Why responsibility and freedom are symbiotic

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Article Date: 
Apr 20 2014, 2023

Responsibility is as important as freedom. Freedom is a necessity but we need to couple it with responsibility to stitch a symbiotic relationship between them. More the freedom we enjoy, the greater the responsibility we must bear. Unrestricted freedom is as undesirable as imposed social responsibility is. Freedom is needed to grow, but it may cause an increase in social disorder. Responsibility tends to decrease this disorder, and thus is essential for maintaining stability in society. Responsibility is not a ‘detachable burden’, nor is it a ‘popularity contest’. The responsibilities of leaders and followers do not end with the end of elections. In fact, responsibility starts the day people’s representatives form the government.
Often, a person is assigned responsibilities disproportionate to his capabilities. There is a need to restrain this enthusiasm, while assigning and accepting responsibilities. It is easier to propagate a principle than to follow it. In order to follow the principles, particularly in matters related to public issues, courage is needed more than vigilance.
While rights of choice relate more to freedom, obligations are associated with responsibility. If we have the right to freedom, we must have the obligation to respect others’ freedom. If we have the right to security, we must feel obliged to create conditions for every human being to enjoy that security. If we have a right to be educated, then we have the obligation to learn as much as our capabilities allow us to and, where possible, share our knowledge with others. If we have a right to participate in our country’s political process and elect leaders, then we have the obligation to ensure that the best leaders are chosen.
Electing responsible leaders is our collective responsibility. It is also our responsibility to periodically monitor the conduct and commitment of our leaders. Once we assume collective responsibility, it becomes our mandate to share the group’s efforts, both positive and negative. If our leaders accept collective responsibility, they become accountable to the outcome of the group’s efforts, no matter what role each individual played for the outcome of the group’s efforts. In a way, it prevents individuals from dominating the outcome.
One of the big problems our society faces is collective blindness. Nobel laureate José Saramago, author of Blindness, writes that the collective blindness is when we lose the ability to see, when the visible disappears in front of our eyes, when society itself becomes blind. Saramago ends his novel, “I don’t think we go blind, I think we are blind, blind, but seeing, blind people who can see, but do not see.”
If we can see but do not see is the most humiliating form of invisibility. Ralph Ellison, author of Invisible Man, describes this kind of invisibility, “I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fibre and liquid, and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible; understand, because people refuse to see me.” Our leaders may have the freedom to act the way they choose to meet their ends, but it is our responsibility to remind them that we are neither invisible even if they refuse to see us nor can we be made invisible even if they turn a blind eye to us.

(The writer is a biotechnologist and ED, Birla Institute of
Scientific Research, Jaipur)

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