“Civilizations, I believe, come to birth and proceed to grow by successfully responding to successive challenges. They break down and go to pieces if and when a challenge confronts them which they fail to meet” (Arnold Toynbee).
IF TOYNBEE WAS RIGHT, WE CAN SAY THAT A LACK OF RESPONSIVENESS IS WHAT KILLS A CIVILIZATION. And what is true of civilizations is also true of individuals. When we don’t respond rightly to the circumstances around us, we decline. If this becomes a habit and a part of our character, we destroy ourselves.
Erwin Lutzer once wrote, “Firmly entrenched within every human being lies a most deceptive presupposition, namely, that circumstances and other people are responsible for our responses to life.” It is obviously true that the way we respond to life is influenced by others, particularly our parents. But influence is not the same as control. Whether our influences are good or bad, we must respond to them appropriately, and it is the quality of our responsiveness that will judge us in the end. We will be remembered for our responses: what we chose to do with the alternatives presented to us.
Think about the connection between “responsible” and “responsive.” Responsible means “able to respond,” that is, able to choose our response. The freedom to choose our response to life’s events is one of our greatest endowments. Unfortunately, we don’t always use this freedom as we should. Called to action by life’s challenges, we sometimes default and fail to respond. We do nothing. So while responsibility is automatically ours by virtue of being human (we were given the ability to respond), responsiveness is not automatic. The quality of our responses is very much a matter of choice on our part.
Perhaps one thing should be clarified, however. Much of life depends on our responsiveness, but that doesn’t mean we should be in a “reactive” mode all of the time. We do need to be “proactive” — but even proactive people have to deal with the world as they find it.
Finally, I believe we need to improve our definition of freedom. Freedom does not just mean the absence of negative circumstances; it means that in every circumstance we are free to choose our response. And that, my friend, is a freedom no one can take away from you.
“If you can’t change circumstances, change the way you respond to them” (Tim Hansel).