We Must Not Shirk Our Responsibilities

we cannot remain silent

By Troy Headrick

Many who regularly read this blog are interested in self-reflection, personal growth, mindfulness, spirituality, psychology, and topics of this sort.  Often, when discussing these things, the writers of these blogs focus on the individual.  They might begin by narrating a personal anecdote and then use that experience to examine a larger, more universal theme.  Today, I want do things a little differently.  I want to examine the individual, not in isolation, but as a member of a society and a polity, and argue that no one can become fully self-actualized (or happy or “whole” or however you want to phrase it) unless that person situates herself in a larger, social and political context and realizes that she has certain responsibilities to those who populate her milieu.

This blog was inspired by an act of horrible injustice and its aftermath.  On May 25, 2020, a man named George Floyd was killed in broad daylight when a nineteen-year-veteran of the Minneapolis, Minnesota, police department, a man named Derek Chauvin, aided by three other officers, knelt on George’s neck for nearly nine minutes, thus fatally asphyxiating him.  This murder was filmed via mobile phone and is available on the internet.  I will not watch the entire video because I know it will emotionally destroy me.  The bits and pieces I’ve seen have wounded me deeply.

Some might feel that I’m committing a kind of faux paus by openly talking about a controversial societal, cultural, and political topic in a public setting.  Back when I was active on Facebook—I still have a Facebook page, though I have long wanted to close it, but my wife implores me not to do so as a way of staying connected with her Egyptian family—there was this unspoken rule that people in my family and among my network of friends never made posts that could be deemed controversial because doing so would be seen as a demonstration of “bad manners.”  So, people posted videos of puppies and kittens and such but never would touch anything political.

Unfortunately, many people like to avoid discussing topics that make them uncomfortable and stay silent as a way of not making waves.  Some refer to this as going along to get along.  When I hear people making such comments or when I watch them keep their mouths closed to avoid ruffling feathers, I’m immediately reminded of the saying, attributed to John Stuart Mill, a proponent of utilitarianism and someone I studied in both undergrad and grad school, that “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”  Silence, in other words, creates an atmosphere where acts of exploitation and violence can flourish because they go unopposed.

How can I be the best version of myself when unjust things happen and yet I keep myself ignorant of these things—playing the role of ostrich with its head in the sand—or know about them but avert my gaze because I don’t want to experience the hassle of getting involved?  Remaining apathetic and ignorant takes no effort and certainly is the easy way out.  But when has repeatedly taking the easy way out and not looking closely at things and thinking about their meaning and implications ever led to any sort of intellectual, spiritual, or emotional growth?  Ignorance and apathy don’t lead to growth; they stunt.  Averting one’s gaze and staying mum is an act of irresponsibility and, dare I say it, cowardice.  We grow by being engaged and doing the right thing even when it’s inconvenient to do so.

I want to finish with a brief discussion of patriotism.  Patriotism is the act of being proud of (or of showing love for) the place one comes from.  It is impossible for a person to be patriotic and apathetic at the same time.  If a man claims to love his wife, he cannot demonstrate his affection by being indifferent to her.   Indifference and apathy are incompatible with love.

I think it goes without saying that we are social and political beings whether we like it or not.  Some try to divorce themselves from politics and current events, which requires that they remain aloof and disengaged.  Abraham Maslow, a great thinker who gained notoriety during the last century, argued that the most self-actualized individuals are those who see themselves as members of a “human family” and actively learn (and care) about what’s taking place in the world and the pain others are feeling.  Self-actualized people are, in other words, profoundly empathetic.

I hope this sparks a wonderful conversation, and I look forward to being a participant.

Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.

Header photo by Richard Clyborne of Music Strive

62 thoughts on “We Must Not Shirk Our Responsibilities

    1. Hi. I’m sorry if you got the feeling that I was saying that everyone had to post on the internet something. I do think we all need to be “activists,” but activism can be something as simple as being educated and informed about what’s going on the world and in the neighborhood. I write, so I do that kind of work. Some march. I used to go on many protest marches, especially during the lead up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Some people let their feelings be known by painting pictures or making documentaries or helping their families understand issues better. Some run for office.

