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by Fred Kofman • Boulder, CO

Response-ability is your ability to respond to a situation. You can respond to an offer by choosing to buy or not buy. You can respond to a complaint by choosing to listen or argue.

I call response-ability “unconditional” because your responses are not determined by external circumstances or instinct. They depend on external factors and inner drives, but you always have a choice. As a human being, you are an autonomous (from the Greek, “self-ruling”) being. And the more conscious you are of your autonomy, the more un-conditioned your responses will be.

Ability to respond does not mean ability to succeed. There is no guarantee that what you do will yield what you want. The guarantee is that as long as you are alive and conscious, you can respond to your circumstances in pursuit of your happiness. This power to respond is a defining feature of humanity. Our response-ability is a direct expression of our rationality, our will, and our freedom. Being human is being response-able.

Unconditional response-ability is self-empowering. It lets you focus on those aspects of the situation that you can influence. When you play cards, you have no control over the hand you are dealt. If you spend all your time complaining and making excuses for your cards, you will feel disempowered and most likely lose the game. But if you see yourself as having a choice in how to play those cards, your feelings will change. You will have a sense of possibility.

Even if you don’t win, you can always do your best with the cards you’ve got.

When you live in this world, you have no control over the hand you are dealt. You will live a sorry life if you keep blaming fate for the unfairness of your lot. Responsibility is looking at your cards and making the best of them. Responsibility is knowing that no matter how bad things appear, there is always a possibility to express your truth in the face of a challenge.

Responsibility is not guilt. You are not responsible for your circumstances; you are response-able in the face of your circumstances. To take an extreme example, you are not responsible for world hunger. You didn’t start it and you didn’t worsen it. It exists independently of you. You are, however, able to respond to world hunger. In fact, world hunger is such a pervasive problem that you cannot not respond to it. You can ignore it, you can read about it, you can donate money, you can work in a soup kitchen, you can volunteer for the Peace Corps, or you can devote your life to feeding the hungry. Whatever you do, that is your choice, your expression of your response-ability in the face of world hunger.

Response-ability is the source of power and integrity, the power to influence your situation and the integrity to do so in alignment with your values.

Excerpted with permission from Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values, ©2006 SOUNDS TRUE, Boulder, CO, ISBN 1591795176.

Fred Kofman, Ph.D. is cofounder and president of Axialent, a consulting company devoted to helping
organizations succeed through effectiveness, solidarity, and integrity. Fred holds a doctorate in
economics from the University of California at Berkeley. He teaches Leadership at the University of Notre Dame and is the author of the book Metamanagement. Visit