Two types of responsibility

As children, we are steadily taught responsibility by our carers. Photo by Derek Thomson on Unsplash

Responsibility is the art of taking care on our shoulders.  When we give or take responsibility, we are allocating the job of care to others or ourselves.

We are interconnected with the world.  None of us is able to be solely responsible for everything.  We need to delegate responsibility to get anything done at all.  Delegated responsibility happens when we hope or expect that others will help.

When we are born, all responsibility is delegated to our carers, without us even knowing that this is what we are doing.  This is necessary because we are almost completely helpless.  Our job is to make it clear when we are in discomfort, and to spend the rest of our time playing – investigating and exploring the world around us.

Slowly but surely, during our education, we are allocated things to care for.  This includes our accommodation; our part in relationships; our finances; our chosen work or business; others who cannot take care of themselves; our health; and our creative work.  These seven things take up a lot of our allocated responsibility.

During our education, our carers begin by holding the responsibility themselves.  They may do it well or badly, but initially it’s their bag.  They look after the house; they talk for us in relationships; they manage our finances; they decide what work we are to do; they send us to help others; they look after our health; and they lead us through creative work.

Some of us had carers who wrecked the house; didn’t understand relationships; messed up the finances; had no work focus; had no concern for others; neglected health concerns; and had no interest in creative endeavours.

Some of us had carers who were an example in looking after a home; relating to others; financial responsibility; work focus; helping others; staying healthy; and being creative.

Whatever our backgrounds, we are all in the same place now.  We all have these seven things to look after, for better or for worse.  And we all have a network of people around us who might help.


When we take on a job ourselves, we are taking personal responsibility.  Since we can’t do everything in the whole world, we also learn to give jobs to others – this is delegated responsibility.  Everything under our care can be divided into these two… either we have personal responsibility for something, or we have delegated it to someone around us.


When we under-delegate, we take on too much ourselves.  Our days are too full, too busy, and we feel perpetually tired.  We have not learned yet to let others share the strain of our lives.  There are many reasons for this; sometimes it is a learned behaviour from childhood, where we were taught a model of individual action, but little about sharing with others.  We may be high achievers, but we get exhausted and lonely.

When we over-delegate, we take on too little ourselves.  We stay like babies in childhood, expecting those around us to act like our early carers, sorting everything out for us.  We don’t develop discipline, and we are always moaning about how others have let us down.

Some of us both under- and over-delegate.  If the right amount of delegation is the middle ground, we are never there.  We are always either pushing jobs onto other people, or taking jobs upon ourselves and then getting exhausted.  We never seem to learn that middle way of part-personal, part-delegated responsibility.


Just for today, try to watch yourself do your tasks.

Which projects are you holding too much to yourself, and not benefiting from the good influence of others, who may be waiting to help and advise?

Equally, which projects are you relying on others to do, and not taking on any responsibility yourself?  Could you be taking more initiative?

The art is to become mindfully aware of where we are placing responsibility.  When we are wise, we are constantly watchful, checking whether we have hit the right balance between personal responsibility and delegated responsibility.

Are there modifications you could make?  What more should you be asking of yourself?  And what more should you be asking of others?