      I guess the point I was trying to make is this. When I was growing up, I was taught that it was wrong not to help when someone was hurting. If you happen to pass someone on the sidewalk who’s fallen down, it’s important to help them stand up. What happened to George Floyd was cruel and heinous. If I see that and then just go about my merry business, I will feel like an ass, a coward, and certainly will not be the best version of Troy I can be.

      In a sense, I have to be “political” to the extend I have to be engaged in some form or fashion. I can’t simply be myopic.

      Thanks for participating and expressing your opinion.

  1. I love this post. I couldn’t watch the video at all. But I know what happened and I am speaking up about it. We have been educating ourselves by reading about the civil rights movements and watching movies like Selma and I am Not Your Negro(super powerful, James Baldwin is a brilliant man) and just listening to our black friends.
    My heart is broken for what our country is going through but it is about time we woke up to the injustice that so many of our citizens face everyday.
    Thank you for starting the conversation, Troy.

    1. Thanks. We need to talk about things of this sort all the time. Transparency and openness are so important. Things don’t fixed if they’re not even talked about.

  2. As a police officer all I can say was Chauvin was wrong in what he did. I don’t know the man, don’t know if race had anything to do with what he did. What I do know is you just don’t kneel on someone’s neck. It’s not taught in any Police Academy as an acceptable move to restrain someone (In fact we were always told you stay away from the head and neck. to easy to hurt or kill someone). Even if the person broke the law and you’re arresting them, you use the minimum amount of force to get the job done, and you treat that person with respect and humanity.

    1. I am very grateful to you for what you do. I feel like this must be a difficult time to be a police officer but I want you to know how much I appreciate your decision to protect and serve. I am so happy when policemen speak up about their belief that what happened was wrong. Please stay safe out there.

    2. Thanks, williamrablan, for posting this. I’ve been around long enough to understand that there are good folks and bad ones in every profession. As someone who’d been in education and education management for a long of years, I have seen this in my own profession. We really have to be careful not to paint everyone with a broad brush. That’s just wrong and bad thinking. I’m really happy to hear from someone in law enforcement. I know you all have a lot of challenges and that your job is not easy. And you are absolutely right, police officers are not judges. Their job is to apprehend. Guilt or innocence is decided by others and elsewhere. The person who killed George Floyd was acting as judge, jury, and even executioner. Thanks so much for responding. Be safe, brother.

  3. This reminds me of the theory of Spiral of Silence: this is a mass media communication theory where a point is made in such a fashion that the mass population targeted with this message will fall into silence and go with the program. We have seen this, in mass, via social and MSM: now we’re at a cross roads of multiple different views caught in these spirals fighting for who is right and who is wrong.

    To add to your argument that we are social and political beings – we are also spiritual beings. Yes, we need fellow people and humans by our side and yes we may align with political views, but we also align ourselves with our faiths and paths to peace in accordance with our root virtues (love, sharing happiness, reconciliation, and peace on earth with all humankind).

    Truly enjoyed your post! Be well and be safe and healthy

    1. Thanks for the comment and for informing me about the Theory of the Spiral of Silence. I look forward into reading more about the theory. Yes, I don’t see a clear line separating our spiritual lives from our political lives. In fact, human beings are really complex systems. One part of that system affects all the others. Speaking of theories, read a bit about “systems thinking.” I would describe myself as such a thinker.

      1. I will definitely have to read up more on systems thinking and I see where it has it’s uses. While I disagree with your statement on a clear line of spiritual and political lives, I can see your point where people have used faith as a basis of political systems. I’m in the mindset spirituality should be a separate part of our system/web of life as our connection to God and the Earth. Using spirituality politically, as we have seen, exploits the purpose of our spiritualism

      2. I think what I’m trying to say–but not doing a very good job of it–is that if we act immorally in our political lives or if we turn a blind eye to injustice this will affect us spiritually. A person can’t be spiritually evolved if he practices a brutish (or even an uncaring) politics. The things we believe in politically shape our inner lives. Thoughts (whether they be of a political nature or not) make us the people we are.

