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Thought that is silenced is always rebellious....Majorities, of course, are often mistaken. This is why the silencing of minorities is necessarily dangerous. Criticism and dissent are the indispensable antidote to major delusions."
---Alan Barth in "The Loyalty of Free Men", 1951

Personal Responsibility: The Choice IS Yours

One of the attributes most lacking in people (at least in this country) is a sense of personal responsibility. The newspapers are full of stories about lawsuits filed by an individual against a corporation for something that was essentially the fault of the individual. Perhaps one of the most publicized was the woman who sued McDonald's because she'd been burned when the contents of a cup of coffee spilled on her leg. Of course, she'd removed the lid and had placed the cup between her legs before driving off! Common sense would tell one that the contents of a cup of hot coffee are hot and that removing a lid when one is in a moving vehicle will cause the contents of such cup to spill over the rim. Despite such common sense, the jury awarded the woman millions of dollars in damages! Where was her responsibility in all this? Certainly if McDonald's had served her a cup of coffee that was not hot enough to burn she'd have complained that the coffee was cold! This kind of lawsuit is only one of the many messages bombarding the children of today with the implication that when something goes wrong in their life, they must look for someone else to blame. It is eroding the sense of personal responsibility that is essential to a civilized society.

I do a lot of volunteer work in my children's school and with the Cub Scouts. When there is a situation that requires disciplining a child, far too often the response of the parent is, "What did YOU do to make my child do this?" The child is not held responsible for their actions and therefore learn the lesson that in order to avoid discipline, they must find someone to blame for their actions. Parents in positions of authority in organizations like Scouts or extracirricular sports seem to have one set of rules for the other kids and one set of rules for their own children. Even common courtesy or manners are not taught to their children. They interrupt conversations without so much as an excuse me, and their parents reinforce this discourteous behavior by immediately focusing their attention on the child's needs. Yet those same parents, when interrupted by another child, will immediately correct the child and inform them that it is impolite to interrupt. What lesson is this teaching the child?

When I recently came across a bottle of soda that had a warning lable on it informing the reader that the contents were under pressure and opening the bottle when pointing at someone's face could result in injury, I almost screamed in frustration. It will soon get to the point where everything we buy will have some kind of warning lable. And this will continue as long as the courts in this country allow frivolous lawsuits to proceed past the filing stage. Lawyers who sue county and state road departments because of a pothole in the road when their client is involved in an accident or because there is some gravel on the roadway are adding to the problem. It is impossible to maintain a perfectly clean and repaired highway system without an enormous increase in manpower and the subsequent tax increase. Yet when such tax increases come up for a vote, they are defeated. The American public wants all the service without having to pay the cost of such service. This is unrealistic and unreasonable. Certainly, if a specific area of the roadway is repeatedly reported as unsafe and the state does nothing to fix it, they should be held responsible. But if a pothole appears and is not reported, it is unreasonable to expect the state to repair it immediately. And having worked for a firm that did accident reconstruction, the road condition (at least as far as potholes and gravel on the roadway is concerned) is very rarely the cause of an accident.

We are living in an age of accelerated technology beyond anything anyone has ever experienced before. This very computer I'm using to write this was outdated before it even hit the store shelf, let alone a year later when I bought it. The cars we drive are constantly being updated with new technological advances, like the airbag, that when used improperly, can have fatal consequences. Stories of children being suffocated by air bags usually don't mention that children are not supposed to be in the front seat in cars equipped with airbags, especially children in carseats. Yet parents continue to place their children in the front seat of cars equipped with airbags and then sue the manufacturers when their child is harmed or killed. Yet if the car manufacturers had waited to test the airbag until they'd worked out all of the bugs, they'd have been accused of withholding a vital piece of safety equipment and sued for not putting it in cars that might have prevented a death. Again, the people of this country want the benefits without having to pay the cost.

As long as we continue this trend, things are going to get worse. We're going to have an entire generation of children who think that the world owes them something and that all they have to do is threaten a lawsuit and they'll get it. It is incumbent on any parent/guardian of a child to teah that child personal responsibility. And the best way to teach is by example. Admit when you've made a mistake and correct that mistake. Apologize to those to whom an apology is necessary. Don't attempt to blame the weather, your mood, the way the boss treated you or any of the other millions of excuses we can come up with. We, the adults, need to show our children that there is no shame in accepting responsibility. That it is, in fact, the thing we should do. Until then, we can only expect the situation to get worse. And rather than blaming the kids nowadays for the problems with gangs and teen pregnancy and all the other social diseases that plague us, we should look instead to the example we taught our kids.

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