Saturday, March 10, 2007

Personal Responsibility is Dying

For the past few years I have had a job where I hear lots of excuses for not fulfilling commitments. Many think that they can just yell a little louder, cry a little longer, and generally give the biggest fish story and everything will just go away. Considering that the business has to make money, and these people are using the product, it is amazing how forgiving the company already is - and in some instances by law. Yet, many of these people act as if it is the company's fault they can't pay. It is as if America for them has become a Communist State where everything is free. I don't work for a credit card company, but I have seen the same thing with them as well. The slogan has become "buy this NOW and pay LATER," with many adding their own, ". . . if at all and no consequences." This is nothing new, but the idea of personal responsibility is approaching a lost virtue.

The trouble is that personal responsibility is absolutely essential to a healthy civilization. When no one accepts mistakes there cannot be a corrective. Worse, what is replacing this is not a lack of concern, but blaming others. When no one takes responsibility, but everyone thinks its the other person's fault, it shouldn't come as a surprise that society is seriously fractured. At a personal level, recognizing mistakes is the first step toward repentance and true happiness:

When faced with the consequences of transgression, rather than looking to ourselves as the source of the discomfort which always accompanies sin, many of us tend to blame someone else. Rather than getting out of a vicious and senseless circle, we fault our neighbor for our pain and try to pass it on. But to repent we must leave the circle.

The first step in the repentance process has always been simply to recognize that we have done wrong. If we are so hedged about by pride, rationalization, machismo, or a misdirected sense of self-esteem as to prevent us from ever admitting that we are part of the problem, we are in trouble. We then may not even know of our need to repent. We will have no idea whether the Lord is pleased with us or not and may become “past feeling.” (1 Ne. 17:45.) But all men, everywhere, must repent. (See 3 Ne. 11:32.) To fail to do so is to perish. (See Luke 13:3; Hel. 7:28.)

To excuse misconduct by blaming others is presumptuous at best and is fatally flawed with regard to spiritual things, for “we believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” (A of F 1:2.) This not only means that we will not be punished for what Adam did in the Garden, but also that we cannot excuse our own behavior by pointing a finger to Adam or anyone else. The real danger in failing to accept responsibility for our own actions is that unless we do, we may never even enter on the strait and narrow path. Misconduct that does not require repentance may be pleasant at first, but it will not be for long. And it will never lead us to eternal life.
-- F. Burton Howard, “Repentance,” Ensign, May 1991, 12

My experiences have made me more hesitant to help other people. I know this goes against the teaching that we should help without question when others are in need. The problem is, just giving to people no matter what might be putting them - and society - in a worse situation. They become beholden to handouts and start living off others. Instead of trying to find solutions and change for the better, they act as if everyone and everything is conspiring against them. Eventually, all avenues are exhausted and the only thing they are left with is poverty and anger. Seeing people like that (and there are many) makes others less likely to show compassion when another truly in need comes along.

Perhaps it isn't about not giving, but trying to give more wisely. Next time someone comes along asking for help, the first thing I will do is ask what have you done or thought of doing to get yourself out of the situation? Most likely that won't help for those I meet haphazard on the street. Then again, there I go blaming others and not taking responsibility for those in need. It is a spiral that is drowning us all.


Mary A said...

Good post, Jettboy. How to help others without encouraging a lack of responsibility is a problem. And it's important for us (for me) to examine our own lives to see if we are falling short of taking personal responsibility in some area or other. It's a very wide-spread problem these days.

m_and_m said...

The Welfare principles make it very clear that there is order to true help. It doesn't make individual situations any easier necessarily, but I always like to think "hand up, not hand out" in principle if that is ever possible. Of course, with strangers we come in contact with, that often isn't possible. But the principles you discuss I think are vitally important in a general way. It's one of the things I love about the Church. It seeks to help people help themselves, not just to help them in a way that they stay helpless.

Incidentally, I also think that there is a difference between helping in a crisis and helping in a chronically needy situation. The first can be "handout" mode because it's a one-time, short-term deal. The second usually requires more careful thought and assistance with the longer view in mind -- and with a goal to help a person ACT and not be ACTED UPON.

Eric Nielson said...

Interesting thoughts. This is part of why I think fast offerings are so important. We can then have an individual who hopefully has the gift of discernment making these kinds of decisions.

Anonymous said...

Spencer W. Kimball said it well:

"One of the most serious human defects in all ages is procrastination, an unwillingness to accept personal responsibilities now. Men came to earth consciously to obtain their schooling, their training and development, and to perfect themselves, but many have allowed themselves to be diverted and have become... addicts to mental and spiritual indolence and to the pursuit of worldly pleasure."

Tigersue said...

The idea that help only comes monitarily is a problem in this society. People do not seem to want to help themselves. There is nothing wrong with helping the person truly in need and that is willing to help themselves at the same time. Freeloaders are not that. I have been in the situation of helping both ends of the spectrum, and it is much easier to help the person grateful for the sacrifices made on our part.

Drew said...

Great post. I agree that for this world to improve we must all begin taking personal responsibility for the problems our society faces. The quicker we take responsibility the sooner we can address and fix the problems.