What Does It Mean to Be Responsible?

by Clive Elwell


“To change society you must break away from it. You must cease to be what society is: acquisitive,ambitious, envious, power-seeking, and so on” {1}


In the previous forum, references were made to J Krishnamurti, and I will quote him in this article.  These words of his neatly sum up the essence of my previous article:

“It seems to me that the real problem is the mind itself, and not the problems which the mind has created and tries to solve.”  {2}


“We think the crisis is outside of us; it is in us.  The crisis is in our consciousness.”  {3}


* * * * * *

I want to emphasise again that I really mean what I say in my ‘bio’. I am not any authority, I am not speaking from any fixed knowledge. I am genuinely inquiring, learning as I go along – and what perhaps is even more important, unlearning.

* * * * * *

I want to ask, are not people all over the world fundamentally ‘the same’?  Now I know from the previous essay and discussion “What is the real problem?”, that some readers object to this. I know some feel that a select few are the real problem in the world, and if everybody was like ‘us’ the world would be a better place. Reading your posts, I have been musing over this, and I investigate the concerns in Addendum A below, “We are the World”, so as not to interrupt the flow of this essay.

All human beings, rich or poor, suffer. Everyone feels anxiety and uncertainty. They are in conflict, perhaps at a national level, perhaps at their work place, perhaps in their family – and certainly in themselves. We all feel fear, sometimes loneliness. In our own way, little way or big way, we are ambitious. We all have desires, we all seek pleasure . . . .  I don’t have to continue the list. Can anyone deny this, that we have all this, and more, in common?

But what about the differences? Yes, there are differences – in degree. Seems to me these are differences in conditioning. The basic structure of the human mind, although the same all over the world, is ‘modified’ by how it is conditioned, the influences, the experiences, it receives,We may be less brutal, more tolerant, more modest in our desires, perhaps we can afford to be more affectionate because we have some physical security. If we have fought our way to the top, we may be more insensitive. And so on. But the basic structure, in terms of fear, pleasure, desire, suffering, is universal.

Yes, there are definite differences in the consequences of our actions. If we are rich and powerful, we can do more damage to the environment, trample on people more, Whereas the ordinary person can only trample on his family, or the people in the office below him.

But ultimately, is there any difference? Because all these actions, stemming from the self, damage, corrupt, the human mind.. Great or small, they impact on the human mind, from which subsequent behaviour takes place.  They reinforce the structure referred to above. They add to the on-going deterioration in the human mind – not the individual mind, but the human mind in general. If I am violent – at any level whatsoever – I am adding violence to the human mind, the mind which is common to us all. If I am not violent, I am not adding to it (I may even be diminishing it). We create the world. If I am nationalistic, I help create a world that is divided by nationalism.

* * * * * *

For a more detailed examination of this common human mind, I invite you to read  Addendum B below. Or you can skip it.

* * * * * *

So, like it or not, we are responsible for the world  (that is, the world of human affairs). Responsible because, in Krishnamurti’s words, we are the world.

And we can no longer use the old excuses:

“What one person does doesn’t matter”

“It’s the rich and powerful that are doing all the damage”

“Nothing can make any difference”

“We’re doomed anyway”

When one sees that one is contributing to the human mind, (that one IS it, in fact), then something very very important emerges – that one can do something about it.  Everything one does, thinks, how one acts, matters enormously. As Professor David Bohm put it:

“The real crisis is not these events which are confronting us, like wars and crime and drugs and economic chaos and pollution; it’s really in thought which is making it – all the time.  Each person can do something about that thought, because he’s in it.  But one of the troubles we get into is to say, “It’s they who are thinking all that, and I am thinking right.”    {5}


* * * * * *

The world is in chaos because we think we are individuals.

I will repeat that, because it bursts into the mind like some fireball – the world is in chaos because we think we are individuals.

Thinking we are individuals, we act as individuals – meaning we act for ourselves. Meaning we act in separation, we act selfishly. And where there is separation, there must be conflict.

Thinking we are individuals – under the illusion that we are individuals – we  all seek individual security. That security may be economic, political, emotional, seeking security in ideas, in a nation, in a relationship, in a religious belief, etc. But in all cases it is  security for ourselves. And such occupation must separate us from others. It must put us in competition with others.  We are educated to do this, in fact – our entire educational system is based on competition. We are raised to think of ourselves as individuals. The whole structure of society is based on the notion of individuality.

