Let's Make It Personal

Santa Clarita Signal • Ethically Speaking Column • For January 2 weekender, 2016

 Let’s Make It Personal

David W. Hegg

With each new year comes the hope that the future will be better than the past. But if you’ve been surveying the social landscape of our country you’ve probably come to realize that in so many ways we are devolving.

Yes, we are losing ground in some vital areas of societal life and chief among them is the loss of a mutually agreed upon, pervasive ethical recognition of personal responsibility and accountability. It seems like mistakes and crimes and outrageous actions and all manner of mischief and violence are being perpetrated on us, but no one is really responsible for any of it. And that scares me.

Take the case of the teen, in the news again, who was given probation due to the “affluenza” defense proposed by his defense counsel. It wasn’t his fault that he got drunk and killed four people. His parents were to blame for spoiling him to the point where he never learned right from wrong. No personal responsibility there.

Or how about the corporate magnates who consistently break the rules, but end up merely having to resign and float away on their golden parachutes while employees and share-holders are left holding the bag. No personal responsibility there.

And how about the politicos whose lies are uncovered days after they are perpetrated on the voting public but never seem to be held accountable or responsible for their exaggerations and just plain whoppers.

Or how about the multiple criminals who decide to shoot up churches, or schools, or random crowded events only to have the psychological community rise up shouting it wasn’t their fault since they must be mentally ill. By my figuring, someone able to buy, load, aim, and fire according to a carefully designed plan has enough mental capability to understand the consequences of his or her actions. And while I certainly understand the reality of true mental impairment, I sincerely wish we would stop assuming that all violent action is the result of illness rather than a wicked mindset, or greed, or anger or some other human emotion. Again, personal responsibility and accountability seem to be on vacation.

As it happened, I was waiting in line for my quad decaf Americano when the lady in front of me started up a conversation. It was a few days after the San Bernardino massacre. We discussed the heinous nature of the crime for a few minutes, and then she summarized her position with the statement that “we’ll never end all this shooting until we get mental illness under control because mentally healthy people don’t shoot people.” There it was again, a blanket statement suggesting the only reason bad people do bad things is that they really aren’t bad at all, only mentally ill. And with that we lose another handful of personal responsibility and accountability in our world.

But we’re doing it to ourselves. We’ve decided people are good by nature, and that what is needed to keep good people good is affirmation and high self-esteem. So, we give awards and praise to people before they’ve accomplished anything which only serves to foster the ideology that everyone is great, outstanding, and super duper.

We are producing generation after generation of entitled spoiled brats who truly believe they are intrinsically great and good and only do bad things as a result of influences they can’t control. Consequently, they certainly can’t be held accountable or responsible for their mistakes, or their behavior, no matter how aberrant it may be.

Okay, so maybe I’m painting all this with too broad a brush, but you get the idea. I’m all for making it personal again. If you do a good job, you should feel good. If not, you should feel ashamed. If you lie, you should feel the adverse ramifications, and if you act against the best interests of your neighbor, you should be held accountable. If you cheat, you should fail, and if you decide to break the law, you should pay the fine, or do the time.

Everyone should be held responsible for their actions, especially those preliminary choices that may have led inevitably to anti-social behavior. If you choose to get drunk, do drugs, associate with violent or criminal people, or align with potentially violent ideologies, you should be held accountable for those choices, if they lead to violent or criminal behavior.

We’ve become a society where too many refuse to “take it personally” when it comes to responsibility for their attitudes and actions, even as everyone seems to be “taking it personally” when it comes to being offended by anything they consider politically incorrect. Well, I’m offended by the way too many are refusing to take responsibility for their own lives, their own failures, their shortcomings, and their mistakes. It’s downright “societally incorrect” and if we don’t turn things around, we’ll continue to see the ethical fiber of our lives and our nation eroded by the steady stream of self-centered entitlement that has misconstrued freedom as the absence of responsibility.