Santa Clarita Signal • Opinion Column • Ethically Speaking • June 1, 2014
The Advantage of Accountability
David W. Hegg
It is tragic that stories of senseless shootings and random acts of violence have become commonplace in our society. Barely a week goes by that our news outlets don’t describe someone entering a school or business or home and reigning down death before taking their own life. And while the loss of life is shocking in itself, far more disturbing is the rapid multiplication of such incidents.
We have to stop and ask ourselves what is happening to our society? Why are people engaging in such blatant crimes against their fellow man in callous disregard for the most basic rules of normalcy? What has happened to the role of conscience that once kept us from acting in ways that were harmful to others?
Of course, every time we see another shooting or bombing there follows a burst of opinion columns purporting to give answers. Some fly to the violent video games so many play today as anesthetizing the conscience. Others point to societal disparities in economics, education or opportunity as though violence is to be expected from the marginalized. Still others point to a general drift away from community in our technologically driven age that is slowly submerging us all in a suffocating deluge of isolation. Certainly there is enough blame to go around, but I don’t think any of these quite answers the question.
From my vantage point the answer is an increasing absence of accountability. By this I mean that our growing sense of individuality is slowly but surely taking away any sense that we are responsible for, or to, one another. The truth is there are fewer and fewer consequences for aberrant behavior, and accountability for them is becoming a diminished concern.
For many, being accountable to another person is demeaning, suffocating, and even dehumanizing. Increasingly, almost every authority structure in our society is being torn down. Schoolteachers will tell you that students now treat them like peers or worse, shout them down with unacceptable language, and often refuse to follow their instructions. Employers continue to be shocked at the entitlement attitude of many employees that usually comes packaged with an attitude that no one has the right to tell them what to do.
And just try holding someone accountable today. It is almost impossible to dismiss an employee without documenting months and months of unacceptable behavior, and even then the risk of legal action is always there. Accountability and respect for authority are about to be placed on the endangered species list.
But there is one area of accountability that, more than any other, must be brought into the discussion of these increasing acts of senseless violence. It is the idea that we are all accountable to God for the way we live, and that death only brings us into his court where all the accounts will be settled.
In a society where God no longer plays a dominant role we should expect just what we are seeing. If there is no God, then there is no universal moral law. And without such law, right and wrong become human constructs, devoid of a transcendent core. And, if morality is up to the individual, then some will choose violence as their way of promoting a morality that, to the rest of us, is twisted and evil. They may even take their own lives, thinking death is really the end.
However, if death is just the entrance into an eternity where God will set all things to rights, then there is no escaping our ultimate accountability to him. And I believe that it is the knowledge that we are accountable to God in this life and in the life to come that makes circumspect living now our best option, and the best way to preserve an ordered, civilized society.