      3. And to your point, those who feign good spiritual practice whilst practicing brutish politics are the hypocrites that lead this world to the point we are at today of great divide and conquer. I’m more on the side of spirituality affects everything morally while politics may affect everything materialistically

  4. “How can I be the best version of myself when unjust things happen and yet I keep myself ignorant of these things”… This hit me hard.

  5. Here i found a word i’ve been meditating upon my whole day.
    PATRIOTISM. it led me to writing which i’m yet to complete and i am glad cos i feel even more inspired after reading this.

    Here in my country we the young folks sell our lands amd properties to go abroad because we believe in a better life over there, abandoning our own land and culture, and see where its brought us today ” NO WHERE”.. I’m glad i read this posts right now

    1. Hi. Thanks for reading and commenting. Do you mind if I ask where you live? I ask because I spent twenty years living outside of America and have traveled a lot. How would you define “patriotism” now that you’ve been thinking about it? I’d like to add that there’s a fine line that separates patriotism from nationalism.

  6. You make such a wonderful point about how we are inherently social and political beings. To be honest, I always thought everybody was individualistic about that sort of thing, but it makes sense that a small part of it exists within all of us. Well put.

    1. And we need to nurture our political selves. If we don’t, we might end up with a very ugly set of rulers who have no interest in democracy, openness, transparency, freedom, and human rights. In democratic countries, many have grown very lazy and apathetic. We think “Let someone else take care of democracy.” Such thinking allows democracy to atrophy, and the next thing you know, you wake up living in a country you no longer recognize. Because we are naturally gregarious animals that gather together, we are naturally political too because politics is simple the mechanism whereby we organize ourselves and our dealings with others. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  7. If part of being the best of ourselves is in our roles as members of a community, then it only makes sense that you’ve said what you have here. That part of ourselves that wants us to act with justice, our relationship with the community at large, it’s still a part of us internally, so it’s definitely a part worth considering on a regular basis like with every other aspect.

    The consequences of this injustice is anyone’s guess, but what I can say with near certainty is that future injustices will occur. If we can continue to address this aspect of justice within ourselves and how we can nurture it as you’ve done then God willing we can effectively engage with future injustices and put this aspect of ourselves at peace. If not this time, then eventually.

    1. Many of us don’t realize that politics is rooted in mores and such, making it a very human enterprise and an expression of our value system. Politics is simple the set of mechanisms we use to organize ourselves and our interactions with others. We are gregarious by nature which means that have social and political lives. Many forget about nurturing that political part of ourselves and let others do our thinking for us. When that happens, we shouldn’t be surprised to wake up one morning and find ourselves living in a place that we don’t recognize or admire. Thanks so much for your comment.

  8. Good post. I think for a lot of people it is scary to engage because it opens one up to judgement. You are right, though, it is so important for us engage. We do it for ourselves, we do it for everyone – we are all the better for it. 🌷

    1. You are absolutely right! Many stay silent because they fear opening themselves up to criticism and so they shut up. Taking a political stand is a bit like disrobing. Both involve standing somewhat “naked” in front of others. The coward’s way out is to avert one’s eyes, to avoid stepping beyond one’s comfort zone. When we behave cowardly, we die a little on the inside.

    1. Absolutely agree! Unfortunately, many find that doing the right thing is “embarrassing.” I’d flip that sort of thinking on its head. Doing nothing (or the wrong thing) brings more than shame. It brings a kind of moral rot than can lead to death.

      By the way, I really like your writing–I found your blog–and plan to look at more of your pieces. Why not post a link here so that other’s can read your stuff?

  9. “It is impossible for a person to be patriotic and apathetic at the same time.  If a man claims to love his wife, he cannot demonstrate his affection by being indifferent to her. “

    Well, where I think the above mentioned quote is beautifully put and gives out a strong message, in my opinion, it is not just about living by an identity and trying to defend it at all times. Relationships are different, patriotism is well something very different yet extremely exploitable.

