Viktor Frankl is known worldwide for writing about his experiences and learnings in Nazi concentration camps, and for demonstrating his resilience. His thoughts, collected in Man’s search for meaning, have been a great source of inspiration for several generations.
The Statue of Responsibility is one of his lesser known projects, and there is a prototype of the statue at the University of Utah.
The brutal coronavirus crisis has brought into focus the importance of responsibility. During these difficult months, many extraordinary examples of maturity and responsibility have been seen, as well as some worrying examples of irresponsibility.
Many of us live in nations in which individual freedoms and rights are enjoyed as one of the great conquests achieved by society.
These conquests were not easily won, and represent a valuable heritage that needs protection. At the same time, these rights are at risk if they are not balanced with individual and shared obligations and responsibilities. Such responsibilities are the other side of freedoms, and together they enable individuals and society to move forward in equilibrium.
Viktor Frankl (left) suggested to build the Statute of Responsibility (Photo: Alcalá yearbook, 1972, San Diego University/Wikipedia)
Freedoms and responsibilities are not always balanced – and values such as effort, sacrifice, commitment and generosity are sometimes scorned.
In education, there is a tendency to “lower the bar” as a quick solution to the high level of school dropouts (which in Spain is nearly 20%).
In the business world, paternalism and attitudes of “everyone gets the same,” still abound in many organisations. This is bad for efforts to progress towards excellence. Good systems reward performance with salaries that reflect achievements.
Talent needs autonomy and the freedom to flourish and reach its full potential.
It has been clearly demonstrated that the freedom we breathe in today’s democratic societies is, despite all its limitations and shortcomings, the best environment for personal happiness and business productivity. Talent needs autonomy and the freedom to flourish and reach its full potential.
The current exponential progress in various fields has opened new paths to freedom and fulfilment. However, the improvements that we have introduced can produce adverse effects for humanity in terms of ecology, politics, economy, sociology and technology. Resources and talent are being increasingly aimed at mitigating these risks, although success will always be linked to good individual behaviour.
I believe that unlimited and immature freedom without the counterbalance of responsibility is another of the risks that advanced societies must face in the years ahead. This danger is perhaps less visible, but it is real.
Unlimited and immature freedom is another of the risks that advanced societies must face in the years ahead.
A clear example are the thousands of “innocent” deaths resulting from irresponsible behaviour during the Covid-19 pandemic. Or the many deaths that occur annually in vehicle collisions caused by the misbehaviour of others (alcohol, drugs, speeding and so on).
Viktor Frankl was a visionary who, more than 70 years ago, was already reflecting on the limits of personal freedom. “Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is in danger of evolving into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived with responsibility,” he wrote.
His foundation aims to symbolise and increase our sense of responsibility by showing that responsibility is the other face of freedom.
It is our duty to instil and encourage a sense of responsibility, being aware that in certain cases it has a worse image than longed-for and fabulous freedom.
This represents a challenge for us all when, more than ever, our shared future depends on the maturity of everyone.
This article has also been published in Do Better by ESADE