01/14/2009 02:00 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The New Meaning of Responsibility

"Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do or die" is from Alfred Lord Tennyson, "The Charge of the Light Brigade."

I lived Alfred Tennyson's words before I read them. My need to enlist in the Army while the Vietnam War painfully unfolded, volunteer for airborne training, and then for the Special Forces (Green Berets) was moved by the same impulse they describe - to demonstrate my nobility, courage, and worthiness by blind adherence to authority. I did not question my authority (Lyndon Johnson was President and Robert McNamara was Secretary of Defense). I did not question anything. I was too much in need of validation, admiration, and a sense of value. I held it to be my responsibility to carry out the orders of others, and the responsibility of others to carry out mine. The military gave me a sense of belonging and pride and they were so important to me that the price of blind obedience did not seem repugnant. On the contrary, it seemed necessary.

I do not see myself or understand responsibility the same way now that I did then, but the power of allegiance to a collective cause that validates the individual who gives it is still very much a live energy current - a powerful dynamic - that continues to motivate millions. That dynamic had its place and purpose in our past but not in our present or future. It is the remnant of an evolutionary modality that required the control and manipulation of external circumstances (including people) to insure survival. Survival is no longer sufficient for our evolution. We are changing dramatically and the pursuit of external power has become counterproductive.

Our evolution now requires emotional awareness, responsible choice, intuition, and cocreation. Our deepest hunger, even in the most difficult times, is for a different food. Millions of individuals are awakening - sometimes to their surprise - to a hunger for harmony, cooperation, sharing, and reverence for Life. Their challenge is to create those things in a world of discord, competition, hoarding, and exploitation, a world in which life is a cheap commodity.

The dynamic that sent the soldiers of the Light Brigade on their charge cannot help these people. It can no longer help anyone, anywhere, at any time. Even outside of the military this dynamic continues to exist. Every collective experience of rigidity, righteousness, and common purpose expresses it, for example, the environmental movement with its heroes (us) and villains (Forest Service, lumber industry, mining industry, etc.).

When the underlying, bedrock, can't-get-any-deeper intention is to manipulate and control in order to feel valuable and secure (for example, to feel superior to people who are not environmentalists/white/black/women/in the military, etc.), the individuals who hold it are in pursuit of external power. When it is to create harmony, cooperate, share, revere Life, and act with an empowered heart without attachment to the outcome, the individuals who hold it are in pursuit of authentic power. Choosing intentions that create consequences for which the chooser is willing to assume responsibility is a responsible choice. Responsible choice was not part of the consciousness of the Light Brigade any more than it was a part of mine when I joined the Army but without it our future, if we have one, is bleak - the continual creation of the painful consequences of intentions to manipulate and control.

Now a new dawn is lighting our sky. This is good news. Soldiers can become cocreators and millions of them are (I am one). "Duty, Honor, Country," the noble motto of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point that served our survival as a nation in a world that evolved through the pursuit of external power is being replaced with "Responsible Choice, Authentic Power, Life," a new credo that gives voice to a new human species that evolves by developing spiritually. In this time of transition from the old species into the new, old expressions of responsibility, such as "Duty, Honor, Country," frequently obscure the emerging understanding - the creation of consequences for which the chooser is willing to assume responsibility. For each of us, distinguishing between the two in the intimacy of our personal experiences (no Priests, Peers, Parents, or President) is a fundamental first step on our new evolutionary path.

In other words, ours is not to do or die, ours is to choose and know why.