Monday, March 09, 2009


Speech to the Albena Lake-Hodge Comprehensive School, Campus B Assembly,
9 March 2009 – By Don Mitchell CBE QC
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,
First, let me say what an honour it is to be invited to address the future young leaders of Anguilla on Commonwealth Day, 2009.
As a British Overseas Territory, Anguilla is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The Commonwealth is a voluntary grouping of nations with a common history of a relationship with the British people that goes back, for some of our countries, nearly 400 years.
England’s Parliament, however, is not the oldest one in the Commonwealth. England’s Parliament was interrupted when Oliver Cromwell abolished it in the year 1653. It was not to be restored for another seven years, in the year 1660. By comparison, Bermuda’s Legislative Assembly began its sitting in the year 1620. It has never been interrupted. That makes Bermuda the country in the Commonwealth with the longest continuously-sitting parliament, longer even that the Parliament of England. That is quite a Commonwealth landmark for a little West Indian country, a British Overseas Territory like us in Anguilla.
Today, my charge is to talk to you on the topic of “responsibility”.
For me, “responsibility” is more than just a philosophical concept. It is a vital attribute. We judge people and groups of people by how seriously they take their responsibilities.
Each one of us bears an individual responsibility for the consequences of our actions. As we grow older, we learn to value the virtue of responsibility in the people we relate to. We praise some people as being responsible, and criticise others as being irresponsible. We may even praise an institution as being responsible. We often call for “responsible government”.
As human beings we are responsible for our deeds. When we ask ourselves what we are responsible for, we are making an enquiry about our duties. So, a parent is responsible for caring for his child. An employee is responsible for doing her job. As citizens, we are responsible for obeying the laws of Anguilla.
Our responsibilities are divided and complex. If the doctor is responsible for prescribing the right drugs, we are responsible for taking them properly.
As thinking persons, we act most responsibly when we act on the basis of principle. When we fail to act rationally, we often act badly. We reason within a moral context. When we act immorally, we act irrationally. Even if sometimes we care nothing for the feelings of others, reason still tells us that we should. Reason can motivate us to take care of the feelings of others.
We have the power to feel and to desire. We feel sympathy for others who have been badly hurt. We feel shame and guilt when we make a mistake. It is this moral content of our power of reasoning that makes us support moral actions on the part of our leaders, and causes us to condemn unethical behaviour on their part.
As for ourselves, it is our power to respond to others that gives us a sense of responsibility for our actions. It is a sense of personal responsibility that allows us to work out why we feel the emotions of shame or guilt. We feel that the person who acts well towards others deserves to be happy. The person who acts badly, does not. She ought to feel remorse, and may even deserve to be punished. We feel that, if a person chooses to act selfishly, he deserves to be blamed. I choose to break the law, I deserve to be punished. When we see someone choosing immorality and irrationality, we feel he does not deserve to be happy.
Regardless of how we were brought up, we enjoy free will. We really are the authors of our own choices.
Responsibility involves the idea of duty. When we ask about a person’s responsibilities, we are asking what she ought to be doing, what her duties are. He is responsible for taking out the garbage. She is responsible for looking after her baby. The Planning Department is responsible for preventing private encroachments on the public beach.
We all tend to hold someone responsible when they fail to carry out their duties. The captain is responsible for the safety of his ship. He will be held responsible if there is a shipwreck. We feel that if he had taken his responsibilities more seriously, he might have avoided the shipwreck. We know that when we are given responsibility for something, we can expect to be held responsible if harm occurs.
Our actions impose risks on others. It is our duty to make amends when our actions cause harm to others. The person who caused the accident will have to bear the legal consequences of it.
So, how to end? Let’s try these.
When getting to school, don’t run carelessly across the street: Check for traffic. Show some self-control.
Remember, no i-pods or cellphones in class.
When your teacher gives you an assignment, take it seriously. Do it on time. Show how reliable you are.
When a $20 banknote drops from someone’s pocket, and temptation strikes, point it out to the person. Show your honesty.
Do your bit to make your school spick and span. When you see rubbish around, pick it up and bin it. Show a sense of pride in your surroundings.
All these things prove to your friends and teachers that you are dependable and trustworthy.
If you act responsibly like this, I promise to vote for you when you grow up and run in the elections for our House of Assembly.
Thank you.