LIFE AND THE WORD
I am a Peruvian and one of the most salient psychological traits of the Peruvian, in general terms (admitting that there are numerous exceptions), is the lack of a sense of responsibility.
What is a sense of responsibility? It is that conviction, or internal impulse, that impels us to comply with the obligations and commitments we have assumed before ourselves and others; and that, at the same time, makes us consider the consequences that our actions and words may have, as well as those that may be caused by not acting, or not speaking at a certain moment, when it would be appropriate to do so.
I believe that this definition is broad enough to cover the whole range of possibilities that may arise in our activities, including eventually those that are recreational.
To give a common example, the sense of responsibility will drive the father of a family to progress in his job in order to have the necessary resources to support his children; it will drive him to inquire about the most appropriate school to take his children to; it will drive him to worry about his children’s friendships, and about the development of their studies, etc.
A mother’s sense of responsibility makes her sacrifice herself to ensure the well-being of her young child; it drives her to get up at night to see if he has a fever, or if he is well wrapped up; it makes her tirelessly assume the task of breast-feeding him, despite the discomfort this may bring her, and so on.
A sense of responsibility will prompt the physician to carefully examine the patient before him, while prescribing such tests as may be necessary, and to prescribe with great care the medications that are best suited to the patient’s condition.
A sense of responsibility motivates the employee or officer to perform his duties (hence the word “officer”) as efficiently and honestly as possible, and will keep him at his desk late, if necessary, to complete his tasks. It will also motivate you to reject without hesitation any attempt to bribe him.
It shall also cause the congressman to inform himself as fully as possible about the bills before him, or about other matters on which he must give his opinion, or on which he must cast his vote.
In short, the sense of responsibility is that quality that ensures the proper performance of the tasks assigned, or assumed, by each member of society in the place he/she occupies. At the same time, it is the indispensable quality that allows us to be aware of the consequences of our actions, and that restrains us when we fear that they may be negative or harmful to ourselves or to third parties.
The sense of responsibility is closely linked to economic development. People in developed countries are often characterized by a high sense of responsibility. The underdeveloped countries are characterized, in general terms, by not having “developed” precisely this very important quality. The inadequate development of this quality is a brake on economic and material progress. The reason is obvious. When citizens do not do what is appropriate, or rational, in their tasks or occupations, whatever they may be, disorder and carelessness reign. The “Decalogue of Development”, promoted by the late businessman Octavio Mavila to instill in our population certain good habits, is nothing more than a summary of the ingredients of a sense of responsibility. (1)
Whoever lacks this quality, whether male or female, is called “irresponsible”. Irresponsible is the person who does not care how he does or executes the things he has been entrusted with, or that he must carry out because of his position in life. The book of Proverbs calls him a “fool,” and says that “as one who cuts off his feet and drinks poison is he who sends word by a fool,” (26:6) although, obviously, irresponsibility does not exhaust the meaning of that word.
There is an irresponsible age, which most of us have passed through. Children and adolescents, whose livelihood and comfort are assured — and depending on the education they receive — tend to be, to a greater or lesser degree, irresponsible until they mature. This means that when they grow up they usually – or should – become responsible in an almost spontaneous and natural way. (2). We know from experience that the sense of responsibility grows with age. But there are some people who never develop that quality and continue to behave like children, or teenagers, even in adulthood.
The development of a sense of responsibility is therefore a symptom of maturity. Irresponsibility is a symptom of immaturity. When we say that most Peruvians are irresponsible, we are saying that most of them are immature….
This is sad to say, but it is even more distressing to see. The irresponsibility of our people is the reason why our streets are dirty, public services are neglected, our cities have been poorly planned, traffic rules are not enforced…. Let’s not continue the litany.
It is the reason why so many children go unrecognized and grow up fatherless. They were fathered by a man who does not assume his responsibility, and who evades the most sacred and elementary of his duties.
It is also the main reason why so many traffic accidents occur, either because drivers make reckless maneuvers, or take the wheel while drunk, or the brakes are not well maintained, or more passengers than the vehicle can carry, or the roads are in bad condition, etc., etc., etc. The result of irresponsibility, in the specific case of transportation, means blood on the roads, human tragedies, pain in families, men and women crippled for life. This is one of the greatest misfortunes afflicting our country.
Irresponsibility has indeed a very high personal and social cost. Wherever it manifests itself, its consequences are extremely negative. On a national scale, it is a much more devastating phenomenon than a hundred earthquakes, than a hundred El Niño currents. Worse, it is a permanent catastrophe.
By way of example, we can compare societies whose members have a developed sense of responsibility and where, therefore, the established rules are complied with –by consensus and voluntarily– and people act reasonably, to an intersection of several avenues where thousands of vehicles pass by every day, and where traffic lights work perfectly and are respected by all. What is the result? The dense traffic flows smoothly, there are no traffic jams or accidents.
But let’s imagine that the traffic lights break down and the change of lights is uncoordinated, so that they give way simultaneously to traffic in opposite directions, and, on top of that, nobody respects the red light. What will be the result? We know this from sad experience. Huge traffic jams and congestion form; crossing the intersection becomes a nightmare; we sweat, our blood pressure rises, we are late for our appointment….
