If I could sum up the problems in modern society, it would be this: people, in general, do not take responsibility for their own actions. This is one of my all-time biggest pet peeves. We have created the problem over the course of generations, and with each subsequent generation, we are making it worse. If people would simply own up to their own mistakes and take responsibility for their own betterment and that of their kids, we would be living in an entirely different world. Let’s explore this for a minute and see if you agree with my conclusion.
I have wanted to write about this for some time, but what has brought the subject fresh in my mind again these days is my 7 turning 8-year-old son. Lately, he has entered a strong faze of needing to find someone to blame for everything he views as wrong in his little world. He has a strong view of the way things should be in his mind, and whenever something doesn’t fit that view he has a bit of a meltdown. I realize it is a phase for him that he has to work through, but I’m telling you that if he doesn’t work through it soon I may strangle him. Not literally of course, but he is definitely trying the little bit of patience I am capable of.
His level of placing blame knows no bounds. He stubbed his toe the other day and started screaming about how his sister was to blame because she left out a toy that he was avoiding and therefore kicked the couch. My wife packed his school backpack and that ruined his morning; the next she didn’t pack it for him and that equally ruined his day. Getting picked from a weekend after school program my wife went into the classroom to get him – a big no-no that embarrassed him – left him screaming how his life was now ruined. Of course, there is the ever-popular not being able to find an article of clothing because his room had been cleaned when he was way (egads!) and that just can’t happen. The list of examples could go on and on these days, but you get the picture. Completely unreasonable, and completely something you deal with when raising kids.
Problem is, some people never grow out of this stage of needing to place blame on someone else for their own created situations. I think our overloaded civil court system is a direct result of this problem. Sure, there are legitimate claims that need to be handled in a legal arena to force others to be responsible for their actions, but they’re so many frivolous lawsuits of people trying to find others to be found responsible for something that it is hard often to know the difference.
Take for example the now infamous hot coffee lawsuits where someone spilled their beverage obtained through the (McDonald’s) drive-through, was burned and now was using said establishment for untold millions of dollars because the coffee was too hot. Uh, let’s see, aren’t you purchasing this beverage with the expectation that it would be hot? Wouldn’t any reasonable person expect if they spilled such a drink on them that it would, in fact, burn you? Why would your lack of coordination become the liability of the restaurant who sold you the product? Why does this lawsuit even get allowed in the system?
Finding a person or entity to blame and make financially responsible for damage done is perhaps the most abused aspect of our court system. There is money to be made, often through settlements simply to avoid the time, expense and potential negative publicity associated with a full lawsuit. People know this, and unfortunately, a lot of people knowingly use the system to their advantage for this very reason. There are many, though, that simply go through such a routine simply because they don’t want to admit that their own actions or perhaps stupidity had led to their, unfortunately, circumstances, so they go to any lengths to get the blame placed somewhere else.
Off of the legal side, how about our educational system. I spent a little time working in the public school system, and my mother worked in a school district for a number of years. I can’t tell you how many times I heard parents raging on about how the school system had failed their child and it was their fault their child was an uneducated idiot. Now I won’t remove all blame from teachers as it is their job to try and reach children, but the children have a direct and much larger responsibility in the education process. Parents need to stay on top of the child’s progress (or lack thereof) and be an active participant to ensuring their child gets the education and life skills they need, both in and out of school. Admittedly some kids have the personalities to make this a difficult proposition but don’t look to place blame on the school. I firmly believe that in every school situation a child can get the education they need to be provided they have the motivation and support necessary in the home. All schools are not created equal, but it can be done.
As a teacher, I was fortunate to have some experience going into the situation, so I structured my class in such a way that good records were kept and kids had every opportunity possible to succeed, so failure was only of their own doing. I had a few parents of my failing students lay into me something fierce come mid-term parent-teacher conference about how I was failing their child. The tune changed when I laid out all my careful records of what their child was not doing and could have easily done to have a passing grade. In all situations, the anger of the parent had obviously been created by some crafty storytelling of the child before our meeting, and by the end of the visit had shifted from me back to the child. All but one of them ended up passing by the end of the term.
Don’t even get me started in politics, which is the arena where placing blame for wrongs (often artificially) and taking claim for accomplishments that may not be your own is considered part and parcel to the trade. Ugh, it disgusts me to even think about it.
How about the ever golden excuses when you get pulled over for a traffic infraction? There are entire lines of jokes surrounding the excuses people come up with to explain away or justify their speeding, running a red light, etc. It all roots back to the “my dog ate my homework” period, where are both trying to get away with on one hand and trying to shift blame on the other. “I’m late for a doctor’s appointment” is no excuse for breaking the law, and I think most cops are not only tired of hearing the lame excuses, but likely it makes them feel even more justified in writing you that ticket when you are trying to weasel out of it. My father was the king of conversations with people he had just met, something that always amazed me, especially the few times I had seen him strike up a friendly conversation with a cop that had just pulled him over. On every instance that I was present in person, he was let off of a ticket because he was friendly, respectful and honest. He didn’t try to justify his speeding, he owned up to it. Usually, it was just not paying attention, and he would admit to it.
“Sorry officer, I didn’t even realize I was going over the speed limit until I saw your flashing lights. That really was not very smart of me.”
This may or may not get you off of a ticket, but his sincere and honest approach taught me a much greater lesson than had he tried to lie or manipulate his way out of it. Of course, his added obvious flatter didn’t hurt his cause either: “I sure appreciate you doing your job and bringing this to the attention of people like me.” That part of the lesson wasn’t lost on me either.
One of my favorite songs pertaining to this subject is a song by Oingo Boingo called Only A Lad. I looked the lyrics up so you don’t have to find them. The short version is the song recounts the story of a boy that didn’t terrible things all his life, from a child on up to being an adult with increasing severity. All along the way, there was always some excuse. He’s only a lad, he really couldn’t help it, society made him who he is. In the end, we hear:
Hey there johnny you really dont fool me
You get away with murder
And you think its funny
You dont give a d*** if we live or if we die
Hey there johnny boy
I hope you fry!
Not the most pleasant of songs of course, but the message overall I agree with. You can’t always place your blame on others. Sure, society influences what we become, but society starts in the home. Later in life, it is up to use to continue with our habits and beliefs or make the choice to change. I won’t get into nature vs nurture argument here, but I do believe in a bit of both mold us into who we are. But we are a higher intelligence, so we have the capacity to change.
I heard a quote in the context of a religious speech, but it definitely applies to life in general:
“A second truth about our accountability is to know that we are not the helpless victims of our circumstances. The world tries to tell us that the opposite is true: imperfections in our parents or our faulty genetic inheritance are presented to us as absolving us of personal responsibility. But difficult as circumstances may be, they do not relieve us of accountability for our actions or our inactions.” — Henry B. Eyring
Unfortunately, I don’t see this trend changing any time soon. With the prevailing belief that schools, community or government need to do more for us vs initiating change ourselves, we will continue down the path. But, if you want to see a change within your circle of influence, start with yourself and your family. Start to recognize when something is your own doing and deal with it. Ingrain in your children a sense of personal responsibility. Having a work ethic is another that goes along with this, but I’ll leave that for another day.
There are oh so many other attributes that need to be acquired, but I believe a sense of personal responsibility for one’s own actions is at the root of it. Sure, we all want world peace, but I’d be happy to start off with more people taking ownership of their own actions. Perhaps a lot of other things would work themselves out.