Personal responsibility takes backseat in society

Monday, January 26, 2009 | 10:54 a.m. CST

The new president has talked about the need for us all to take personal responsibility if we want to make the world a better place.

In thinking about it now, perhaps some of us who seldom talk or write about what it was like during the Civil Rights Movement were wrong. Because unless people were there they probably don't consider that aspect of it. During that period it was all about taking personal responsibility. We were on our own, period. When you agreed to participate you simply made arrangements with whatever higher power you served, asked for protection and then did what you had to do.

At the time, my son was only five years old. I prepared a list of the names of friends who had offered to collect him from his caretaker, in the event that I was arrested, killed or otherwise prevented from picking him up. It was a hazardous time so we were all reluctant to involve anybody that did not want to participate. Most of those who I once thought of as my friends had written me off as one of the troublemakers. So I found myself depending on people I had only known briefly. All I had was the hope that they wouldn’t let me down.

Nevertheless, I couldn’t afford to pay for the lessons I learned in that experience. Although I grew up taking personal responsibility for my behavior, as a result of what I had to deal with at that time I became more thoughtful in my decision-making and tried harder to refrain from doing things I might later regret. I came to a clearer understanding about the things I would live for as well as the things I would die for. I became more resolute about where I stood in the scheme of things. In other words, I discovered there was true value in taking personal responsibility.

And certainly, we have only to look at our national situation to realize that the refusal of some people to take personal responsibility for their behavior has brought us to the brink of disaster. If people in mortgage companies had taken responsibility for making honest loans, and people had not bought homes they knew they could not afford, the housing market would not have bottomed out. If chief executives had taken responsibility for honest brokering, the financial market would not have tanked. If they had opened up the credit market after taking the taxpayers' bailout money, then automakers and other borrowers would have been able to get on their feet. If officials in the former administration had taken personal responsibility, they would have made a more thoughtful decision and not made the preemptive strike on Iraq and sacrificed thousands of American lives.

But a new age of responsibility is not confined just to the big fish in the pond. There is a role for people in all walks of life to play in this scenario. Publishers and Web site owners need to start understanding that enticing children and sick-minded people into the world of sex and drugs is not bringing light into the dark world. Parents need to take responsibility for their children and demand that these people who deal in filth stop feeding garbage to their children.

Furthermore, parents need to come to the realization that their children are going to become adults and they need to prepare them to take personal responsibility for themselves. This business of irresponsible parents bringing up irresponsible kids has to end sometime. Maybe the thing we need to do is start schools for parents and make them attend every time their children go astray, and start making parents pay fines for the crimes of their kids.

Employers need to start paying their employees a decent wage and provide them with healthcare and family leave. Our government needs to regulate insurance and drug companies, so when the average family member becomes ill, the cost of getting them well doesn’t bankrupt the family.

So when you think about it, the country is in the mess it’s in because we didn’t act responsibly. It’s true that not everyone was a principal player. But those of us who didn’t have a starring role didn’t demand that the movie be canceled. And most of us have heard the old adage about bad things happening when good people do nothing, so there’s no excuse.

But as it is, the hard times may force us to change our behavior. It’s too bad things had to deteriorate so badly for us to get the message. Still, occasionally, ugly circumstances provide good opportunities.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at


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