This is the image of a society where irresponsibility prevails and no one respects laws and norms. While in the responsible society everything flows and is carried out easily; that is, procedures, business, common activities, etc., in the irresponsible one, where the rules are not respected, and people act irrationally, nothing works, nothing flows, the smallest management costs enormous effort, time and money.
Do you know of a country where these symptoms occur? I think we know him too well, unfortunately. And if we add to these characteristics the corruption of the authorities, the squandering of scarce resources, the injustice of sentences, the disorder in public administration, etc., the symptoms of this deficiency take on Dantesque proportions and life becomes hell.
There are many Peruvians who have gone abroad to escape the chaos that reigns in our land. Why is it that in some societies a sense of responsibility is a common and generalized characteristic of their inhabitants, while in others it is not?
In the first place, the sense of responsibility is conditioned by the natural environment, by environmental conditions. Just as the child who grows up in an environment of poverty, if well guided, soon acquires a great sense of responsibility, because the survival of his family and his own, depends on him performing well the small functions assigned to him (for example, fetching water from the well, collecting the garbage that is later sold, taking care of the younger brother, etc.); similarly in countries with inhospitable, cold climates, survival depends on certain key tasks being done on time, in the proper season, and not being neglected.
For example, planting in the fall or spring, and harvesting in the summer (if you fail to do so in time, there will be nothing to eat); preserving and storing food for the winter (if you fail to do so, your supplies will run out); cutting firewood in the warm months to keep warm in the cold ones; stocking up on warm clothing, etc. So many tasks without whose timely execution life in cold countries would be impossible – especially before technology made things easier – but which are still indispensable even in our sophisticated days.
On the other hand, in the tropics, where nature is more benign, where fruits hang in abundance on the trees waiting to be picked, and where there is no need for shelter, the conditions of existence are easier and do not encourage the development of a sense of responsibility, because nature generously provides what is necessary for sustenance throughout the year and makes up for human carelessness.
For a similar reason, the inhabitant of the highlands is much more responsible and hardworking than the inhabitant of the coast. At high altitudes, life is harder and more difficult, and you have to fight to survive. This also means that the Spanish highlander is more hardened than the Costa Rican.
But there are also other reasons of a different order that influence the gestation and development of a sense of responsibility. These are more difficult to identify, as they are moral, psychological and cultural in nature.
Peruvians who emigrate to a country in the northern hemisphere become responsible out of necessity. Otherwise they will become marginalized. (He can’t find a job, and if he does, he gets fired. ) The environment, i.e., the prevailing culture, disciplines him.
In our big cities, work, competition and the struggle for life force the employee to become responsible. In a large bank, for example, even the most humble employee becomes responsible out of necessity, because mistakes can cost him dearly, not only his job.
Family habits, the good or bad example set by parents, also favor or disfavor the development of a sense of responsibility. Excessive money in childhood, or conceit, hinder the development of this quality and make the young person irresponsible.
So we could say that the environment shapes us and makes us responsible, or the opposite. But these causes alone do not explain everything. There is a deeper basis for the gestation and development of a sense of responsibility.
In Far Eastern cultures, especially Japan, the sense of responsibility has its basis in the Confucian philosophy that permeates society and governs public life. This high sense of responsibility explains the great development achieved by this country. Note in this regard that material development is always a manifestation of a specific quality of character that is widespread in its members.
In Western culture, the sense of responsibility is based on Christian morality and, above all, on love of neighbor.
The golden rule of the Gospel (“Treat others as you would have others treat you”) cannot be fulfilled if we are not responsible in the fulfillment of our tasks, because if we do not perform them well, we harm our neighbor. Love of neighbor, consideration for others, forces us to be responsible in our actions, forces us to measure the consequences of everything we do, or fail to do. But let’s leave the subject for today, as I have taken enough of you time already. We will continue this discussion in the next article on this subject I will be writing.
Notes: 1. The Development Decalogue contains the following points:
1. Order. 2. Cleanliness. 3. Punctuality. 4. Responsibility. 5. Desire for self-improvement. 6. Honesty. 7. Respect for the rights of others. 8. Respect for law and regulations. 9. Love of work. 10. Eagerness to save and invest.
2. The spoiled child (who has been brought up badly), the conceited child, is usually irresponsible, but the one who has been “well brought up” develops this quality early.
NB In 1998 I made a small photocopy edition of two radio talks dedicated to this topic. In 2004 I made a larger printed edition of these texts, and I am republishing them with some slight revisions, in order to make them available to as many readers as possible.
Beloved reader: If you are not sure that when you die you will go to enjoy the presence of God, I exhort you to repent of all your sins and I invite you to ask God’s forgiveness for them by praying the following prayer:
“Jesus, you came into the world to atone on the cross for the sins committed by all men, including mine. I know that I do not deserve your forgiveness, because I have offended you consciously and voluntarily many times, but you offer it to me freely and without deserving it. I want to receive it. I sincerely repent of all my sins and of all the evil I have committed until today. Forgive me, Lord, I beg you; wash away my sins with your blood; enter into my heart and rule my life. Henceforth I want to live for you and serve you.”
#798 (29.09.13). Legal Deposit #2004-5581. Director: José Belaunde M. Address: Independencia 1231, Miraflores, Lima, Peru 18. Tel 4227218. (Resolución #003694-2004/OSD-INDECOPI).