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Claiming Accountability for a Better World

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Do you know that terrible sinking feeling when something really bad happens that you didn't expect--something that you know will have a major and probably permanently negative impact on your life and the lives of those you love--and there is nothing you can do about it?

Many of us have these kinds of feelings whenever we witness a disaster or tragedy unfolding on the news. We can't get the pictures of what is happening out of our minds. We proclaim, "It's awful." Yet we continue about our daily affairs as if it we are somehow remote from what is happening around us. This is how we often relate to all kinds of big breakdowns--from natural disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti or Hurricane Katrina to "unnatural disasters" such as the destruction of the World Trade Center or the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Our reaction to the news typically progresses through various stages ranging from shock, to anger, to looking for someone to blame, to attempts to "do something." Eventually we drift into a kind of denial and resignation. The overriding feeling is, I think, one of powerlessness and a sense of being overwhelmed that also reveals a deeper and more profound insight into who we are and how we relate to the world and our circumstances. Specifically, our fundamental stance is "It's not my fault" and "We need to find out whose fault it is!" We need to find who can we blame. And if we cannot find someone specific to blame for the disaster itself, then we'll find someone to blame for the way it's being handled.

Russell Bishop posted a piece in the Huffington Post last year called "The Blame Game" about personal responsibility. I followed up with one on accountability. Our point was that responsibility isn't about who caused a problem or situation. Responsibility is 'ownership'. It's about we relate to what's happening. Responsibility literally means "the ability to respond." Without personal responsibility, we are victims.

I have this terrible sinking feeling when someone I care about is dying. I am having this feeling as I watch the Gulf Coast dying. At best, it--and we--will never be the same. At worst, it will become another tragic monument to human folly and the consequences of the worst aspects of our nature just like Hiroshima, Chernobyl, the battleship Arizona and Ground Zero.

I believe we are at a critical juncture in human history where our individual and collective choices will determine the future of the planet for eons. What we choose to do now may even end our civilization. The new global initiative "Four Years. Go" is based on the best science around and suggests we are running out of time to turn around many of the trends that threaten our way of life, if not our very existence. I don't think this kind of rhetoric is playing Chicken Little worrying that the "sky is falling." These are fairly grounded concerns about the viability of our planet to sustain life as we know it. The oil spill in the Gulf, the devastation of our rain forests, depletion of our fisheries, uncounted numbers of extinct species, desertification of once arable land, toxic pollution and continent-sized mountains of garbage are signs that we're living on borrowed time.

What can we do?

What can you do?

The answer is that almost anything we do when we are in a state of '"being responsible" and when we focus on the consequences of our choices will help. If enough of us litter less, recycle more, participate in our democratic processes, and begin to "relearn" lifestyles that are less material and connected with Nature and our fellow human beings, the more chance we have to "sober up" and get beyond our addiction to oil. We can restore some semblance of balance and stewardship of our resources. We can stop the insanity that is destroying our lives and our future.

This is no longer simply a conversation about "saving the planet." It is a conversation about our own survival and about having lives worth living. It is about creating a world that is habitable that works for everyone. It is about human transformation. It's about being responsible for the world we've created and the possibility we can be for uncounted generations into the future.

It's a conversation worth joining.

Copyright 2010 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.