Photo by Fotogravirus. Available at Flickr.com.</
The newly transformed butterfly struggled to leave its cocoon. Feeling sorry for the creature, a little boy cut the edges of the cocoon to help the butterfly exit more easily. To the boy’s horror, what came out was not a beautiful butterfly, but a wrinkled caricature of a butterfly that died soon after it came out. The boy’s mistake was his failure to understand that the struggle of pushing its way through the tiny hole in the cocoon was God’s way of forcing the creature’s blood out into its newly formed wings, causing them to expand and enabling the caterpillar to become a fully developed butterfly.
As people are given freedom to act on their own, they must also be held accountable for the outcomes of their efforts. This can be a painful experience, but it is this process of struggle that generates authentic learning.
Learning has much to do with how we handle the inevitable failures that occur when we are responsible for our actions. The fear of failure is why so many people shy away from taking responsibility in the first place and why we often want the freedom without the corresponding responsibility. Free people learn from failure. They accept the risk of freedom. And when they fail, they don’t give up, but instead use that failure as a stepping stone to help them get closer to success.
People who are unwilling to accept the responsibility for their decisions will also be unable to learn from their failures. Instead of learning, they resort to blaming others–their peers, management, or the previous occupier of their current position. The truly empowered individual, however, will see failure as a path to learning and improvement.
This ability to handle failure creatively enables them to accept the responsibility of freedom. Freedom is not a utopian dream of painless bliss. It’s about allowing our own decisions and efforts to be filtered through the grid of results. It’s about honestly and objectively asking ourselves whether those results really contribute to our objectives. It’s about being willing to change our tactics when they don’t produce results.
When people feel that they own not only the process, but also the outcomes, their lives take on a sense of significance and meaning. This is why managers who soley rely on command and control fail to develop the full potential of their people; they fail to tap into this human need to be in control of their own destiny.
Freedom and responsibility are two faces of the same coin. They go together. You cannot have one without the other if you want true freedom. Responsible freedom is not just the ability to do what we want; it is also the willingness to submit our work to the critique of what is truly valuable and good.
Free people accept this challenge and are willing to subject their efforts to the test of measurement. They are also willing to speak with facts and to allow these facts to judge their actions.
The designers of airplanes can apply a tremendous amount the creativity and autonomy to the task of building jetliners, but if they fail to adhere to the laws of physics then tragedy will result. People who want freedom must count the cost of freedom and realize that it also involves a higher degree of responsibility.
Finally, truly free people do not sit around and expect others to give them what they want in life. They initiate. They are the true entrepreneurs of our world. Without them, life would become very dull and suffering would rise like a tidal wave across the earth.