The Meaning of Responsibility

The Meaning of Responsibility

Blog by Wayne Visser

Part 1 of 13 in Wayne Visser’s Age of Responsibility Blog Series for 3BL Media.

Do you sigh when you hear the word responsibility? Perhaps responsibility is even a dirty word in your vocabulary. Perhaps you associate it with burdens and restrictions; the opposite of being carefree and without obligations. But responsibility doesn’t have to be a chore, or a cage. It all depends how you think about it.

Responsibility is literally what it says – our ability to respond. It is a choice we make – whether to be attentive to our children’s needs, whether to be mindful of the plight of those less fortunate, whether to be considerate of the impact we have on the earth and others. To be responsible is to be proactive in the world, to be sensitive to the interconnections, and to be willing to do something constructive, as a way of giving back.

Responsibility is the counterbalance to rights. If we enjoy the right to freedom, it is because we accept our responsibility not to harm or harass others. If we expect the right to fair treatment, we have a responsibility to respect the rule of law and honour the principle of reciprocity. If we believe in the right to have our basic needs met, we have the responsibility to respond when poverty denies those rights to others.

Taking responsibility, at home or in the workplace, is an expression of confidence in our own abilities, a chance to test our own limits, to challenge ourselves and to see how far we can go. Responsibility is the gateway to achievement. And achievement is the path to growth. Being responsible for something means that we are entrusted with realising its potential, turning its promise into reality. We are the magicians of manifestation, ready to prove to ourselves and to others what can happen when we put our minds to it, if we focus our energies and concentrate our efforts.

Being responsible for someone – another person – is an even greater privilege, for it means that we are embracing our role as caregivers, helping others to develop and flourish. This is an awesome responsibility, in the truest sense, one which should be embraced with gratitude, not reluctantly accepted with trepidation. Responsibility asks no more of us than that we try our best, that we act in the highest and truest way we know. Responsibility is not a guarantee of success, but a commitment to trying.

So why is responsibility seen by many as such an onerous burden? Responsibility becomes onerous when choice is removed from the equation, when we do not realise our freedom to act differently, when we forget that we are allowed to say no. Responsibility becomes pernicious when we take on too much, when we mistakenly think that more is always better, when we take on the guilt and expectations of others. Accepting too many responsibilities is, in fact, irresponsible – for it compromises our ability to respond. Do few things but do them well is the maxim of responsibility.

Being responsible also does not mean doing it all ourselves. Responsibility is a form of sharing, a way of recognising that we’re all in this together. Sole responsibility is an oxymoron …

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Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”info” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org/”]Website[/button] CSR International (website)

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Cite this blog

Visser, W. (2012) The Meaning of Responsibility, Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 7 February 2012.

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The Ages and Stages of CSR

The Ages and Stages of CSR:

From Defensive to Transformative Corporate Sustainability & Responsibility

Article by Wayne Visser

I have found it useful to view the evolution of business responsibility in terms of five overlapping economic periods:

  1. The Age of Greed;
  2. The Age of Philanthropy;
  3. The Age of Marketing;
  4. The Age of Management; and
  5. The Age of Responsibility

Each of which typically manifests a different stage of CSR, namely:

  1. Defensive CSR;
  2. Charitable CSR;
  3. Promotional CSR;
  4. Strategic CSR; and
  5. Transformative CSR.

My contention is that companies tend to move through these ages and stages (although they may have activities in several ages and stages at once), and that we should be encouraging business to make the transition to Transformative CSR in the dawning Age of Responsibility. If companies remain stuck in any of the first four stages, I don’t believe we will turn the tide on the environmental, social and ethical crises that we face. Simply put, CSR will continue to fail  …

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Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”info” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-age-of-responsibility”]Page[/button] The Age of Responsibility (book)

Cite this article

Visser, W. (2010) The Ages and Stages of CSR: From Defensive to Systemic Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility, CSR International Inspiration Series, No. 8.

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CSR 2.0: Beyond the Age of Greed

CSR 2.0:

Beyond the Age of Greed

Chapter by Wayne Visser

Extract from Reframing Corporate Social Responsibility

Quotes

The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, for knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. – Gordon Gekko, Wall Street (the movie)

Responsibility is literally what it says – our ability to respond. To be responsible is to be proactive in the world, to be sensitive to the interconnections, and to be willing to do something constructive as a way of giving back. Responsibility is the footprints we leave in the sand, the mark of our passage. What tracks will you leave? -Wayne Visser, Business Frontiers (the book)

Abstract

The 1987 movie Wall Street and our recent global financial crisis (GFC), despite one being fictional and the other painfully real, tell a common story. Over the past few decades, we have been living through an Age of Greed, characterised by a colossal failure of corporate responsibility and corruption of individual morality. This Crisis of Responsibility has had catastrophic consequences for the global economy, bankrupting whole economies (like Iceland) and wreaking havoc with the lives of ordinary citizens around the world, many of whom are now without a job and without a roof over their heads.

In this chapter, I want to explore the ways in which the GFC represents a multi-level failure of responsibility – from the individual and corporate level to the finance sector and entire capitalist system. I will also examine the impact of the GFC on what is traditionally viewed as corporate social responsibility (CSR). To conclude, I will set out my conviction

that unless CSR itself is fundamentally transformed, into CSR 2.0, it will do nothing to prevent an equally (if not more) devastating Crisis of Responsibility from recurring in future.

The Age of Greed

Gordon Gekko’s words, although spoken by a fictitious character of Oliver Stone’s imagination, captures the spirit of a very real age: the Age of Greed. This was an age that, in my view, began when the first financial derivatives were traded on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in 1972 and ended (we hope) with Lehman’s collapse in 2008. It was a time when ‘greed is good’ and ‘bigger is better’ were the dual-mottos that seemed to underpin the American Dream. The invisible hand of the market went unquestioned. Incentives – like Wall Street profits and traders’ bonuses – were perverse, leading not only to unbelievable wealth in the hands of a few speculators, but ultimately to global financial catastrophe.

The story of Gordon Gekko (and his modern day real-life equivalents like Richard Fuld, the captain of the titanic Lehmans before it hit the iceberg) gets to the heart of the nature of greed …

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”download” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/chapter_wvisser_age_responsibility.pdf”]Pdf[/button] CSR 2.0: Beyond the Age of Greed (chapter)

Related pages

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”info” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-age-of-responsibility”]Page[/button] The Age of Responsibility (book)

Cite this chapter

Visser, W. (2010) CSR 2.0: From the Age of Greed to the Age of Responsibility, In W. Sun, et al. (eds.), Reframing Corporate Social Responsibility: Lessons from the Global Financial Crisis. Bingley: Emerald.

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