Responsibility and Justice: The Cornerstones of the Good Life
President, International Network on Personal Meaning
Coquitlam, B.C., Canada
The theme chosen for the second
bi-annual Meaning Conference is: Freedom,
Responsibility, and Justice. To the extent that these
are the cornerstones of the good life and a civil society, they
are pivotal issues of positive psychology.
Never in the history of humanity
had so many freedoms been won for the individual in so many countries.
Yet, liberty without responsibility poses the greatest threat to
democracy. Similarly, license and addiction pose the greatest threat
to personal and community health.
Dr. Viktor Frankl has long contended
that meaningful living is predicated on the exercise of freedom
of choice and personal responsibility. To Dr. Frankl, responsibility
entails responding to the demand of meaning unique in each situation.
But, where does personal responsibility
end? Who should be held responsible for evil deeds? To what extent
are society, corporations or other people responsible for foolish
and harmful individual decisions? Does a culture of victims and
scapegoats undermine personal responsibility? What can be done to
promote ethics, meaning and virtues?
The relationship between freedom and responsibility
is indeed complex and so much hangs in the balance. The challenge
facing psychologists is: how to foster responsible, meaningful choices
without externally limiting individual freedom.
Any progress in addressing this research question
will contribute to the welfare of the individual and the society
as a whole. It calls for the best minds and generous funding to
tackle this pressing issue, which has broad implications.
Social justice is another urgent issue, to which
psychologists can no longer turn a blind eye. Thomas Jefferson once
said, Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection
without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things.
The pursuit of liberty, life and happiness does
not occur in a vacuum. It can be greatly hindered by an oppressive
society or conflict-ridden community. Furthermore, psychological
problems often stem from the unraveling of family, neighborhood
and social institutions.
Thus, another challenge facing psychologists
is: how to create organizations and communities that are characterized
by fairness, harmony and kindness. This is an even greater challenge,
because community transformation depends on more than individuals
making responsible decisions. It also depends on knowing how to
create a climate of respect and regard when individual rights and
We have singled out justice for special attention
at this Conference for several reasons. Firstly, meaningful existence
cannot be based on selfish pursuits it needs to be concerned with
larger issues such as poverty, racism, indigenous disadvantages,
etc. That is why Dr. Frankl and other existential psychologists
have emphasized the need for self-transcendence and serving a higher
Secondly, a lack of fairness undermines the
individual pursuit of meaning. It would be difficult for individuals
to experience meaningful living and fulfillment, when they feel
that they are discriminated against and unfairly treated,
Thirdly, a lack of justice hinders community
building. Conflicts and factionalism are inevitable, when group
members feel that there is a lack of fair treatment and procedural
justice in the organization.
Finally, the perception of fairness raises important
questions: Does it depend on equal opportunities or equal results?
Can fairness co-exist with elitism and hierarchy? Is the prevailing
winner-takes-all philosophy contrary to peace making and community
This new Millennium calls on psychologists to
wrestle with issues of responsible choices and positive participation
within the life of the nation. We need to discover how to harness
all the forces psychological, spiritual, social, political and
economical to enhance freedom, responsibility and justice.
The Meaning Conference provides an opportunity
for psychologists and social scientists to get together and weave
a rich tapestry of positive psychology with numerous themes, such
as personal meaning, optimism, competence, coping, love, faith,
trust, courage, empathy, justice, acceptance, forgiveness, character
education and participatory leadership.
Thus, the scope for the Meaning Conference is
broad enough to encompass a wide variety of topics, involving different
methodologies. In addition to the traditional research and theoretical
presentations, we will also include several open sessions for interested
individuals to share their ideas and experiences.