The word lands with a heavy thump of burden and obligation. It stands hunched-over and stiff-necked with shoulds and expectations. A painfully bristling virtue that leaves us feeling bad about ourselves because its standards are so high, we’re afraid we’ll never be able to live up to them.
A grim Troll of a word with a Calvinist edge to it, its arrival strikes a sting of reproach–our failure to meet its exacting standards seems inevitable, built into its structure.
So what is responsibility, really? Who or what are we responsible for? Do we get to choose? Or do our responsibilities arrive pre-ordained-the mighty Troll who casts a long shadow over family, work, relationships, business, life…
Part of the confusion we feel arises because responsibility is both a body energy, and a spiritual quality-and the two are very different from each other.
As human animals-particularly if we’re female human animals–our bodies are genetically programmed to be responsible. This is Nature’s way of ensuring the propagation of the species, of making sure we’ll take care of our children through the long years it takes for them to grow to maturity and be able to survive in the wilds of the world.
It’s this Responsibility Troll that brings my whole being into a state of instant alert when I hear a child’s panicked voice calling: “Mommy!” at my local grocery store. Even though my sons are grown men, happily living their own lives, that cry of “Mommy!” raises the atavistic hackles of my body. My heart beats a quickstep and adrenaline surges through my arteries. Mommy is ready to leap into action-to protect, shelter, comfort, respond to a child’s distress.
Because the Responsibility Troll is a body energy, you can’t will it away-it has its own purpose, its reason for being. To function effectively, we must understand its nature, honor it, and negotiate a working relationship with it.
When there’s no obvious place for the Responsibility Troll to direct its considerable power, it fixates on work, or on the people around us. It’s convinced it knows what’s best for everyone, and also convinced the world will fall apart without it.
When it’s doing what it’s meant to do, it’s an evolutionary and useful being. Not so helpful when it lumbers in where it doesn’t belong.
You can experience the Responsibility Troll by thinking of something or someone you feel responsible for. That sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach? That heaviness, that sense of overwhelm? Or that punishing self-righteousness-all point to the presence of the Responsibility Troll.
On the upside, it is hard-working and reliable, determined to make things work no matter what.
If the body energy of responsibility is a troll toiling in a coal mine, the spiritual quality of responsibility is a creature of sunlight and wings. Because it emerges from wholeness, as all spiritual qualities do, it understands that you–and the situation and everyone involved in it–are a radiant soul, filled with infinite power and potential. It knows that each of us has everything we need to be whole, healthy and fulfilled. No-one is broken; no-one needs to be fixed.
The Angel of Responsibility knows this. So when you fill yourself with its presence, you naturally respond to people and situations in ways that honor your own sovereignty and that of everyone else as well. You experience yourself and everyone else as already whole.
This doesn’t mean you turn a blind eye to pain and suffering. Suffering exists. You meet it with kindness, honoring your own and other people’s vulnerability and need as aspects of wholeness.
When you become the Angel of Responsibility, you respond with empathy, support, respect, and love–offering what your heart calls you to offer. Knowing that the person you are offering help to is also helping you–that you are in a dance that weaves together call and response, love, support and kindness, giving and receiving.
Both you and the person being helped are Angels of Responsibility, learning the steps to the dance so you can dance it more effortlessly, with greater joy.
Ultimately, our responsibility is to cultivate those qualities within ourselves and in our lives that bring us to our natural state of wholeness. This requires discernment and choices.
We choose what we say yes to, what we say no to. And our yes-es and our no-es shape who we become. They also shape what we offer to the world.
If you work on your business hunched over as the Responsibility Troll, gritting your teeth to make it through that next project, pushing yourself harder, you add to the suffering of the world. Each time you treat yourself unkindly, telling yourself the end justifies the means, you increase the sum of unkindness in the world. You contribute to a lack of empathy and generosity.
How you do what you do determines the quality of your life. So when that Responsibility Troll shows up, give it something to do that lets it fulfill its natural function. Then invite the Angel of Responsibility into your presence. Become its shining, winged self, and see what happens next.
Oh, and listen for the tune that brings the Angel and the Troll onto the dance floor together.
I’d love to hear your stories. How do you feel when the Responsibility Troll shows up in your life? Do you have rituals for welcoming the Angel of Responsibility?