This is a recipe for disaster – the disaster that is unfolding in front of our eyes. And because it is non fact, the basis of our life is illusion. A life based on illusion must have tremendous complications, to say the least. It must be in disorder. And where each so-called individual is in disorder, society must be in disorder.

This disorder is now reaching a head. We are at crisis point. WE MUST see through this illusion of individuality, which causes all this separation and conflict. That is the only challenge really. This is the “right action” that I originally inquired about.

Without individual identity, there can be no identification with anything – there is no ‘my country’, ‘my race’, ‘my group’, ‘my tradition’, ‘my prejudice’.  And then, would there be any conflict at all? Would we not work together to urgently resolve all crises? But with these divisions, no crisis can ever be solved – surely that is clear? Look at the negotiations between nations over CO2 emission reduction – endless argument over who is responsible. Look at the state of all politics.

* * * * * *

We are faced with two options. Either we see ourselves as individuals, or we see that we are the world. Actions flowing those two states are enormously different. From the former, action will always be fragmentary, inadequate, only adding to human separation, adding to the problem, bringing us sooner or later to utter destruction, extinction.

But when one realises profoundly that ‘‘you are the world and the world is you”, what happens?

Only then can we live fully responsibly. Not the limited responsibility of my group, my ideology, my commitment, because I see that limited responsibility is irresponsibility.

The simple meaning of responsibility is caring. Caring for everything.

* * * * * *

To finish this essay I will return to the words of Krishnamurti. He said something that may be absolutely crucial if the destructive spiral of human beings is to be halted, and a fundamental revolution to take place in society.

He said: if just a few people changed fundamentally, that would change the world.

Now frankly this is something that I cannot directly see for myself, although I have often pondered it. It suggests that one person changing can have a disproportionate effect on the whole of human consciousness. It seems to me, if it is true, then it represents the only ‘hope’ (I use that word very reluctantly, I am not suggesting that we live in vain hope) for mankind.

Can we be one of those “few people”, or do we wait for others to change?


* * * * * * * * * * *

Addendum A: We are the World


When I read of the atrocities that seem to go on every day – people in Africa hacking others to pieces with machetes:  people being tortured so that the torturers can demand ransom money from relatives:  people, including children, being burnt to death because of different so-called ‘religious’ beliefs . . . . the list is endless, and hardly bears talking of . . . .  then one tends to think “ I would not be capable of that, surely?”. Perhaps not.

We stand aghast at stories of people burning down rain forest, bribing public officials so they can trample on environmental protection laws with impunity, treating their factory workers as almost slaves.  Addicting children to drugs, pushing junk food, alcohol, cigarettes, on the public, knowing it destroys their health . . . . Surely this indicates there is a definite ‘us’ and ‘them’, a clear distinction, two sorts of human beings?

Are there those who hurt other human beings, and those who do not?

When I read posts on various forums, (including this one), I see there are those who have no compunction about putting others down, insulting others, mocking what others write, being disdainful, dismissive. Consciously or unconsciously, they are willing to hurt others. No doubt they have their rationalisations, a feeling of rightness . . . . but then, no doubt, so do the people I first described.

What we see in the forums is a reflection of the whole world. And in fact wherever  we look, we see that same reflection. That includes, of course, looking into ourselves. To quote a phrase Krishnamurti used: “We are the world”. And of course, the world is us. Which was a major theme of my first article – although  I freely admit that I doubt if I myself understand the totality, the full meaning, of this statement.

Paul Chefurka from the previous discussion thread, put it beautifully:

“That feeling of wanting more – a second helping, a raise, a slightly better car, a bit more recognition and approval by your fellows – is on exactly the same spectrum as the behaviour of Sears COE Edward Lampert. It is different not in kind, but simply in degree. It’s the cultural threshold that determines the label.

Is there then a clear distinction, two different sorts of consciousness? It will be argued that the consequences of the earlier examples are far more serious than the latter. In some ways this might be true. But – it is the same intention. It is to boost one’s own ego, in various ways, at the expense of others. So I ask – and this is the big question – do not all these actions stem from the same consciousness?

For a more detailed examination of this ‘common human consciousness’, see Addentum B following. Or you can skip it.

