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Chapter 8: The Modes of Responsibility Which Specify the First Principle

Question B: What is the second mode of responsibility?

1. The second mode is this: One should not be pressed by enthusiasm or impatience to act individualistically for intelligible goods. One who violates this mode acts alone or without adequately considering the possibilities and needs of common action, even though individualism is not really called for. Unnecessary individualism is not consistent with a will toward integral human fulfillment, which requires a fellowship of persons sharing in goods.

2. Sometimes enthusiasm, eagerness for results, or impatience with the delays and cumbersomeness of cooperative action incline one to act by oneself, although knowing that responsible cooperation with others would cause the good to be attained more perfectly and allow others to share in it. This is not the same as the situation in which a reasonable need—an emergency, say—requires prompt, individual action. Nor is it the same as cases in which individuals responsibly take initiative on others’ behalf, with a view to proceeding in cooperation with them.

3. One can violate this mode without actually being unfair to anyone and without being overly attached to the good one pursues too individualistically. Violation lies simply in acting upon nonrational motives which lead one to overlook or dismiss some communal aspects of what one is doing.

4. Examples are often found in the tendency of a community’s more active members to appropriate functions to themselves instead of fostering wider, active participation, because the latter is more trouble and leads to uneven performance. Again: A person with many interests easily becomes overcommitted; this will lead to mediocre performance and to conflicts of responsibilities which eventually will affect others adversely.

5. Possibly because people today have more scope to choose between individualistic and sociable styles of action, the virtuous disposition corresponding to this mode is more widely recognized in our culture now than in the past. In one aspect it is called “team spirit,” meaning openness to sharing, to mutual and responsible action, and to participation by others in the activities in which one is engaged. The virtue also includes having a well integrated set of commitments, reflected in the simplicity and orderliness of life of a person who has “got it all together.” The opposed vice is indicated by such expressions as “going it alone,” “having a star complex,” and “being overcommitted.”

6. The foundation for this mode of responsibility is deepened by divine revelation even before Jesus. God makes it known that humankind had an original common life and calling—of which marriage is the paradigm (see Gn 1.26–28; 2.15, 18, 21–24)—to fill the earth and subdue it. The experience of Israel, whose communal life is shaped by the covenant, makes clear the need for coresponsibility among God’s people.

Obedience is related to this mode of responsibility. The notion of obedience is not unitary but multiple. In one set of cases, it is a duty which members of a constituted community owe to decisions made for the common good. One who fails to obey is being unfair. But in another set of cases, the disposition to obey is antecedent to any constituted relationship. It is a docility and submissiveness which are an important part of openness to community. In Scripture, obedience often is commended, and in many instances the disposition is less that of strict dutifulness than that of a ready, cooperative spirit.

By original sin, humankind is isolated from God and enclosed in darkness (see Rom 11.32). This alienation leads to a breakdown in human community symbolized by the dissolution of language at Babel (see Gn 11.1–9). The beginning of salvation, with Abraham, is marked by his readiness to leave his land (see Gn 12.1) and follow God’s command even at the sacrifice of his son, on whose life the fulfillment of the promise depended (see Gn 22.1–16). The spirit of service, of readiness to accept responsibility within a framework of cooperation, is perfectly expressed by Samuel’s “Speak, for your servant hears” (1 Sm 3.10) and by Mary’s “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1.38).

A clear example of the violation of this mode of responsibility is the situation at Corinth which Paul attempts to correct by his teaching about the unity of the Church as the single body of Christ (see 1 Cor 12). Members of the Church were fascinated with their own gifts. There is no indication they were acting unfairly to one another or violating other modes of responsibility. But they needed a sense of team spirit, a disposition to shared responsibility. The situation could be improved only by a spirit of obedience and service which would lead to greater community consciousness and less individualism.