President Obama said, “”Let me be clear: BP is responsible for this leak. BP will be paying the bill.”
British Petroleum’s CEO, Tony Hayward, said the company is “absolutely responsible” for the clean-up of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“The difference between the oil spill and Katrina is we didn’t have people stepping up to the plate and saying, ‘I’m responsible’,” says Robert Green. “In Katrina, you didn’t have the federal government, the governor and the mayor all saying what should be done. We have leadership now.”
Shortly after the Times Square bombing attempt an extremist website reported, “The Pakistani Taliban announced its responsibility for the New York attack in revenge for the two leaders al-Baghdadi and al-Muhajir and Muslim martyrs.”
“It is looking like the TTP is responsible for this attempt,” John Brennan told CNN’s Candy Crowley.
“Homeowners that live near streams are responsible for their own flood insurance due to their decision of moving next to streams. Most agree they should know what they are getting, streams can flood,” comments Loretta Arnold in the Examiner.
And just to be clear, according to the FEMA website, “… FEMA is not responsible for the design, construction, operation, or maintenance of levee systems and comparable flood protection structures. Likewise, FEMA is not responsible for implementing or enforcing State and local floodplain management regulations.”
To be responsible was originally to make a promise or pledge to another, often in exchange for value received. The respondent promises to spend what is necessary to fulfill the obligation.
The Latin root of response — spondere — is the same as for our English word spend. We now think of spending mostly in financial terms, but to spend can involve a variety of outputs: time, attention, talent, energy, and more.
To re-spond is to promise back. In exchanging vows the bride and groom respond to each other. The godparent responds to the charge of the priest promising to spend time, energy, and more to assist the parents. The bride and groom pledge to spend their lives with each other.
Responsibility begins by being in relationship with one another. Our ability to respond to one another often establishes the nature of the relationship. Can I — should I — respond physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, financially, with patience or urgency, restraint or passion, sympathy or anger, compassion or discipline? Given the nature of the relationship, how should I respond? Am I capable of doing so?
In Sunday’s edition of The Tennessean Craig Fugate, the FEMA Administrator, wrote :
In communities from Dyersburg to here in Nashville, I’ve seen neighbors helping neighbors and local first responders working tirelessly to help those in need.
FEMA personnel are on the ground in Tennessee, as well as other states affected by severe weather, including Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. On May 4, at the request of Gov. Phil Bredesen, the president declared a major disaster for the state, which now covers 30 counties, with additional assessments under way.
But it’s important to remember that FEMA is not the team — we are part of the team. We’re working closely with Gov. Bredesen, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and local officials throughout the western and middle parts of the state. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) has done an excellent job coordinating the response efforts with local officials. It’s important we recognize the tireless work of all involved at the federal, state and local levels.
But the team can only be as strong as its most important members: the general public. I’ve spent several days in the state, and Tennesseans have shown what can be done with volunteers working side by side local officials, and neighbors helping neighbors.
Who is my neighbor? With whom am I in relationship? What is the nature of the relationship? How is my life entwined with their lives?
In modern society these links can be obscured and easy to neglect. We may be in relationship, but not be aware of it. This lack of awareness — and the absence of anything more than an instrumental and anonymous connection — increases our risk of being irresponsible: unable or unwilling to respond.
Consciously entering into relationship, cultivating a mutual understanding of the relationship, and regularly investing in the relationship strengthens the scope, scale, and effectiveness of our ability to respond.
For further consideration:
The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
The Roman Stoics: Self, Responsibility, and Affection by Gretchen J. Reydams-Schils
The Kingdom of God is Within You by Leo Tolstoy
The National Blueprint for Secure Communities by the National Council on Readiness and Preparedness
PrepareNow.Org: Supporting special needs and vulnerable populations in disaster by PrepareNow Partners (San Francisco)