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January 13, 2009

Respect and Responsibility

The Dalai Lama

Follow the three Rs:
Respect for self
Respect for others
Responsibility for all your actions

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

The Dalai Lama's talent for universality is evident -- stated as such, everyone would agree to respect and responsibility. This is a simple message we can repeat as needed.

In the order of his lesson we can find further guidance. "Respect for self" comes first. We must have self awareness and self confidence before we can effectively respect others.

"Respect for others" follows, as it would naturally from a combination of respect for self and the internationally recognized Golden Rule -- on which nearly all religions and philosophies agree. Simply stated, that is to treat others as you would have them treat you, or as you would treat yourself. Respect for others should be a matter of course.

Respect in general is a mindset. You can have more respect for yourself or others simply as a matter of attitude. Responsibility though, is more practical, it is the test of respect. If you have respect for yourself and others, then you will take responsibility for all your actions without being otherwise reminded.

We have shown that the second 'R' follows from the first, and the third from the second; by stating all three, the Dalai Lama is acknowledging our need for guidance. We need both philosophical wisdom and practical instruction.

Perhaps because it is more practical, the third 'R' is the one which has caused some debate, though we can all agree to the sentiment of responsibility. In the United States, one deep source of inspiration has been The Great Law of the Iroquois. Their most famous proclamation: "In every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations." A primary founder of the U.S., Ben Franklin followed this rule in making his own socially responsible investments, in forming and advising the new American nation, and Franklin also referred to the Iroquois often when counseling other American investors.

"Responsibility for all your actions" has been understood differently by ethical and legal scholars over time. For example, liability insurance raises ethical and practical issues when someone not directly involved in an accident can be paid to take responsibility on behalf of someone to whom responsibility ethically belongs. Fowler V. Harper & Fleming James, Jr. became a standard part of legal education, as in "Freedom and Responsibility -- Readings in Philosophy and Law" for investigating questions about insurance, including: "Does it dilute the deterrent effect of liability upon the individual? Does this tend to foster irresponsibility?"

A lot of the debate is more complicated, but the simple question of how we take and share responsibility needs to be asked by all of us no matter whether we are lawyers, scholars, or illiterate. At last count in 2006, insurance was a US$ 3.7 trillion industry. Should it be? If individual responsibility has been diluted, is it an ethical equivalent to replace that with shared responsibility? Could shared responsibility even be ethically superior to individualism, promising and requiring cooperation?

There are certainly more laws than ever, each of them with more words than ever. There are more lawsuits than ever, too. Justice systems both in and between nations are getting busier and stronger. Both legal and effective tax rates are generally climbing. More nations, roughly two thirds, are now democracies than ever. In these regards we are more responsible for our actions than ever, at every level of society.

Find some way, today, that you can take more responsibility for your actions, or help others do the same. When disagreement arises, keep respect in mind and on the tip of your tongue.