39B. Circle of Responsibility

Dear karate-ka,

Adrian’s question about negativity in the people we deal with each day brings up some unique ways of looking at our lives. Consider the following carefully. I cannot write all that I believe is true here but will allow you to find much of it for yourself.

How, indeed, is it possible to change the world? If the people around us are negative how can we hope to “change” them. Perhaps we cannot. Perhaps we should look at what we can do, how we can help, and when we cannot do. It all begins with relationships.

Circle of Responsibility:

All of us have a circle of responsibility. In this circle we hold the responsibility for the daily care and upkeep of those who are in our circle-of-responsibility.

Our young children lie in our circle of responsibility. Most people accept responsibility for their children, but there are far too many who do not. Most people adequately meet the needs of their young children as far as feeding, warmth and protection, cleanliness and even love, touch and cuddling. The child is unable to provide for itself. A responsible person must provide for the youth or the youth will suffer and perhaps die.

Until this century, and even part way into this century, the extreme aged parents were taken into the circle of responsibility of the family. Many of the old became incapable of providing for and taking care of themselves. A son may have assumed such responsibility and moved forward to protect and provide for his parents.

I, as a physician, may arrive at the scene of an automobile accident far in the Arizona desert. This occurred in 1975 when I was on a gasshuku with a few students. I got out of my car rushed to a van which, I feared, was about to explode. I pulled a woman out of the van while my students removed several others.

The woman was unconscious, frothing at the mouth and not breathing. I immediately placed her on her back (without adequate neck precautions being possible), opened her airway and looked for respirations. There were none. I felt for pulses. There were none. Through the blood and froth I began a mouth-to-mouth artificial respiration with a person I had never seen before. In the dim headlights I could see her chest expanding with each ventilation. Jim was doing chest compressions. We had now become responsible for the life of this unknown individual.

We sent for help. Two hours later the Arizona State Police arrived on the scene. I had been alternating with Jim on the cardiopulmonary resuscitation during the long two hours. We were exhausted.

An ambulance arrived not long afterwards. They took over the compression-breathing regime, put on proper neck precautions and loaded the woman into the vehicle for transport. Because I had issued some orders for medications to be given in the field, I had become responsible for this patient. I could not abandon her. I had to go in the ambulance to the hospital and surrender the patient personally to the ER physician before my responsibility ended.

Under diverse circumstances we become responsible for the protection, care and wellbeing of other individuals. These circumstances are usually quite rare except when we have a child. Our own circle of responsibility has a permanent inhabitant, however. Who could that be?

Of course, if you answered the above question—myself—you were right. You have a permanent inhabitant within your circle of responsibility. You are the permanent resident. You are responsible for yourself.

On occasion, such as when you are very young, you may not be happy that you don’t have more choice in your life. But you have always had some responsibility, at least since you knocked at the cervical os of your mother just before childbirth. Many decisions at first were not conscious, but you were responsible for doing things that no one could do for you, such things as crying that first breath, digesting that first meal and, yes, soiling that first diaper.

As time went on your parents directed you in new ways to perform bodily functions. You made choices which led to greater responsibility. You were directed (by positive or negative reinforcement) to eliminate bodily wastes in appropriate manners. As you performed in a socially responsible manner you were given greater tasks and greater responsibilities. You have retained some of your basic responsibilities since youth. You are in your own circle of responsibility.

And many of you now are in or facing the potential to include a child in your circle of responsibility. It is a joy but it is often difficult because the responsibility entails so much; feeding, warming, cooling, cleaning, protecting, gentility, caring, loving, attention, broken nights of sleeplessness, seeking medical care when you think something grave is happening. And, And, And, taking care of yourself (you are in your circle of responsibility) during this rewarding-trying time. Then remember that you have a mate. The mate is not your responsibility, exactly, but the mate lies somewhat within your circle of responsibility, too. Let’s look.

As a person becomes exhausted from cold, lack of oxygen or emotional depression the first thing to leave that person (and be recognized by others at least) is judgment. Judgment falters. A mate (male or female) who is so involved with infant care that exhaustion or depression settles in, may begin to falter in judgment. Shortness of temper, inappropriate behavior, doing unusual and unsettling activities (burning the towels on the stove, leaving the wash in the washing machine for two days, arguing with the mailman about when the mail should be delivered, skipping a meal (or several meals), not brushing teeth or changing clothes are but a few possible errors in judgment made when exhaustion (or cold or depression) starts to set in. A mate, although not responsible for the other person, has accepted a portion of responsibility and pulled the other person into his/her circle of responsibility to some extent. It may become imperative to exercise that responsibility in appropriate manners, i.e., calling attention to the lack of sleep or developing depression, the need for a break from infant care and ascends all the way to intervention with police, fire-departments, advisers, priests or pastors, psychologists, etc.

But not many people live within our circle of responsibility completely or for long—Only Ourselves.

The greatest responsibility you have is to yourself.

Now, look just outside of the circle of responsibility to the circle of influence.