Here in the West, especially in the US, our rights as individuals are massively important. But whenever you hear a discussion involving rights, see if you also hear a corresponding discussion about responsibilities. Is there consideration of not only what we can expect from others but also what others can expect from us?
It can be all too easy to focus on what we think we deserve, or what someone else owes us. But do we put a similar focus on our own responsibilities and how well we’re fulfilling them? Or, to put it in another light, if the roles were reversed, what would we expect from someone in our current role? And are we meeting these expectations?
You may be tempted to complain, for instance, about your employer. You may think of all the ways you deserve to be treated differently. Or you may get frustrated with your spouse because they’re not meeting your expectations. But first, what about you? Are you doing everything you can in the role you’re in? As a spouse, are you also meeting the needs of your partner? Are you choosing to be selfless instead of selfish in the relationship? As an employee, are you giving your employer a full day’s work? Are you working the same way you’d want your employees to work if you were in charge? Or, if you’re the leader, are you leading your team like you’d want someone else to lead you?
Everyone has unique roles and responsibilities. And those roles will vary depending on the context. You may have one set of expectations and responsibilities at work. And you may have a different set in another sphere of life. But whenever you’re working with other people, how each person fulfills their specific role will affect the success of that group. We see this play out in athletic teams, businesses, marriages, countries. If everyone focuses on his own responsibilities, the group benefits. But if everyone is more focused on what he can get out of it, and not on how he can best contribute in his role, the success of the group will be compromised.
Perfectly fulfilling your responsibilities doesn’t guarantee you’ll get what you think you deserve. You may have legitimate expectations that are going unmet. There may be real grievances that need to be addressed. But in the meantime, this doesn’t absolve you from being responsible in the roles you find yourself.
Ideally, we would live in a perfectly just world, where everyone would be treated fairly, receiving what they deserve. But in that world, everyone would also be perfectly responsible in the various roles they have. No one would have to wonder if someone else will do what they’re supposed to do, because everyone would do it. But until that day comes, we can still choose to live that way. We can choose to be responsible first, and only then turn our attention to what we might reasonably expect from others.