THE BLOG
11/04/2012 08:58 pm ET Updated Jan 04, 2013

Revisiting the Meaning of the Statue of Responsibility

Years ago, the world-renowned Viennese psychiatrist Viktor Frankl warned that "freedom threatens to degenerate into mere license and arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness." And while Dr. Frankl enjoyed his time spent in America and admired much about it, he was not shy about criticizing the popular understanding of some cherished American values, such as our notion of freedom. He took exception, for instance, to what appeared to be a commonly accepted view of equating freedom with a license to do virtually anything one wants. To Dr. Frankl, freedom without responsibility was an oxymoron. That is why he said: "The Statue of Liberty on the East Coast should be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast."

I've always been intrigued by Dr. Frankl's idea for a Statue of Responsibility. Such a monument makes sense to me and, in my view, would be much more than just a "book-end" to the Statue of Liberty. It could serve, among other things, as an important reminder to everyone of what is required to safeguard true freedom and a democratic way of life. This is one of the reasons why I became a supporter of the nonprofit Statue of Responsibility Foundation and contributed to a book, Responsibility 911: With Great Liberty Comes Great Responsibility, that examined the role that responsibility plays in a free society. In this regard, I was honored to be included among a very distinguished group of contributors, including Warren Bennis, Jack Canfield, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain,George S. McGovern, Barack Obama, Ross Perot, Tom Peters, Bob Proctor, Anita Roddick, Peter Senge, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Denis Waitley and Oprah Winfrey.

As you can discern from this list, the Responsibility 911 anthology embraced a wide spectrum of ideologies and political persuasions. Indeed, making a strong and diversified case for the role of responsibility in a free society belongs to no one political party or particular group. Rather, responsibility is a manifestation of the "ability to respond" and, in this context, requires rules of engagement that include both civility and agreement to disagree on matters of common concern. Diversity in all of its various dimensions, especially diversity of thought, must be respected as a sine qua non of "responsibility" in the collective. Otherwise, we will never be able to reach common ground which requires, first and foremost, that we be able and willing to go to a higher ground.

Against this backdrop, no matter who wins on Tuesday, November 6th, one thing is clear: the country can not afford to conduct its public business like it has done over the last four years. In other words, it's time for politics not as usual! Something has to change, and it must be change that we truly can believe in.

I recall speaking at a conference in Switzerland in the late 1990s when I was serving as president of Renaissance Business Associates, an international nonprofit professional network of people committed to elevating the human spirit at work and advancing sound business ethics. At this conference I had the opportunity to hear a Roman Catholic bishop share the following insight: "You can't enter into relationship with others if you believe that you have a monopoly on truth." What a powerful statement, I thought! Imagine how different the world would be if everyone, no matter what their station in life, was willing to accept this "truth" and would authentically commit to practicing it in their daily lives. But once again, this requires that we hold ourselves and each other responsible for doing so which, to be sure, is much easier said than done.

Yet, after next Tuesday, in order for our nation to begin to conduct politics not as usual, our public officials, especially those whom we elect as our representatives in the political arena, must be willing to relinquish their perceived "monopolies" on truth and demonstrate that they are both willing and able to bring order out of chaos, decision out of indecision, and action out of inaction. And, in the final analysis, they can only increase their ability to respond to our nation's many formidable challenges by holding themselves and their colleagues responsible. Above all else, public officials must show that they are responsible for managing the public's business and safeguarding the public trust through their actions, not simply by their words. Indeed, in the absence of personal and collective responsibility, there can be no democracy, no real freedom, and no pursuit of happiness. So whoever may "win" next Tuesday, in the spirit and deeper meaning of Dr. Frankl's vision of a "Statue of Responsibility," they must honor their responsibilities to what should be considered a noble calling by transcending self-interest and seeking common ground in the name of the public interest. Failure to do so is not and should not be an option!

Dr. Alex Pattakos is the co-founder of The OPA! Way® paradigm of "Living & Working with Meaning" and the OPA! Center for Meaning in Santa Fe, New Mexico USA. A practicing political scientist, he has worked closely with the White House under three presidents and was one of the initial faculty evaluators for the Innovations in American Government Awards Program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. You can find out more about Dr. Pattakos, author of the international best-selling book "Prisoners of Our Thoughts," in his full bio.

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