Have you ever just wanted to chuck it all and walk away? To just walk away from your commitments and responsibilities and start over again somewhere else? Why didn’t you?
I started thinking about the practicalities of walking away from my entire life of responsibilities after learning an acquaintance had done it. I divided my responsibilities up in a few different groups: work, family, finances and life. Each one has different implications in terms of walking away, and before anyone thinks I’m about to start discussing walking away from your family or your finances – don’t worry! I have a different mindset, and hopefully it will become clear what I’m getting at in parts 2 and 3.
First of all, what ARE your responsibilities?
Work: Chances are good that you work for a living. Maybe you are an employee, or a freelancer, or a small business owner. Your responsibilities for each of these types of work are similar but not the same. If you are an employee, you work at a business. Maybe you serve customers, or work in a group, but for the most part you have nobody who relies on you for their livelihood; the company pays their paycheck, not you. If you are a freelancer, nobody depends on you for their livelihood but customers may rely on you, particularly if you function almost as a “part-time” employee for their business. The most responsible position of these three would be a small business owner. If you have employees, you have people who depend on you.
Family: If you have a spouse, or elderly parents or children or any close family you support (or help support) you have a tremendous responsibility to them. You may share that responsibility (for example, if you are married and have kids you and your spouse both provide overlapping types of support) but in many cases this dependency is total and desperate (think elderly parents or newborn children). How easily could you walk away from family (or even close friends who are like familiy)? People do it all the time. Divorce and abandonment are extremes. I’m thinking more of cases like this: do you bring your aging parent who requires almost-around-the-clock care to live with you if you are able? Or do you send them to an assisted living/nursing home facility? It sounds cruel, but should you neglect your other family to care for someone who probably needs better care than you can provide? It’s a difficult question.
Finances: You have commitments to be paid – rent, mortgages, taxes, utilities and so on. Some are less critical than others. Your cable TV is a fairly mild commitment you could end without much worry. Your electricity? Less so. Your taxes? I wouldn’t advise it – we can’t all be Wesley Snipes. This area is fairly clear cut morally, although there are gray areas – would you walk away from a mortgage if your home plummeted in value, in order to get a fresh start? I would, but some people think this is irresponsible.
Life: You have responsibilities to things in your own life that cannot be pushed aside. Food must be eaten, health must be maintained and medical care is sometimes necessary. You can switch from caviar to tuna fish, but you can’t stop eating. You can decide to stop taking multivitamins, but if you suffer from diabetes you’ll still need insulin. You may even have responsibilities to your friends, your neighborhood and your church/temple/mosque/etc., but these could vary so much it’s hard to make an overarching simplification, and I wonder if those are truly responsibilities. I suppose if you are a community-centric person they might be. I will argue that you have almost no other responsibilities. Do I have a responsibility as a citizen for certain things? I guess so. Voting, jury duty, paying taxes and so on are all “national” responsibilities, but let’s face it – you can walk away awfully easily from most of those. Whether you should is another question.
So did I miss anything? And don’t tell me it’s impossible to walk away from any of these commitments, because you can, without a doubt. These are the major areas of obligation in most of our lives, other than a sense of civic duty. In the next two parts I’ll talk about (1) whether you could walk away and (2) if walking away would make you happy. We all say we want freedom – but do we?