    You have to be a basic humanist having a level of empathy for the human kind to be able to stand up against a deemed injustice. It should not just be for the love of America per se or the black community. Because whenever there is an extreme identification with any form, it creates violence. But to make people sympathetic towards the persecutions in let’s say Syria and America likewise is quite idealistic to say but you get my point right?

    Also your post with its strong awakening message reminds me of a Dan Brown’s quote: “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality at the times of moral crisis.”

    1. Thanks so much for your kinds words and thoughtful comment. By the way, do you live in the Middle East? I ask because I lived in the Arabian Gulf and North Africa for a long time. I apologize if this is a comment that you find too nosy. It’ just that I’m curious…

      1. No it’s not nosy at all. I am from Pakistan. I have lived in Egypt for about two months and visit UAE often as some family members of mine live there.

      2. Very cool. I’ve never been to Pakistan but I’d love to go. I met and befriended many from Pakistan when I lived in Abu Dhabi in the UAE. I also lived in Cairo and my wife is Egyptian. I am intrigued by that part of the world and often miss the region now that we’ve moved away.

      3. Yes, Cairo is amazing. I sometimes felt overwhelmed there. As you well remember, it is so crowded and colorful and loud and busy. Wow!

  10. I love what you’ve written here and agree with what you have shared. Education in primary and high schools in the U.K. could really do with a massive shake up. If children were taught about Colonialism from a non white perspective and an acknowledgement of what our ancestors had done, then hopefully there would be a future generation who would be more empathetic. It would require great sensitivity and emotional intelligence on the part of the teachers. Dialogue would be opened up and the horrible injustices of history would be acknowledged. I personally don’t remember being taught very much about Colonialism at school and when it did crop up it was usually about how wonderful the “white man” was for discovering this place!

    1. Like you, I grew up in a country that committed all manner of genocidal atrocities that were never written about in books or talked about in school. Native-Americans, when they were presented, were always referred to “uncivilized” and as “savages.” The labels we use create a reality. The earliest writers of American history had their ancestral roots in Europe and so history was very Eurocentric. As someone who has spent a huge portion of his life living outside of his home country, I know that the world is mixing together and this gives me hope. I know there are plenty of bigots out there who are trying to besmirch those who come from other countries, but they are a dying demographic. Still, we have all sorts of ugly ways of thinking of each other. Most Americans refer to some countries as being part of the “third world” or “developing” as if all they need is to become more like us and then they’ll be “first world” and “finished.” I really enjoyed this conversation. By the way, do you blog? If so, why not post a link here so I can check our your writing.

  11. A very thoughtful read .Our growth is as a WHOLE couldn’t agree more .The other is not so “other ” as we think .No man is an island ;we are all joined together ,but on the other hand I also believe that spiritual journey is very individual too.One has to learn to fight for injustice for himself first.How can we help others or fight for others if we can’t help or fight for ourselves .People can be very sympathetic ,fair ,and human but they might not be bringing big political changes or standing up causes like these .But trying to do as much as they can with whatever resources they have for their family or community .I recently read this poem of cleo Wade :https://images.app.goo.gl/nkgvNmt48xoRxczu5

    1. I agree that there is a lot of “othering” going on right now. We’ve gotten very tribal in our thinking. Do you live in America or someplace else? If you live someplace else, is it like that where you live? Thanks for the link to the poem. And thanks for participating in this conversation.

  12. If we are to be “responsible” then it behooves us to know to what we are responding. Is it our inner fears? Is it social pressure? Is it a social illness? Is it an objective issue. If we are caught in the first, we cannot know the others. So is it not our first obligation to know our own fears, so we can be free from them? If we are bowing to pressure then we have no will of our own. So is it not our second duty to acquire the being to permit “will”? If we see an illness in mankind, is it not our duty to help heal the illness? Should we not therefore seek to understand what marks and defines a “healthy” society? And if we claim objectivity, should we perhaps check whether we are forgetting our own arising? Good post.

