Responsibility vs Guilt

As jackals we happily mix these two concepts – You are responsible, therefore you are guilty. You are guilty, therefore you are responsible.

Here is an example from current politics – Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Russia-Inside vlogger Konstantin discusses the question, if the Russian people are responsible/guilty for what Russia does in Ukraine.

Who is responsible?

Russians are responsible for the war in Ukraine
Konstantin shares why he feels Russian people are responsible for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

I hear make interpretations and not observations to support his view that the Russian people are “responsible”. Nevertheless these interpretations are widely held, and even shared by many Russians. Putin gave the order to attack on February 24th of 2022 and then the killing of Ukrainians started. Russian people elect the government. (Both are not true observations – “attack” and “elect” can be replaced by “to cross the border and demilitarize and denazify Ukraine” or “can cast a vote in the Russian presidential elections” – where the question is if the election process is not rigged from the start, by setting up a limited number of choices, setting up a one-sided media coverage and so forth.)

In part 2 Konstantin describes the most common reaction of Russians to this question of responsibility.

“I can’t do anything.” (big sigh)

What can I do? (sigh)
Helpless feeling of Russians

When Konstantin says “But you are personally responsible!” to his fellow countrymen Russians, they hear this as “You are personally guilty of wrong-doing and therefore you deserve punishment.”

They react to this with anger. Why?

Deserving punishment – Need for safety

This is not a Russian-exclusive kind of hearing of the word “responsible”. It is going on everywhere in the world, because we are educated into a world of punishment and rewards from those who have power and who can make us suffer. Starting with our parents, this is alive in teachers at school, in the jobs, or in the public discussions in society at large.

So it is very important to draw up the distinction between guilty and responsible. It is important to see, that “being guilty” is triggering a big fear and calls up a need for safety and protection in a person. So in any exchange/dialogue where we talk about this point, it will help us to be aware at all times of that fear in us and others, of not coming into a situation where we deserve punishment.

Justice through Revenge or Retribution

When we are feeling that big injustice is done to someone or ourselves, we have a sense that a punishment of some kind might help to give us a sense of reparation or healing.

One part lies in the public acknowledgment that an injustice has indeed happened.

The second part is in the punishment that a perpetrator may receive for doing what they did.

When we take that second part out, if we guarantee non-punishment, the chances are higher for finding a common bases for a shared truth about what happened. So amnesty is a big component, if we do want to establish a public truth.

To see perpertrators walk free is often a horrible idea for victims – no kidding. So “we will never forgive” and “we wait for the punishment in the court of law” one day in the future, those attitudes will serve for people to not come forward with the truth and deny they did something or say that they were in fact acting in self-defense, when most people only see an attack. So we can chose between some way of trying to “force” a truth and have a person punished by the law or otherwise and letting go of revenge and getting back to an acknowledged shared reality.


Translating Guilt

As a giraffe I find it useful to hear “you are guilty” as “you deserve punishment”.


In giraffe I would hear “responsibility” as the willingness to acknowledge the consequences of my action, in terms of contributing to well-being or ill-being in others and myself.

More discussion to follow here.