There is one solution that really solves all our problems. It’s just two words. In these two words there is no more hunger, no more war, no more cruelty, or rape. There is equality amongst gender and races. People can have guns and don’t have to have taxes imposed on them. Everybody makes smart decisions about their health, about sex, about when to be a parent, about how to be a parent, and raise their children well.
You probably know people like this, and you know people who advocate it because it’s so obvious and easy. It’s called Personal Responsibility. I capitalized it because it’s so important and because it is the answer. Alright, I’m done blogging.
…hang on…nope…I just remembered something. We don’t live in a utopian fantasy.
- You shouldn’t need to have a law that tells you to wear a seat belt or text while driving I know this is important so I drive safely
- You shouldn’t need a law that forces you to get health insurance or makes you be a responsible employer and take care of your employees by giving them a living wage
- You shouldn’t need to have laws that force you to hire women and minorities as it should be self evident that gender and race don’t matter and that ultimately it boils down to who is best for the job
- You shouldn’t need to have gun control laws. One can be trained how to use a gun and keep it in a safe place away from children
- You shouldn’t need to impose regulations on corporations.
- You shouldn’t have taxes imposed on you. If something is important I’ll be happy to contribute some money to someone who will do what needs to be done.
- You shouldn’t need to get welfare because you can work.
- You shouldn’t need money as an incentive to work.
- You shouldn’t get raped if you are personally responsible about what you wear and how you behave (umm…how about being personally responsible and not raping someone?)
These are just some of the common complaints you hear from people in regards to laws, governance, and “responsible” behavior. Anyone can see how sensible these statements are, theoretically. Yet one wonders why indeed do we have laws or talk about imposing such laws and regulations? If everyone was as awesome as you, who feels so injured to have something imposed on you when you already know you should do it, what’s the point of government sticking its nose in your business? Why is society dictating my behavior when I already know better? You know your business and conduct yourself responsibly. Right?
For now I am going to pretend that nobody is willfully ignorant (which is also pretty utopian). The problem of course is, that personal responsibility is kind of like the nature of God. Everyone has a different definition of what it means. If every citizen in the country had the same definition of personal responsibility things might be alright. Although this in itself would be hard for a big country, in which everybody lives in different regions and by definition the regional disparity requires different needs. It only takes a handful of farmers to feed a lot of people, yet those farmers are just as important as the whole lot of people they feed. So the first step would be for all people to accept within a country at the very least that people in all parts of the country have value and we may have to contribute some of our income to them. This might include roads, education, and protection. Protection itself can come in the form of a police department, fire department, or military. One could argue that if everyone was personally responsible the need for a police department kind of goes away.
A personally responsible society however also recognizes their place in the world and in nature, and so realizes that the decisions they make might adversely impact other countries and wants to make sure that it is nice to other countries. They recognize the value of preserving wildlife and rare species and is responsible about what it hunts and where it builds. They recognize the true cost, not only in monetary units of drilling, mining, extracting. This type of responsibility also costs some money because sometimes we might have to do things a little more expensively to preserve ecosystems or protect the environment. This personally responsible society doesn’t mind.
And accidents do happen. There are infectious diseases, natural disasters, etc. Society pays for things in which nobody is to blame. It is the personally responsible thing to accept that and contribute to help mitigate damage and help rebuild and repair.
Most of the people in this personally responsible society don’t feel too much stress, because the very rich realize that they don’t really need all that money and are quite happy to use their massive wealth to help out the person who doesn’t make too much of his own. As a successful head of corporation he is extremely happy to contribute more to society because he has a lot of excess.
What a great place to live, but of course it doesn’t exist.
So perhaps the first question we might ask, “Is everybody capable of this broad set of requirements for personal responsibility? Of course the answer is no. Nurture plays a big role in this. We have belief systems, disparity in education, disparity in resources. Even if nurture could everywhere be equal, we still have genetic differences. Some people have physical and mental disorders. Trauma happens in people’s lives that impact their ability to function at a high capacity. Even when it’s an accidental event, and not something like murder or rape. The free market ends some businesses, causing people to lose jobs. Theoretically new jobs are created, but those might be in some other location. Another country even. Also as time goes on we make new discoveries in science and technology. The industrial revolution has brought about climate change, but it seems unlikely that we started building all these factories knowing the harm it would do in the future. As we become aware of things, new areas of responsibility become apparent. So there is going to be a natural evolution towards winners and losers, new problems to deal with as old ones become understood and more cost efficient, and the personally responsible thing to do would be work together to continue fighting that imbalance. It requires vigilance.
The next question we need to ask is “What can be done to make people more personally responsible?” There is no quick fix, and there is no one answer. Education can make us better aware of problems that impact society. Of course knowledge and wisdom are very different. In Plato’s famous treatise on love he talked about agape and love of humanity; a brotherly love for all mankind. We need more of this kind of love, but people fear (and perhaps with good reason) that it comes at the cost of a loss of individualism. I’m not certain that is completely true, but it might be. But this love must extend to more than just to our fellow human, but to life itself. The planet. Our home. We must also be humble and lose our conceit. It may have served us well in our evolutionary past, but now survival is not so difficult when we are working together.
Love for the humanity and the planet, however begins at the individual level. It begins by showing compassion and love to those in our lives and those we meet. Helping those who need help and also thinking about how best to help them. Being personally responsible is a journey within our own lives and does not happen overnight. It is journey that doesn’t end when you’re 30 or 40 or 50, but continues your entire life. And it is everyone’s job to be personally responsible but always keeping in mind that some people simply don’t have the ability to contribute as much as you, often through no fault of their own, and when you help raise them up and show sincere concern for their well-being they are likely to reciprocate that generosity. Finally we must value happiness over wealth.
And even after all that…it’s a struggle. The great thing is though if we do a better job of keeping these virtues in our heart we will never struggle alone.