“Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.”
James 5:12 NIV
The conversations I have had with young people this week seem to have all followed a similar pattern. Many of the young people I work with have become disgruntled around the fact that teachers are picking on them, calling them out for doing the wrong thing, even though everyone else is doing the wrong thing also.
However, I put it to the young people like this; Let’s suppose I’m driving my car at 40 mph in a 30 mph zone. All the other drivers around me are also driving at 40 mph, but a policeman pulls me over. Only me. What would my defence be? “But everyone else was doing it! Fine them too!”
Perhaps it is unfair that just I would be punished, but to receive punishment for committing a crime is also just, regardless of whether someone else is caught for doing the same crime or not.
How could I avoid the punishment? I could start by driving at 30 mph in the 30 mph zone. I could leave myself in a position of blamelessness. I can’t be pulled over or called out for my behaviour if my behaviour is perfect.
This for me is about accepting responsibility. If I ensure that I am doing the right things at the right times, I am living responsibly. However, if I make a mistake (and we all do), we have to take responsibility for our actions, and then do what it takes to right our wrongs. Perhaps it requires a further action. Perhaps it requires an apology. Perhaps it forces us to view our life retrospectively and make necessary changes.
The other day, I woke up early, and sleepily turned on the shower. I was attempting to warm the water before I got into the shower, but the combination of the plunger being pulled up and the shower head laying in the bath meant I had the unfortunate experience of being doused in cold water at 6am and a soaking wet bathroom to clear up!
My initial thought was “Arrgghh, it’s all her fault! What has she done that for?!” before thinking about it retrospectively (in the warm shower, I hasten to add). Why did a simple mistake need to have a person at fault? Was the shower left that way deliberately as a booby-trap for me?!
The simple fact was that’s I had made an error that was the fault of no-one at all, but just had to be dealt with. No blame, no accusations. Just mopping up a soggy bathroom. Taking responsibility.
In James’ epistle, he encourages us to ensure that our “Yes” means “yes”, and our “No” means “no”. At it’s basic form, it means to do the things we say we are going to do. To take responsibility over our actions, and to hold firm in our decisions when we do say no.
Accepting responsibility for our own actions is the first step in being the change you want to see in the world. We could all be more responsible for being loving towards one another. We could all take responsibility for being a little more selfless.
This is responsible living.