Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Responsibility? Is It Counter-Cultural?

OK... now that the tax forms are done and in the mail, perhaps I should bring up the topic of responsibility.

This is one of those topics where I'm not sure if I am diverging from the larger society or if I am just holding to a traditional view while society is diverging from me. But, I have noticed more and more that our general society is severely lacking in an understanding of responsibility. The lack of responsibility is becoming so mainstream that otherwise conservative, traditionalist individuals are showing signs of behaving in ways that, if not irresponsible, are an abdication of responsibility. What do I mean? Hmm... let me give an example.

What has parenting looked like in the past? A few centuries back parents would raise their children by their side, teaching and guiding them in life until they are capable of living independently. Perhaps some elite wealthy families would hire help for doing this, but even then, the parents were still responsible for the raising of their children and would be judged as successful or unsuccessful in that endeavor by surrounding society. As our society has become ever more complex, we have become used to the idea of specializing in an occupation and hiring experts to do certain tasks. That in itself is not bad. It makes good sense. But, the flaw that I have been seeing so much lately is that in outsourcing our job of raising and teaching our kids, we are not retaining the responsibility for raising and teaching them. We have started to expect others to be responsible for that. That is what I mean by an abdication of responsibility.

This is not a problem just in the area of parenting. Let's see how many areas I can find and list off the top of my head.
  1. Children not learning to be responsible with money, because someone else always provides it for them (parents, grandparents?)
  2. Teenagers given a car to drive without having to be responsible to provide the car, the insurance, and the income for maintenance.
  3. Students not taking responsibility for their own education. Instead they "do time" in school until they are "free." Actually earning their grades and taking an active part in their education because it is theirs and will shape their future is an unusual display of responsibility.
  4. Young employees taking the "doing time" mentality of school to their workplace. So many seem to have the idea that showing up is all they need to do earn the paycheck. I remember several years back when I worked as a Temporary Secretary. I would have a day job here and a week-long job there and would consistently have supervisors who were surprised that I actually expected to do useful work instead of filling an empty desk chair while pretending to be busy (like the usual temps. they would have).
  5. Young lovers expecting to find their romantic ideal who is of course perfect and will fulfill every wish and dream, but forgetting that they have an obligation to be the type of person worthy of that dream. Relationships involve two people and both people have the responsibility for making the relationship good or bad.
  6. I've already mentioned raising children. How many people put their children in daycare and preschool, not because they have thought through their choices ahead of time, or have a clear necessity, but because they simply want to have someone else do that for them. I suppose if they don't want to spend that time with their kids, it might be better off for their kids to be taken care of by people who do want to be around the kids. But too often I hear an attitude expressed that suggests that some of these parents want kids, but don't want to be troubled by raising them. That is someone else's responsibility.
  7. I'm a little biased about teaching kids, being a homeschool mom. Before I list my next item, let me say that homeschooling is not for everyone. I see plenty of benefit in all of the choices for teaching kids. But, how often are parents abdicating their responsibility to be in charge of their children's education. My husband and I are taking it upon ourselves to educate our children. We are responsible not only that they are being educated, but that we are actively pursuing what is needed to give our kids the best education we can, and doing it ourselves whenever possible. Not all people homeschool, but they still have the responsibility to be in charge of their children's education. How many parents communicate with their kid's teachers and help out when needed at school? How many are involved with decision-making in PTAs or School Boards? How many parents don't even know what their kids are learning from day-to-day? It has become someone else's responsibility. Parents have become too used to letting "experts" or politicians tell them what kind of education their kids should have, when those people have never met their kids and don't have the responsibility for raising them.
  8. Responsibility for our individual or family budget/finances. If you don't understand money, you need to learn. Even then, there are basic concepts that most people know, but they ignore. Things like "don't spend more than you earn." These simple truths are ignored, not because they can be gotten around, but because people have convinced themselves that it'll be taken care of somehow. If they aren't responsible, someone else will take care of it (a bailout) or someone else will have to take the consequences (like bankruptcy). Yes it is possible to get into bad financial situations while doing all the right things, but it is less likely. Most of the time people get into bad financial situations because they made bad decisions, listened to people who told them what they wanted to hear, and rationalized that everybody else is doing it. The bottom line is that each person is responsible for their own finances. Outsourcing some of the managing of those finances is OK, but don't try to outsource the responsibility.
  9. Political abdication of responsibility. This can be politicians not taking responsibility for their actions (whether personal or professional) or it can be citizens giving up their rights and responsibilities to the government.
I'm sure you have noticed ways in which people in our society give responsibility to others that ought to be their own. I cannot say that I am a perfectly responsible person. But I can say that I have struggled with societal norms for most of my life in this area. As an American, I have a cultural tendency to want to be independent. As a Christian and a Conservative person in general, I understand that their are some important ways we need to depend on each other for the good of the whole. As a youngest child (and the only girl), there was a temptation to be overly dependent on my family and get away with what I could. But, I felt my conscience nagging me that I needed to be responsible for my sake and for the sake of those closest to me. My parents won't always be available to help me when I need help. Other family members have other commitments and obligations, too. If I am abdicating my responsibilities, I put them either on the people I love and don't want to burden or I put them on inappropriate surrogates. Is it appropriate to expect an employer to pay me money, if I don't provide work or service in return? Is it appropriate to expect my husband to be the person who makes my dreams come true, without taking responsibility for my part of the relationship? Is it appropriate to expect someone else to be responsible for the children I chose to have? Is it appropriate to expect the government to take care of any bad decisions I've made and be responsible for my happiness and welfare?

I do not want to abdicate my responsibilities. I will still have to outsource some things, but I need to be the one who is responsible in the end. I guess my point in all of this is to encourage you to consider how you might be tempted to follow the crowd and abdicate your responsibilities, too. Adults take their responsibilities seriously. To give them up is to return to the position of the child. I don't know about you, but there were a lot of things I didn't like about being a child.
Besides, do you really want to live in a society where no one is responsible for their actions?

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