I was invited to the Sustainability+ dialogue jointly organized by the Bachelor of Environmental Studies (BES) Student Committee and the Environmental Law Students Association (ELSA) of NUS law last Saturday as a panelist. During the panel session, a student from CAPT asked me a question that is something like this.
There are so many challenges that we have to face when we are trying to drivea sustainability initiative. To optimize our efforts, I am wondering what would be the one initiative that you think will give us the most leverage?
It is a great question. My answer to that question is something to this effect
The most important initiative that we must do now is to make everyone realized that we are responsible for everything. If we can do that, all the sustainability challenges that we face today will be solved.
Many of us misunderstood the meaning of responsibility. We think to be responsible for something or someone is inherently linked to our ability to respond. For this reason, we often limit what we are going to be responsible for. For example, if you think that you are responsible for a beggar well-being, you would feel that you will have to do something to help him/her. Because of this linkage between responsibility and our ability to respond, you would limit your responsibility only to people who are close to you (e.g. your family and friends). This makes perfect sense. Afterall, no one will have the ability to respond to the myriad of sustainability problems we faced today. However, unknown to many of us, such limitation on our responsibility may be the real cause of our sustainability challenges we are facing today. I will explain this shortly. But let us take a closer look at the meaning of responsibility.
Learning from my teacher of life, Sadhguru, I realized that responsibility is not about our ability to respond, but it is about our willingness to respond. While our ability to respond is limited by many factors (e.g. our resources, status and etc.), our willingness to respond is limitless. If you choose to be willing to respond, it doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are, you will find ways to respond. This is a profound realization for me.
In my years of educating students about the issues of sustainability and trying to get them to translate this awareness into meaningful actions, I realized now that what is lacking is not the awareness of these problems. What is lacking now is the willingness of people to respond to these problems. Students may talk about food waste and express eagerness to solve it. They may also talk about the seriousness of it and the magnitude of the problem. Then they realize how daunting this task is. Soon doubts will emerge and inevitably, students may think ‘How can I be responsible for this?‘ or ‘This is just too difficult for me, I cannot be responsible for this’. When this happens, the natural thing to do is to accept that we are unable to respond. Over time, we will start justifying to ourselves that we cannot be responsible.
If you limit your responsibility this way, it simply means that you have limited your willingness to respond. Quite unfortunately, you will close your eyes to any opportunity that may potentially solve this challenge. You will stop exploring. Such limitation to responsibility will also have an enormous impact on your life experiences. For example, if I am not willing to respond to all my students, my life will honestly not be as enriched as it is today. Similarly, once you limit your willingness to respond, you would have cut off your opportunity to experience life completely.
However, when responsibility is viewed as our willingness to respond, we automatically would turn ourselves into active seekers for solutions. This is even when we may not have any ability to respond. For example, if we are willing to respond towards a beggar well-being, we will be on a constant search for potential solutions to help him/her even when we do not have the means to help him/her at that moment in time. It is this willingness to respond that will solve our greatest sustainability problem today. It is also this willingness to respond that will help us spot opportunities that can allow us to live life to its fullest.
My dearest friends and students, for the sake of my beloved Mother Earth and for our inner well-being, I wish and hope that we can all start inculcating this thought in our minds, i.e.
I am responsible for everything
I end this blog with an insightful discourse on responsibility by my teacher of life, Sadhguru.
I would like to dedicate this post to all my students, past and present. Here is my promise to all of you.
Once my students, always my friends.
For this reason, you will forever be my responsibility. I may not have the ability to respond to all your life issues, but I will always be willing to respond.