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Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016

Society benefits from personal responsibility

Sunday, January 21, 2007

It's rare when I read something that attacks the very basis of my thinking about life and society and how we should operate in this busy world. But this week, I read just that. The issue is personal responsibility and let me make it abundantly clear, I believe virtually all problems of mankind boil down to the lack of personal responsibility. Granted, some things are clearly beyond our control - health for example. But when it comes to making decisions - important decisions - we either take personal responsibility or we don't.

Ellen Goodman, a respected national newspaper columnist, this week attacked the notion of personal responsibility. In fact, she blamed many of our social ills on the "personal responsibility cult" that so many of us embrace. To be real honest, I could not believe my eyes.

The message came from Jacob Hacker, a Yale political scientist. Hacker blames social problems on the "conservatives' personal responsibility campaign." He said that political leaders told us to "take ownership on our economic future and personal responsibility for our lives. This tapped into the primal American belief in independence, individualism, bootstraps, etc. It tapped out the modulating American belief that we should insure each other from the hazards of illness, old age and unemployment."

I most certainly don't know the honorable Mr. Hacker but let me tell you, he has it all wrong. It reminds me of the famous Hillary Clinton notion that it takes a village to raise a child. She too has it all wrong.

Our social structure does address the issues of illness, old age and unemployment. Just look at the taxes taken from your paycheck. Believe me, we are addressing those issues as a society. But in return, all that is asked is some personal responsibility. And therein lies the problem.

We have far too many "victims" in our society - people who genuinely believe that society owes them something and that their lack of personal responsibility is not anyone's business. But these people are wrong. And those who believe that the approach to personal responsibility is a "cult" clearly live in a different world.

Here's how we address the problems of drug abuse, poverty, crime, etc. We demand that people be held accountable for their actions. We reward good actions and we punish bad actions. We care for those unable to care for themselves but we recognize that some who seek the help of others do so without regard to what improvements they could make in their own lives.

Personal responsibility is one of my "foundation issues." I don't believe there is a gray area. I believe it is black and white. If we don't take "ownership" for these issues then we leave it to others to clean up our messes. That's simply wrong.

I was approached back in October by a parent who was seeking a better neighborhood for her children. She wanted to move to an area of town where crime was lower and the chances for her children were better. After a couple of phone calls, we were able to help pay for a rental property in a different neighborhood. That is what Hacker means when he says we should help insure the needs of others. I have no problem with that approach.

But yesterday, I heard again from that very same parent. I don't know the circumstances and it really doesn't matter. The parent had moved into this improved location in November but has yet to make the first rental payment. She faces eviction.

When I asked her how she could have lived there for three months without paying any rent, she had no answer. When I asked what happened to the money that first allowed her to rent this new home, she had no answer. Without $1,200 by the end of this month, she and her children will likely return to their old neighborhood.

The case is truly sad but the issue is one of personal responsibility. This isolated case is just one example of society trying to help those in need but getting no personal responsibility in return.

Anyone who thinks the issue of personal responsibility is a "cult" is dead wrong. It doesn't take a village, it takes parents. It doesn't take a lending hand, it takes a person facing their responsibilities and making sacrifices to reach their goal.

End of story!

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Michael Jensen
Michael Jensen