* * * * * *

Addendum B: The Common Human Consciousness  (CHC)

The word ‘consciousness’, as in ‘human consciousness’, is used in a variety of ways. I think I caused confusion in my last article by its use. The way I am using it is: it is the collection of all experiences, memories, knowledge, that mankind has accumulated since he began. It might be called ‘mind’. Or more specifically, the man-made mind. It is from this that our everyday sense of existence is formed. It is this ‘reservoir’ that makes thought possible, without it we would have no language, we would be unable to think at all.

Put simply, it is the past.

It is generally seen as lot of individual consciousnesses, but actually, I suggest, it is not. Consciousness is common to us all. I will call this the  The Common Human Consciousness  (CHC)

And in the CHC lies the collective human sorrow and confusion.

Is there not only one human mind? I know this is terribly hard to accept, (not asking you to accept it in fact). It may sound terribly esoteric. But in fact if one examines the notion, it is perfectly rational. It is the idea of individual minds that does not stand up to scrutiny. There is scientific evidence for it, especially for group consciousness in animals (ants and bees are the more obvious examples) {6}. Many people also have an intuitive feel for it, at least at times. As a matter of fact, if one observes the mind carefully, one can SEE thought arising from this CHC

By the way, I am not claiming that there is no other consciousness beyond this limited consciousness of knowledge, this man-made mind. But this is how I have used the term. And the CHC is not a fixed thing. We are adding to it all the time, moderating it, for better or worse. More importantly, our own inquiry may have a profound impact on it.

* * * * * *

It comes to me that this CHC consists of a series of programs, as in a computer. Or they could be called patterns. What we are, at any given time, is the expression of one or more of these programs. Or it may be there are layers of programs. We move from one program to another, (there are programs associated with each age group for example, with each nation, with belief systems, etc etc), Programs may be modified, several programs may be integrated into a ‘new’ one, but there is fundamentally nothing new in the CHC. It can never be truly creative.

{1}  J Krishnamurti “Commentaries on Living 111” p 82

{2} J Krishnamurti 6th talk in New Delhi 31/10/1956

{3} Conversation between J Krishnamurti and Jonas Salk in Ojai, California, March 1983

{4} This “difference in conditioning” may shed light on the issue of native people, raised in the previous commentary, how they live in relative harmony.

{5} Professor David Bohm in his book “On Dialogue” 1996.

Prof Bohm had a lot to say on this issue of ‘thought being the problem’. See for example:


{6} See for example the work of Rupert Sheldrake.  I would be interested to hear of more research in this area that anyone knows of.

Comments 116

  • @Clive – I don’t mean to be impolite or write off your valid contributions to this venue, but I think more input from me re: K’s
    ideas will not be helpful. Just one more observation and I’m done.

    “Any sort of struggle is a waste of energy.” Try that one when you are drowning, and we are all drowning in this world. Those most responsible for “holding us under” just love it when we decide to quit struggling and resisting….

  • one can witness things and not react to them. i tend to jump all over it! not the best strategy though, not too many converts.

  • DANG”IT…WHERE’S THAT CLIMATE CHANGE YOU PROMISED US!!!http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/15/John_Brown_Painting.JPG

  • why would a world so intent on self destruction, care about climate change?

  • “But what about the differences? Yes, there are differences – in degree. Seems to me these are differences in conditioning.”

    So, I take it you have taken the time to study these differences and the general psychological and social and neurobiological studies regarding genetic influences and personality, etc., because there have been a lot done in the past many years. I don’t see that you have taken the time to really consider these differences, not even from the perspective of farming, dog breeding, or animal husbandry of any kind, which also provides a lot of information on this subject.

    “The basic structure of the human mind, although the same all over the world, is ‘modified’ by how it is conditioned, the influences, the experiences, it receives,We may be less brutal, more tolerant, more modest in our desires, perhaps we can afford to be more affectionate because we have some physical security.”

    I believe there is a basic “structure” to the human brain, but I don’t think that word is very pertinent to discussing human cognitive, emotional, perceptual and other differences that people both experience and display. I am very uncomfortable with the very loose use of language here, too, because by lumping all human experience and behaviors into the frame of “structure,” I fear it attempts to lend a substance to an ideas that don’t deserve it.

