Obedience vs. Responsibility

Most people at their wits ends just want to be told what to do with their lives. Sometimes the choices we’ve made in life have turned out so horrendous that we just want to give up all responsibility for everything and let someone else decide for us. Bonus is that if the advice we get from someone else goes badly, then we have someone else to blame.


This is self-defeating and a self-sabotaging cycle and no way to take charge of your life. If I’m doing my job correctly when reading your card spread then you should be able to discover insight about and for yourself. All that I—or any legitimate coach or reader—can do is explore potential options/choices that you can make in your own life. It’s your responsibility to make your own choices.


Let me relate a personal story about responsibility to you…


In the Catholic monastic tradition, those who commit themselves to the contemplative life take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience (and if one is committing to Benedictine community, then also stability). At face value, the surrendering of these individual rights seems in some ways like one might be giving-up responsibility to have to worry about them. They are, after all, areas of human nature subject to folly.


But every religious candidate has his or her own challenges in the face of these dictums. Just because one gives them up does not remove the nature to act against them. Usually people tend to have one of them in particular that poses the greatest obstacle. When I decided to join a contemplative monastic community—me, someone who as a disciple of minority politics has always felt that it was important to question authority and hierarchical structures—I always felt that ‘obedience’ would be my biggest hurdle.


Then I read the reflections of a long-time Jesuit brother, reminiscing on his long tenure as a religious, and he noted the same reticent feeling about that word—obedience—and its connotations that made him question whether or not he’d be able to “subjugate” himself in such a way. He struggled with this feeling until another, older brother explained to him that he should think of mentally exchanging the word “obedience” (and its connotations) for the word “responsibility” (and all of its connotations).

Monks Illuminated Manuscript_1



Suddenly everything fell into place and had greater meaning for this Jesuit brother (and for me reading about his experience!). Suddenly the vow is not something that is forced upon us as a command, and not something that classifies us in a caste of people who have given up identity and the right of self-determination. Instead, we are suddenly bestowed with trust, and a belief that our actions matter to others; someone has bestowed upon us a responsibility to choose the best way, the virtuous path, with the understanding that our good judgment will have important outcomes that affect the well-being of other people. Wow.


This might be a simple matter of semantics to some, but sometimes semantics matter. And it isn’t going to solve all our problems, but this semantic tweak reveals that your choices and decisions have value. It’s important to believe and know that fact about yourself.



Responsibility also means we have to be invested in discovering all our different choices and learning which ones are the smartest—especially if we’re not just responsible for our own selfish happiness. And truly, we’re never just responsible for our own [selfish] well-being; responsibility infers that it has been bestowed upon us by others who trust that we’ll do the right thing for their well-being, too.


When you get in a car to do an errand, do you grip the wheel white-knuckled and just plow through the streets and intersections, swerving around obstacles until you arrive safe and sound in the parking lot of your destination? Do you think only and solely about your own well-being on the road and whether you make it alive to your appointment? …Of course not; in reality we have to take care and follow rules of the road that we’ve spent the time to learn. There is a collaboration and responsibility that we adhere to when driving because there is a reciprocal desire that others will be gracious to us on the roads if we are gracious to them, and vice-versa. This is a type of empathy, and it is the basis of the Golden Rule… reiterated again and again in the literature of virtually all cultural religions.


Think about it—you can either perceive driving rules to be a state-imposed directive to obey the laws of operating a vehicle.  Or, you can think about driving courteously as a responsibility towards the safety and well-being of your neighbors and other fellow drivers.  Ta-da!! You’ve just contemplated about virtuous philosophy!


What are you responsible for in this world? Who are you responsible for? Who benefits from your conscious, selfless, empathetic responsibility? If you really think about it, and let your mind contemplate the waves and degrees of people affected by our choices, you might be astonished and surprised at the breadth of the answer (and hopefully not overwhelmed)!

Posted in Catholic Philosophy, Reading for Virtue, Tarot Philosophy and tagged .

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