Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Personal Responsibility

I must confess to being a bit of a news junky.  I wake up and every morning, grab my iPhone, and read the latest news.  Spending little time looking up anything in particular, I just read whatever happens to be out there.  Recently, there have been many stories that fall under the same topic of personal responsibility.  It is this subject to which I want to speak today as it has been weighing on my mind for some time.

It is human nature to try to get out of our mistakes with as few consequences as possible.  Remember the time you hit your younger/older sibling?  You knew that were going to spend the next 20 minutes in timeout, so the first response you gave upon being asked "what happened?" was to say "I don't know", or "nothing happened".  The older you get, the more involved the story becomes, but it still has at its base the desire to get out of whatever punishment is affixed to your actions.

My parents used to always say, after I finally confessed, that I would have been in much less trouble if I would have just come clean in the first place.  I always hated hearing that, but it's true.  Coming clean doesn't mean being free from consequences, but it does mean that you have the character to admit when you are wrong.

The world today doesn't put much stock in standing up and being responsible.  When you think about the role models that people look up to today, you will see what I mean.  From pathetic fathers who abandon their children to addicted mothers who push their families to ruin, we see the results of the downward spiral that comes from societies moral decay.

What would the world be like if could turn back the clock and return to a time when our very word was our bond?  This was a time when trust was bestowed on our fellow man simply because they promised us they would do something.  In society today, trust and honor are not nearly as important as pride and prestige.  Could you imagine walking into a Walmart and asking them to give you a flat screen TV and the only thing they had in return was your word that you would pay them later?

I think a lot of these problems exists because we aren't allowed to fail and we are made to feel bad for winning.  Taking away the consequences for losing and removing the pleasure of succeeding will destroy the need or desire to be responsible.  Why take responsibility for my failure if there are no consequences?

We no longer allow our children to lose anymore because it will affect their "frail" psyche.  The problem with this approach, among many others, is that the right lessons from failure are never learned.  All that is learned is that I deserve a trophy regardless what I do.  Think of Thomas Edison.  What would have happened if, after failing to invent the light bulb, he received accolades as if he had succeeded?  Where would that have left us?  Likely, in the dark.

To use a more contemporary example, I use one of my least favorite basketball players.  After a tough playoff loss to the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Finals where he failed miserably, Kobe Bryant had many reasons to give up.  He launched airball after airball in those games and was ridiculed in the press.  Instead of wallowing in self doubt and failure, he focused on the criticism and improved himself.  He took responsibility for his failure and much as I hate to admit it he has turned into one of the NBA's greatest players.  Imagine where he would have been if, while playing the Jazz, John Stockton and Karl Malone felt sorry for him and let him have a couple of freebies?

Isn't that the problem now, though?  We spend so much time sheltering people of all ages from failure that they learn nothing but how to get out of the consequences and responsiblity for their actions.  I focused on children earlier and their desire to avoid punishment for their actions, but adults are sometimes worse than five-year-olds.  Think about the last time you had a ticket for speeding, or not using your blinker?  You knew you broke the law, but what was the first thing to go through your mind?

Making changes to our own responses to failure is second only to teaching our children about why we fail.  It's a hard lesson to learn sometimes, and there will be pain.  The point is to take responsibility for your actions and then learn from them.

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