TAKING RESPONSIBILITY: SELF-RELIANCE AND THE ACCOUNTABLE LIFE by
Nathaniel Branden (Simon and Schuster, 1996)
In Taking Responsibility, Nathaniel
Branden examines the meaning of self-responsibility and discusses both the
personal and societal benefits of adopting this life strategy. After
providing general information on autonomy, responsibility, social metaphysics,
and living a self-responsible life, the author addresses the importance of
self-responsibility for specific issues. As such, this book is a valuable
resource for those interested in cultivating self-responsibility in themselves
or encouraging it in others.
Taking Responsibility offers specific
strategies that college or university educators can use or adapt to empower
their students. For example, Dr. Branden describes a simple strategy that
he teaches to his clients, which is to begin each day with two questions:
“What’s good in my life?” and “What needs to be done?” As he
says, “The first question keeps us focused on the positives. The second
reminds us that our life and well-being are our own responsibility and keeps us
proactive.” With a little revising, this activity could be used for helping
students to adopt greater personal responsibility for their education; for
example, the questions could be changed to “What’s good in my life here at
[your college]?” and “What needs to be done?”
The book is full of specific examples and
stories from the author’s clinical practice (he’s a psychotherapist), as
well as experiences in consulting in a business and organizational setting.
Several of these stories could be converted into case studies and used for
building awareness of self-responsibility, the importance of autonomy, the value
of conscious choices, and many other ideas relevant to college educators.
In addition, the author explains his use of
sentence-completion activities for developing self-awareness in his clients. In
this activity, you start with an incomplete sentence (sentence stem) and keep
adding between six and ten different endings, with the only requirement being
that each ending be a grammatically correct completion of the sentence.
Some sentence stems suggested by Branden
Users of Skip Downing’s On
Course text will recognize his adaptation of Branden’s
strategy in Journal 3 where students are asked to complete ten sentence stems
dealing with personal responsibility.
In the appendix, Dr. Branden includes what
he calls “A Sentence-Completion Program for Growing in Self-Responsibility.”
Here he provides a progressive series of five sentence stems per week for 30
weeks, along with specific strategies for using these stems.
I found some parts of the book to be less
useful to me than the ones mentioned. The final chapter, "A Culture of
Accountability," begins with strong arguments for building responsibility
in families and communities, but then goes on to argue that government
regulations of any kind are essentially the cause of the downfall of American
society. Branden states that "…government regulation of our
economic activities does not work…the welfare programs were intended to solve
problems that have gotten steadily worse….the most important gains made by
African Americans all took place before … civil rights legislation, [and] many
black leaders are now saying the situation has worsened since." He does
admit, however, that "the social issues I touch on in this section are
complex, many-faceted, and difficult to address briefly. I am also aware
that my particular perspective is radical."
On a less political note, the chapter on
self-reliance and social metaphysics was difficult to understand and apply for
someone like me without much background in psychology and philosophy. I also
found it a small annoyance that nearly every chapter in the book was a
mini-advertisement for one of Dr. Branden’s previous books (he manages to cite
six of his own titles in this two hundred page document).
Even so, when I had finished the book, I
knew more about the principles of self-responsibility and how they apply across
many settings, and I had at least two specific strategies to implement with
myself and my students.
Rating: 3 Stars (out of possible
--Deb Poese, Faculty,
Mathematics, Montgomery College (MD) email@example.com
[Editor’s note: At http://www.nathanielbranden.net/psy/psy02.html,
you’ll find an essay by Nathanial Branden entitled “Instructions for
Sentence Completion Programs” and links to two Sentence Completion Programs,
one for Self-Responsibility and one for Self-Esteem.]
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