Affection, Reflection, Responsibility

The flow of these three moments in the course of human action are quite common but often go unnoticed. We feel something that registers with significance (affect). It’s important. It compels our attention because it signals that something of value is at stake. Upon reflection, this felt value becomes a sentiment whose meaning - moral, prudential, or vital - provides us with reasons to care deeply. And in caring deeply, we form commitments of responsibility to act in fidelity to these values, for reasons that warrant risk-taking or sacrifice.

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This course of action is something we might experience individually, but it’s also something we engage in interactively with others. And when we do, we may face emotionally-charged differences in thought or belief that put us at odds with one another.  

It’s tempting to see this as a difference in ideas that should be settled rationally – let the best ideas win the day! But our values, sentiments, and the committed sense of responsibility they spawn are more complex than that. The reasons we care about are as much or more reasons of the heart than reasons of rational-logical discourse or argumentation.  

And this highlights one of the more notable distinctions between responsibility and accountability. The former is rooted in internal, value-based commitments that have won over our heart. The latter, accountabilities, are the role-based duties we have to others, to stakeholders to whom we are accountable in virtue of choosing to adopt a role (as partner, colleague, manager, parent). Of course, our responsibilities and accountabilities need not be in conflict.  

However, if we are to be a person of integrity, it is just these sometimes-competing pulls that we must reconcile, within our selves and between one another. And that’s where a unique kind of discourse is required. It’s better described as dialogue really, or even more simply as conversation. We must provide the “back story” that has affected us, the course of reflection and the sentiments arising from it that have moved us to care and take a stand.  

It’s not an argument, nor must there be an insistent tone. Even less are these qualities called for when we adopt an openness and receptivity to being affected by the stories of others. For by suspending argument, we are more likely to discover common reasons to care about the issues or matters at hand. Then, if there is compromise, it’s more likely to be a compromise that preserves the cause to which we are all committed.