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Not Taking Responsibility Makes Us Responsible

No action is an action.

Whether it is leaving a two-year-old to bleed to death in the street, failing to report an incidence of child abuse, neglecting to report the ethical transgressions of a colleague or the flat out denial of sexual impropriety, when we are faced with certain knowledge and do not act, we are making a choice that indirectly condones the transgression.

Buddha schooled right action. This means behaving in a way that supports the dignity and propriety of our social context. It does not mean sitting in judgment and making pronouncements about good and evil or right and wrong. That smacks of ego, and it is exactly the sort of self-interest that gets in the way of right action in the first place. We often allow ourselves to be bound by our context, rather than acting in service of it.

Right action is easy to understand. It is based in the simple ethic of ahimsa, or non-harming. Avoid doing or not doing something that will bring harm to another being. Do or not do—that's the key—and it seems simple enough on the surface. But, apparently, it is becoming more and more difficult-or at least its failure more and more evident.

In recent weeks we have watched in horror as passersby ignored a dying child, wrestled with sadness and anger as a cultural icon was revealed to be someone less than expected and even felt a bit of indignant amusement as yet another public figure vainly pushed back against overwhelming evidence of misconduct.

In each case, it was inaction that condoned the situation. While none of these situations was in any way acceptable, the failure of someone to act allowed them to be accepted and, in one case, perpetuated. Accepted does not mean acceptable--it means turning a blind eye to the situation at hand in service of some other agenda.

No matter how awful, disturbing or distressing any one of these circumstances may be, this perspective points to a larger, moral question that tugs at the fabric of society and should also tug at the corners of our collective conscience. When we choose to do nothing it can be every bit as destructive as choosing to do something directly destructive, if not more.

Either way, we are responsible for the world we create by virtue of our choices, and that simple fact demands that we choose carefully.

© 2011 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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