next.

He blames her.

And she blames the serpent who beguiled her. Seen that before?

I think not taking responsibility for what we do, then blaming others is at the core of many problems in the workplace and beyond.

No wonder God sent them out of the garden to work by the sweat of their brow.

Here’s my internal conversation for Adam and Eve:

‘You two pathetic creatures. You don’t deserve what you ‘ve already been given. You expect everything to fall into your hands, you listen to voices of people who have no spine and who can’t stand on their own two feet, then you take decisions based on that.

And when your choice doesn’t work out too well, as choices often do, rather than take responsibility you blame each other and then the legless creature who beguiled you!

And when you get exposed, you try and cover yourself with a fig leaf and hope that no one will notice when it is very clear for everyone to see.

You were given free will. So, you chose to follow someone who had nothing to lose, blamed it on them when things didn’t work out and then tried to cover it up as best you could.

I can’t work with people like that.

You’re fired! Go and work by the sweat of your brow somewhere else’.

We all make mistakes. Sometimes our best-intentioned choices don’t work out and we wonder what we were thinking!

Confession is a powerful life force. Responsibility means owning up to your wrong choices and not covering them up with a ‘fig leaf’.

But demanding that we only make good choices is not a reasonable expectation of life.

We need to give up needing to make perfect choices in order to move forward.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to let go of decisions we made in the past that didn’t work out too well.

I believe that our first responsibility is to be kind to ourselves and to accept that we made those decisions with the best knowledge and insight we had at the time. Perhaps it’s time to give up being perfect and to join the ‘human race’?

Is it time to take responsibility for your safe journey?

You have the right to enjoy what the world has to offer

You have the right to enjoy the parks, mountains, walking trails, picnic areas and beaches that are there for our enjoyment and relaxation.

Indeed, it was the freedom of Central Park that inspired me to write this.

I believe we all have the responsibility to not litter and destroy the world for others who have the right to enjoy it too.

The internet continues to be flooded with pictures of littered beaches, plastic in the sea and unmanaged dump sites.

To put your own trash in a bin or take it away with you is a very basic form of responsibility and consideration towards other people, our environment and the world around us.

Yet we still employ thousands of people to do that for us.

Recently, early in the morning I was on Clifton beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in our country overlooked by some of our most expensive real estate. Walking between the freezing water and the walkways we collected more cigarette ends than our packet could hold. What must you be thinking when in a pristine and beautiful place you toss your non-biodegradable cigarette end over your shoulder rather than in a nearby bin?

I live in a beautiful leafy suburb and we have green zones where we can let our dogs run without leashes. And despite the signs, we often find a large pile of garden waste that someone has dumped overnight and a good array of plastic bottles and food containers where someone had a picnic the evening before.

My offices overlook a beautiful park where people leave litter overnight that I and others will need to collect. An initiative over the past years by a central committee to keep vagrants from polluting the area has, according to the local newspaper, failed, due to lack of support.

What will it take to create responsibility that we own this planet together? And that we all have a responsibility to look after it. What will it take for unthinking businesses to stop producing non-recyclable waste and single-use plastics? For individuals to refuse plastic straws when we can drink out of a glass, or bring our own bags to the supermarket rather than accepting another plastic bag?

Where will you enjoy open spaces today?

It’s never too late to make new choices

‘You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream’ said C.S. Lewis.

If you think it’s too late for you, then it is. But if you can read this and have the skill to use a computer and a mobile phone, you have choices.

You have the right to make choices about where you live, how you spend your money, the work you choose to do, the people you surround yourself with, the way you spend your time today and whether you will get out of bed at all.

But you have the responsibility to pay the price for those choices.

If you want to have a more sculpted body, you need to go to the gym. If you want to play the piano, you have to put aside hours to practice. If you want to have your own business, you have to take some risks and give up the security of a pay cheque.

The greatest gift we have in life is choice.

What choices do you need to make right now?

I know what I am going to do. It’s the most beautiful morning in New York, and with only a few hours left before my flight home, I am going for a walk in Central Park.

©Andrew Bramley, Career Warriors® 2019. All Rights Reserved.


Read more about how they cleaned up New York:


Read more about the Statue of Responsibility:

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