    “If we have fought our way to the top, we may be more insensitive. And so on. But the basic structure, in terms of fear, pleasure, desire, suffering, is universal”

    Again, science, psychology, sociology, criminology, history and a host of other disciplines do not agree with this statement. People vary widely in their drives, in their suffering, in their fears and their capacity for enjoyment. There is even a word for those people who do not experience joy in life, and it is “anhedonia.” This word exists because it describes people who exist, and that means that, the distinctions in degree are so great that making such universal, and wide sweeping statements to describe the human condition doesn’t say anything that means anything. And look at how very general and abstract your statement is: “If we have fought our way to the top, we may be more insensitive. And so on. But the basic structure, in terms of fear, pleasure, desire, suffering, is universal”

    “We” who, and exactly what “top” are you talking about, and what exactly do you mean by “fighting”? And what is “insensitive”? Is it psychopathic or is it something else? Fear, pleasure, desire and suffering are universal among all animals from what I can tell. Even my dogs experience fear, pleasure, desire (wanting) and suffering.

    I love it, really. The undefined “we” do something that is called “fighting” (a term that can mean anything from polite resistance to outright manslaughter, from what I can tell), to the undefined “top,” which is a way of using words to say nothing and everything at the same time, it must mean that at the worst we are “insensitive,” but basically we really are all the same ~ “universal”.

    “Do you disagree with my last sentence there?”

    You didn’t really say anything, Clive, from what I can tell. And why anyone in the world gets as excited about a bunch of complete sentences that are also so completely vacuous of meaning as to mean everything and nothing at the same time, I’ll never know.

    mod note – ogf, I added some formatting to make the quotes clear, as you had intended. ~mo

  • Seems like the comments might have dried up now, so I will finish off my two articles with this little story. Thanks for your all your comments, folks, it has been, and continues to be, an intensive learning time for me.

    Imagine that you had a magic wand

    Imagine that you had a magic wand. Imagine that if you waved that wand over the Earth it would undo all the damage that mankind has ever done to the planet. Waving the wand would clean up the oceans and the rivers, making all water sparklingly clear again. It would make the air everywhere fresh and clean, a pleasure to breathe. Waving the wand would restore all the forests that have been cut down, make all the ugly constructions of mankind disappear, clean up all the messes that he has created. All the animals, the birds, the fish, would come back. The soil would be fertile again. No radioactivity.
    Now what would be the point of doing this? In twenty years time or so, things would be back where they are now, with all the mess.

  • **undo all the damage that mankind has ever done to the planet.**

    Humans have hosed the environment – made it inhospitable to organic life.

    Ugly and unpleasurable are human constructs – sorta like me when the remote batteries die.

    But as we say, shit happens. Planets and their environments come and go. Perhaps it is our huge egos, our unchecked hubris that tells us we’ve been robbed and deserve better. Magic wands and paradise. warm and fuzzy for all who enter.

    **Our** planet will puke us out and move on without missing a beat.


    I notice some changes have been made. We now have a moderator.

    Two post rule has been amended to allow article authors unlimited posts.

    Otherwise. two post rule is now being selectively enforced by deleting comments of **some** posters.

    Mod now edits our posts to insure they say what we *intended*.

    What could possibly go wrong?

    Not to mention posting a short simple comment has become an exercise in futility. Damn, where’s my magic wand ??

  • I wish to return to Clive’s words: “The simple meaning of responsibility is caring. Caring for everything.”
    Do we care for ourselves, for the people around us, for the friends, whatever cross our way?
    Do we care when we write on this blog or somewhere else?
    What it means to care?
    To live with care has beauty, has meaning, and communication.
    It means to put our heart and our little energy on something without looking for success.
    One doesn’t know if the planet will survive the present crisis, if human being will exist in a few hundreds years and so on, and that is really sad. But anyway one should take good care of whatever happens to be around.
    It is simple, not intellectual.
    To put the question “what is caring?” is right, but it will take a life to be answered, and we have to care day after day. Because it cannot be communicated through words.
    When you have a baby you must be with him/her, you cannot tell: “wait some time, I will learn better how to behave”.
    Could we act, wherever we are, with total respect for the other and for ourselves?
    Stop arguing, complaining, quoting “my guru”, and so on, but having care, without knowing exactly what it means.

  • Bob S. –

    we’ve always had a mod, his name is Guy. now we have two mods, and it’s been this way for a good while now.

    article authors, as far as I know, have never been restricted from posting as much as they want, in the article threads they started. if this is not the case, Guy can correct me. it would seem obvious that an author would need this freedom, but if not, that’s fine.