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I think we are both very inquisitive and analytical. You ask a lot of interesting questions that I need to ponder. I always like it when a reader challenges me intellectually as you’ve done. By the way, I checked out your blog and liked what I saw. Take care and stay in touch.

  13. Hi Troy, a truly thought provoking piece. It is a very sad situation humanity finds itself in. The fact that any human being man or woman would be murdered openly by a corrupt police officer is a despicable crime. George Floyd’s life was precious. I too am sickened by the vision. We are all responsible for the way we treat our neighbours, if everyone treated their neighbours as they would like to be treated, there would be no prejudice. I am all for change and peaceful protest, but can not condone violence as a response. Other people are suffering at the hands of protesters, I’m speaking from the 🇬🇧 Yes, we can remove statues of slave traders, but we can’t erase history. The fact that things happened centuries ago, and countries were built on prejudice and mistreatment of any race does not mean we can’t move forward in a positive way. Consign the monuments to museums if people feel offended by them, but we have to live together peacefully as neighbours in the process 😘

    1. Thank you “Milly is Metres from Madness” for this thoughtful comment. America, like many European nations, has a dark past. Both our countries have treated indigenous peoples badly and profited off the backs of the exploited. It think it high time that we began to examine that history and have a reckoning. There’s also a really big debate in America about monuments and such. Of course, the racists and neo-Nazis and such are upset by the displacement of old statues. It certainly is an interesting time time to be alive. I see that the USA and GB are facing many of the same challenges. Let’s hope things work our well without too much chaos and bloodshed. Thanks, again. I always like hearing from you.

  14. Regarding Patriotism … I play this verbal game
    Am I proud of being [insert nationality here]
    Am I lucky to be [insert nationality here]

    If we answered yes to these two questions, it turns out we are proud of being lucky.

    OK that is a bit of semantic word play.

    End of the day, we are forced to play the game and for some of us the game is watching from the sidelines.

    The thing we need to remember is Derek Chauvin did not become Derek Chauvin in a vacuum. He is not a self made man. He is a product of his environment and his time. His three colleagues and bystanders stood by. I like to think I would have behaved differently, but I am not sure I would have.

    1. Because you are such a thoughtful person who’s capable of looking deeply into things, I have a feeling you wouldn’t have stood passively by and watched that brutally unfold unopposed. I know I wouldn’t. I’ve actually been witness to people being harassed by others and have taken a stand in those cases. I guess I was raised by good people who taught me the difference between right and wrong. I have diligently tried to hang on to those values that were instilled at an early age. Open displays of patriotism make me uncomfortable. I would have a hard time standing and saluting the flag today because I don’t idealize the country. I see that many Americans have crossed the line that separates patriotism and nationalism. This troubles me greatly.

    1. Hi. Thanks for the nomination. Are you nominating “We Must Not Shirk Our Responsibilities” for the award or the Pointless Overthinking website?

    1. Hi, Eternal Flame. I’m trying to make out that emoji. It looks like thoughts moving from one person’s head to another. Or are those two hands? At any rate, thanks for commenting!

  15. Sir, I have just started writing here on wordpress. I am a beginner. I have 2-3 people who follow me. Can you tell me how could I get people who reads my published post?

    1. Why not post a link to your site here? I will certainly look and it, and it is likely others will too. Also, read all the posts on this site and comment on every one. At the end of your comment, post your link. Finally, be patient. I know that’s hard to do sometimes, but being patent and persevering will pay off over time.

  16. How we are in one part of our lives can easily filter over into others. Walking past someone on the street without making eye contact, passing work onto others that is actually ours to do, and not speaking up when we see injustice – no matter how small it seems at the time. Sharing kindness in the world sometimes means speaking up and saying difficult things when we know something needs to change. It also means acknowledging when we are wrong and when we need to change.

    Keep on encouraging healthy discussion, for those that have the mind and words to say. I’m working hard on speaking up, and taking action, to help our world be a kinder place to inhabit, bit by bit.

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