Personal Responsibility

I have a pretty basic belief system.  Tangibles are easier to believe in than the insubstantial that seem to preoccupy many people.  Rather than list the many things that I don’t believe in (horoscopes, the man in the moon, transparent government, etc), it is much simpler to explain the things that I do believe in.

I believe that my thoughts control my voluntary actions and that my thoughts are determined by the situation, my past experience and genetically inherited natural abilities. I have no power to control the thoughts or actions of others and so cannot accept responsibility for anyone else’s actions.  I can influence others with my behaviour but I cannot control them…not till I get my mind control ray perfected anyway.  Similarly I cannot be controlled by others.

Putting aside the concept of some kind of divine puppet master controlling our actions as unworkable* this means that I am entirely responsible for my own actions.  In fact, each one of us is entirely responsible for our own actions.  We are not responsible for the actions of anyone else.  This absolves me of an awful lot of potential guilt but it does mean that anything that goes wrong as a result of my actions or inaction is my fault and I can’t escape from that.

Smart cookies may notice that I make no mention of various diseases both mental and physical that can effect the way we behave.  I’m sorry but a person suffering from depression is still a person who should be responsible for their actions, treating them otherwise is to take away their individuality and consign them to a box marked “Reject”.  This is both unkind and unnecessary.  Of course, we should try to help people suffering from illnesses.  An illness can strike down anyone at any time, so we should treat sufferers as we would want to be treated ourselves.  I would want someone to help me to recover, not to help me to remain in a state where I wallow in misery.

Some of you may be aware that I hold to the tenets of determinism.  Briefly this means that I believe that a person cannot react to a situation other than by drawing on past experience or natural physical and mental resources that were provided when the DNA of their parents were combined.  This may strike some people as a way to excuse certain actions.  If a person is limited in scope as to their responses to situations by physical ability or lack of experience then how can they have free will?  An abused child who grows up to abuse others is simple reacting to the circumstances put upon them.  A lesser form of free will is therefore required to explain how some people take terrible experiences and turn them around to become positive things.  You’ve no doubt heard it said that “If God gives you lemons, make lemonade.” and this is a soundbite that laughingly forms the cornerstone of my personal philosophy to life.

As I have no control over others I cannot make any steps to improve other people or harm other people except in the small ways that they allow me to.  If I call you stupid you can become upset and withdraw, you can react by returning an insult, you can ignore my comment as blatantly false or you can take any number of actions within your own ability to perform.  Your reaction is within your control as my reaction is within my own.  Following this train of thought (choo choo) I can only take steps to improve or harm myself.  In fact, I can only take steps to improve or harm myself.  While harming myself is a perfectly valid option it would be insane to actually do so which leaves me with a single option.  I must live my life by taking steps to improve myself as a person.

*The religious reader will hopefully agree that their own god, goddess or pantheon do not control their actions.  The irreligious will no doubt discount the existence of any such controlling force.

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Filed under Atheist, Religion, You decide

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