Bearing Responsibilities in a Hedonistic Age

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Sometimes, being a responsible human being is largely a matter of accepting the relatively mundane, boring, or just plain unpleasant.

Life is inherently difficult, and leading a responsible, principle-driven life is even more difficult. Some seem to approach the challenge of responsible living with a remarkable willingness to assume its burdens. Others balk at this, simply doing what pleases them and allowing others to bear the burden of responsibilities — making messes and leaving it to conscientious others to clean things up. Some of these folks simply don’t pay attention to duty; they have no sense of obligation. Others do recognize their duties but refuse outright to do their part to make society work. So what makes some people amenable to shouldering responsibilities and others so unwilling? I think the answer lies primarily with character, but perhaps part of the answer also has to do with our hedonistic culture — a culture that fosters character dysfunction.

We live in a time of plenty and convenience, where we can generally have whatever we want, whenever we want it. We also live in an age where many feel entitled to gratify themselves in any way they see fit and whenever they see fit. And advancements in science and technology have made it so there’s little need to suffer. If we have a headache, we can simply take a pill and it’s all gone. If we’re hungry, we can pull up to a drive-up window and satisfy our appetite within minutes. With all our conveniences, many of us see little benefit to bearing pain of any sort. Given the fact that hedonism (i.e., pursuing pleasure rabidly and for its own sake) is also such a significant part of the general culture, many among us wonder why life shouldn’t afford us a perpetual good time.

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I’ve written before about hedonistic thinking and its role in the difficulty disturbed characters have with accepting the responsibilities of life. (See “Hedonistic Thinking”.) They think life “owes” them a good time. They believe it’s a sign of weakness or personal failure if they’re not fully enjoying themselves. The way they see it, only the foolish bother to care so much, and they’re averse to taking on anything that’s not purely and immediately self-serving and gratifying.

All of us like to feel good. But being a responsible human being is largely a matter of accepting the relatively mundane, boring, or just plain unpleasant sometimes. Only masochists love to suffer, but the conscientious among us will endure pain for the greater good. They’re amenable to what we call labors of love. By contrast, those among us who lack empathy and conscientiousness rarely find the motivation to suffer in that manner. Such a willingness can only arise out of empathy, care, and concern, which is why a person’s relative incapacity to genuinely love is always reflected in their shirking of responsibility.

In all four of my books, I talk about the socialization process and what’s been lacking in that process for many decades now. I speak to the essential lessons that simply must be learned, mastered, and embraced if a person is to become truly responsible — including the “10 commandments” of character development that I discuss in my series on developing character. I’ve long wanted to publish a more substantial work on this subject, and my co-author Dr. Kathy Armistead and I are now putting the finishing touches on what will be my fifth book, tentatively titled “The Ten Commandments of Character: How to Lead a Significant Life.”

Having specialized for many years in the treatment of individuals with significant disturbances of character, I’ve spent a lot of time helping clients cultivate what I call the “will to bear discomfort.” With practice, one can learn to tolerate the mundane, boring, or painful. One can learn how sometimes forsaking immediate gratification and bearing with a little discomfort can pay off in the long run, not only for oneself but also for loved ones. Of course, even beginning this process with troubled characters means confronting an awful lot of hedonistic thinking and taking into account all the many destructive messages which modern culture repeatedly sends to us that promote such thinking. But I’ve found it a great pleasure in itself to help reinforce a person’s willingness to even entertain the idea of bearing the uncomfortable for a good cause. It’s perhaps some of the most important work I do, because I know that before someone can part company with self-indulgent, hedonistic ways, they have to cultivate tolerance for the distasteful. I also know that when they’ve finally made peace with the necessary discomforts of life, they’re well on their way to leading a more responsible life. The age may tell us there’s no point in living if we’re not having a good time all the time. But if they allow it, life can teach even the most troubled characters how the willingness to forego instant gratification and bear with some unpleasantness can lead to great joy.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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