My handy pocket Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary defines responsibility as the state of being responsible or accountable. When you go to check up on the meaning of the word responsible you are offered four options.
The first is for the apportioning of blame (you're responsible for this mess); the second being able to tell right from wrong (you can make the responsible choice); the third having sufficient money to pay for ones debts; and finally the fourth being to do with accountability or obligation (you are responsible for keeping me informed of what you are doing)
If I were really pedantic I'd throw a definition of accountability at you too but obligation sums it up pretty nicely. All in all though, responsibility is a word which, dare I say it, carries a certain amount of responsibility concerning its usage.
It's a word we hear thrown around a lot when people are talking about government, employers, and others in position of power. You also here people spouting new age speak about taking responsibility for yourself, while others wonder about who is responsible for the mess that we're in. Of course we also have those who claim that they are responsible to a higher power as a means of excusing or explaining their behaviour.
Usually when we describe someone as being responsible we're talking about them in terms of meeting their social obligations. They have a job, contribute to society, don't break the laws and look after their families. Whenever someone wants to offer up a ringing endorsement of a person's character they define them as responsible.
But what are they talking about when they say that? What are we demanding from a government or anybody for that matter when we ask for responsibility? Who are they being responsible too, what are they being held responsible for, and what standards are we judging them by to establish this responsibility?
How is it that a single person who makes lots of money and has no obligations to anyone except him or herself can be referred to as a responsible member of society and a single mother on welfare who manages to raise three children, send them to school, and keep them out of jail is looked down on? Isn't that single mother by meeting her obligations to her children showing herself to be as responsible, if not more, than the single person earning money for themselves?