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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Some thoughts on personal responsibility

Personal responsibility has long been a mantra (almost a fetish) for the right for many years now.  And they are not totally wrong.  People do need to take responsibility for their lives and their decisions.  All too many people, in an effort to feel good about themselves and avoid blame/responsibility, cast around seeking to lay blame on anyone and everyone else (especially a nebulous "them") when mistakes are made or something bad happens.

Last night, I ran across an article that gives some thoughts about why many people remain unemployed.  While I know that this article is not true across the board, there are people who fit its criticisms perfectly.  Give it a read before you go on reading this, because I want there to be some context to what I am saying.  I'll give you some time....

Ok, read it?  Good.  Now, let's talk about it.  As I said just a little bit ago, this article is not wholly correct, but it does touch on some crucial points.  A lot of people do expect to be taken care of and (in general) there has been a tremendous amount of blame shifting in America and not just in this area.  Pedestrians walking wherever they want without looking, people suing over the smallest things, parents assuming that teachers are at fault over bad grades, and the list goes on and on.

Before I go any further, I must acknowledge that as far as unemployment goes, there are structural and other issues which are involved.  Personal responsibility is a part of the problem, but not the whole problem.  So don't assume (as many commenters on the articles do) that I am saying that it is entirely the unemployed fault and there is nothing else going on.  In fact, the writer acknowledges that there are other issues:

                             While dissension between political parties about fixing the
                             economy is fierce and turf battles muddy up regional and
                             local solutions, nearly everyone agrees that job training and
                             re-training programs are critical.

                             That's true. I have no qualms about training employed and
                             unemployed workers new skills. It's a must. It's a necessity.
                             It's an indisputable truth.

So complaints such as

                            This argument, that it's the fault of the unemployed that they
                            are unemployed, certainly lets corporate America off the hook.
                            Ignoring the fact that low paying jobs are hot beds of bullying,
                            abuse, and injustice, let's just blame employees.

                            Wasn't that the argument used during the Great Depression? It
                            wasn't true then and it isn't true now.

are truly ridiculous.  The writer is obviously not intending to write about all the problems, but is rather focusing on this one area.  This type of response is, in fact, a perfect example of what the author is talking about.  Rather than acknowledge that the person may be at fault, blame is immediately laid at the feet of the corporation or other group.  Again, I want to stress that I am *NOT* saying that the corporations or employers are faultless, rather I (like the writer) am saying that there is some fault that must be laid at the feet of people who don't take personal responsibility for what happens to them.

I strongly believe that a large part of the reason that people constantly lay the blame elsewhere (besides self-esteem and psychological protection) is because of the erroneous idea/doctrine of predestination.  Yes, I do know that it is a religious doctrine, but it is also a distinct part of the American thought process because it has been present from the beginning of the colonies where many of the people who originally came here were strict Calvinists who believed in predestination.  I can just hear people protesting because they may not believe in predestination themselves.  But the idea is such a basic and enduring part of the collective American psyche that it is almost reflexive in most people.  If you don't believe me, just look at the number of people who believe in "fate" or that people cannot change what will happen.  Between that and the general American belief that there must be a big, bad group behind any bad action (you know it's true!), there is very little room for people to actually take responsibility for themselves.  Add to that the various schools of thought (be they psychological, scientific, religious, or whatever) that argue that everything that we are is reducible to a series of numbers, letters, ideas, etc. and you have a recipe for abdication of personal responsibility.

This is a problem that we have to face and it will take a while to reverse course, if we can at all.  People need to acknowledge that they bear some responsibility for what happens to them (in most cases, there are always exceptions) and stop just blaming everyone around them.  We also must acknowledge that there are structural issues with the US economy and government and that these must also be addressed.  Corporations and businesses need to stop treating people like they are things to be used and cast aside and treat them like people.  They also need to stop paying CEOs and other executives obscenely large salaries and use some of that money to raise wages for people so that they have a chance at the American Dream.