I am not my leaders. I am not my elected officials. I am not my parents. I am not my neighbour. I am my own person.

There’s been much debate on the site recently about the concept of personal responsibility for others thoughts, actions and policies. That conversation has been based on the deep despair so many feel about their leaders and their countries decisions related to the Iraq war. Some have asked for solutions and that has been a difficult request to respond to. However, as most of the best solutions are, the answer is quite simple. You, as an individual, can either be co-dependent or interdependent.
The role of a citizen in a democracy is complex. Citizens have certain rights and certain responsibilities. The act of voting for a representative that best reflects ones needs is not an easy one and often requires compromise. For some, such as single issue voters, the choice is obvious and they hold their elected officials 100% accountable for how they act on that issue, minimizing others. For most voters, however, the overall platform is the key. Thus they are more forgiving when those they elect do not speak for them on every issue. That compromise is challenging but it is necessary in order to achieve progress on a large scale.

Citizens have an obligation to speak, to write, to criticize, to become educated and to educate others about the workings of democracy and the stances of their leaders. Citizens, however, are not their leaders. Just as one can marvel at and attempt to espouse the greatness of the leaders of the Civil Rights movement, such as Dr Martin Luther King Jr, one cannot accept the glory or the responsibility for his or the entire movement’s actions. One can only claim responsibility for their own actions. The same applies to the actions of leaders who lead a country into war. It is not logical to assert that every single citizen, regardless of whether they support that leader or not, is thus responsible for their agendas either.

Individuals can only be held responsible for their own actions. To assign collective responsibility to any group of individuals based on any identifying marker, whether it be race, gender, religion, sexuality or citizenship, is not only unproductive, it is prejudicial. If the left end of the political spectrum is to be true to its ideals that freedom for all ought to be a birthright, it must allow itself the freedom to allow individuals to not hold responsibility for others deeds if those individuals have expressed dissent – in any form.

The measure of that dissent cannot be based on artificial markers. It has to be dependent of what each person is able and willing to accomplish. When we begin grading each other on those actions, we minimize the contributions of those who are simply doing the best they can. The power of any progressive movement comes for the sum total of all collective actions. Each effort adds to that power. Humility is an invaluable tool in the drive to move forward.

Co-dependency ties people together in an extremely unhealthy way. It perpetuates unnecessary guilt, shame, blame sharing or avoidance, power struggles and abuse. Interdependency understands that we may all be in this together because we need each other but also that we are autonomous, free-thinking people who value diversity, individuality and growth. Co-dependency is a stagnant vicious circle. Interdependency is a dynamic and vibrant, progressive, forward-looking movement. In order for it to work, it demands respect, thoughtfulness, understanding and compromise.

I am not my country. I am not my leaders. I am a citizen, the most important cog in the wheel of a democracy and, as such, I retain my right to be an individual with my own values and beliefs knowing that my actions affect those around me. It’s up to me to decide what those actions will be and whether they will work in favour of the common good or not.

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