    I have changed, edited, helped with, or corrected several posts – very few actually – only when the poster was having some technical difficulty, of some formatting thing went wrong. I have only ever been thanked.

    obviously (again) I am not going to ever touch anything, aside from technical problems, or posting problems of some kind that the commenter is directly mentioning. it’s pretty simple to see.

    and dear Gerald was warned directly, several times, yet chose to violate that warning. this would be the case for any similar situation. fortunately everyone else so far seems to have a clue. I seriously don’t have time for silliness, so any mod decisions like this are going to be both final and totally clear.

    for the “exercise in futility” with posting a simple comment, if you can mention what you are referring to, that would be more helpful. what happens in the browser, is there an error message, etc? thank you!

  • @ogf
    Thanks for your assertive literary analysis/criticism…
    saved me a lot of time & ergs & joules & other precious stone material.
    I did a little re-reading and pulled the following nuggets.
    Not up to the level of Tom Friedman’s work, but what is these days?

    I don’t think it is possible to make sense of our thoughts.

    The past simply does not have any answers.

    Although for me the word “how” cannot imply a search for a method, a technique.

    Original recipe.

    .Extra Crispy?

    Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.
    Usually, maybe…but not here.

  • Gerald got the axe? ”ah dear yorick, I knew him well.”

  • bring back Gerald! bring back yorick!

  • digixplor – no, Gerald most definitely did not get the axe. he is free to post here, up to twice a day on the main site, and as much as he wants in the Forum


  • mo – first I got a message that said I had to wait (maybe my old mouse did a doubleclick?)

    The I got a message that said I’d already posted – perhaps if I had thought of the possible double click it woulda made sense :)

    Anyhow, I changed a thing or two and then it posted as ususl.

    Keep up the good (tech) work. :)

  • thanks, Bob. just the kind of info I was looking for. a double click could do it, but there weren’t any previous posts in the system (unless Guy may have deleted an extra before I saw it first, but doubtful), so that doesn’t really explain it.

    “the system” here is getting slightly more touchy the last few days, it seems. a few more flagged posts than usual, more of these things like you experienced, that I can tell other people are seeing occasionally.

    keeping an eye on things here. any other reports appreciated, from anyone. make a (free!) “tech note” comment or email me: moflow at outlook dot com

    ~ thanks.

  • you’re welcome, infanttyrone! The truth is that I do not want to be cruel, and that is not at all my intent. However, it is one thing to blindly dismiss someone else by saying they are full of it, that their statements are nonsense, and it’s another altogether if the statement IS nonsense. It appears to me that there is no nice way to say some things, because the subject of the comment, the thing itself, is not “nice” by definition.

    At the same time, I see a world full of people who believe pretty much any complete sentence, a sentence based in abstract concepts and values, of course, that they hear. It’s a complete idea, therefore it must be real. Isn’t this the very essence of Orwell’s insights without the control and propaganda aspect? It’s why propaganda works, and it’s how control is attained over people, with these ideas that are all about abstractions so general that they say nothing and everything.

    In my experience, a person has to be really skilled at this stuff to advance in the mainstream culture, to use it but not be manipulated by it, to say things so general that everyone recognizes the idea and can apply it as they understand it, words like “fight” and “top” and all the other abstractions that are never made clear. We fight everything these days, apparently; we fight terror, poverty, climate change, crime, injustice, you name it; anything that needs “fixing” needs “fighting.” Then, we see a word like “fight” used in relationship to something else, something that is equally undefined, like “the top.” And that relationship between these two abstract, undefined concepts are used to determine the future, because they will result in something else that is also abstract and entirely undefined, like “insensitivity.”

    I’d laugh, but humans are so confused, and this shit works so well with us, that manipulators who are skilled at remaining in this non-committal wasteland of meaning are often the wealthiest, most powerful people around.

    The fact that we are so desperate to give meaning to such statements, I think says something about our own need to connect and relate to others, and how vague it has to be. Start talking about something measurable, like trees, for instance, and those sentences don’t work so great anymore. Which is why people respond with CONTEXT. “Struggle is always futile . . .” we say, but someone can think of a context where that isn’t true.

    It’s crazy, really, and why Now is the antidote for the suffering our confusion over these things brings.