Last week I had the honour of presenting the Gold Duke of Edinburgh awards at Buckingham Palace. I talked to the awardees about my own journey of development, about the importance of pushing boundaries and always trying new things. After the ceremony was over, and while we were soaking up the atmosphere in the Palace gardens a young man approached me and asked me a question that caused me to stop and think. He asked me ‘after all that I’ve experienced through my travels and expeditions what is the greatest lesson I have learnt?’
That question stumped me, I didn’t have a readily available answer to that and it’s not something I have thought about directly. Each experience I’ve had has been incredibly diverse and I’ve taken different lessons away from each trip. But was there a thread in common about all of these experiences, of lessons learnt? The reason why the question stumped me was that I knew there was something at the back of my mind, I just couldn’t place my finger on it. Then it came to me and it was so obvious.
‘Responsibility’ is a broad word. When on expedition the responsibility we have is obvious, we are responsible for our own safety and that of our team, sometimes we are responsible for their lives. We are also responsible for not putting any rescue services in unnecessary risk by the decisions we make. But our responsibility is more than just for ourselves, we are also responsible for the environment we are travelling through, about not causing unnecessary damage or pollution. We are responsible for the wildlife in these environments; in the Arctic and despite carrying a weapon to defend ourselves against polar bears we are still responsible for their lives, whereby the weapon is always used as a last resort of self defence.
When traveling (which invariably sometimes class as expeditions in their own right) the responsibility we have extends to the cultures and countries we are visiting. We are responsible to not cause upset to local customs yet responsible to stay true to our own ethics and morals, which sometimes conflict. We are responsible not to engage in any exploitative practices for our own gain or pleasure. That responsibility can only be exercised with the right knowledge and so we have the responsibility of gaining the knowledge to make informed decisions - and not claim or feign ignorance. Because it is when we are not responsible that others suffer and in the interwoven networks within which all our lives exist, in the end we all suffer.
The question though, that this young man was asking, was how the lessons I’ve learnt have benefited me in life in the UK. My experiences have taught me and shown me that the most successful and happy societies are the ones that everyone participates in in creating the society that they want to live in. To do that we must take a responsibility in our interactions with our neighbours and how we contribute to society. The most important aspect of this is the information that is used to shape societies and make decisions. So we have a responsibility in the information we believe and which we then distribute - through our real world interactions but also through social media channels, or forwards on messaging services. For the spread of misinformation purposely or through ignorance is a form of irresponsibility. We have a responsibility for understanding whether the information we receive is genuine and factual, or, and we must all have been guilty of this at some point, do we believe it, not for it’s veracity, but just because it agrees with our world view? And so with responsibility comes greater honesty and openness, who can argue against that?
So responsibility is the greatest lesson I’ve learnt from my experiences. If we all take a little more responsibility I’m sure our lives will be that much more fulfilled.