Essays on Rebuilding America: Essays on Rebuilding America – Personal Responsibility

Columnist : Jonathan Williams

by Col. Frank Ryan, USMC Ret.

Commentaries about home prices plunging the greatest amount in two decades, debtors defaulting on debt claiming mistreatment by lenders, and presidential candidates promising hope provided by the government are all so commonplace today.

For some reason, though, our problems always seem to be someone else’s fault.

When a society becomes convinced that all their woes are the result of someone else’s actions, and that government intervention solves problems, the concept of personal responsibility and the freedom that personal responsibility brings are lost forever.

Personal responsibility does bring freedom. It is so liberating to realize that you can influence your own life without having your government intervene on your behalf. If government can give you a benefit, it most definitely can take it away. How liberating is that?

The presidential political season has thrust us once again in the blame game. Exxon is now the villain. So are the banks! Who will it be tomorrow? Is placing blame on a socially acceptable target any less discriminatory or irresponsible because it is socially acceptable?

Let me start out by saying that virtually all the problems I have encountered in my life have either directly or indirectly resulted from mistakes that I have made. I seldom was victimized. I may not have been pleased with the way some others capitalized on my mistakes but, then again, that is their problem. Only I can be responsible for my own actions or inactions.

If oil and gas prices are too high, use your consumer power and cut back your driving. If all of us did that and conserved, oil prices would decline. Demonize the oil companies in the process and there will not be even temporary relief. The last time we tried a windfall profits tax on the oil companies, it was disastrous. In fact, most times there is government intervention in markets, the results are disastrous.

When I hear about the trials and exhortations of some of the presidential contenders, I become more and more convinced that those seeking solutions from government are merely willing to trade one slave master for another. The slavery of the founding years of our republic was and is morally reprehensible but is trading a governmental slave master that we elect any different?

Personal responsibility is crucial to our understanding of free will as well. Whenever you replace a person’s free will with the will of the collective majorities, disaster looms right around the corner.

I asked a dear friend the other day, during a rather interesting exchange about the California Supreme Court decision about marriage, about what is right or wrong. He responded by saying “What is right or wrong?” If a society has no standard, then the chaos that ensures is destructive. Basing laws or governmental policy upon situational ethics or situational morality is potentially destructive.

Taking personal responsibility is about leadership and self-discipline. It is about denying yourself something you want now for some benefit in the future. It is about choices. It is about consequences and accepting the consequences of your actions. If there is no personal responsibility the breakdown in the way we deal with one another will also break down.

Personal responsibility is so crucial to the rule of law in any economy. As soon as the concept of personal responsibility deteriorates, the normal functioning of an economy and a society are impeded.

Parents and our religious institutions must set the standard for our children towards taking responsibility. Grandparents can have a crucial role in our society in this regard as well. You cannot legislate personal responsibility and expecting the government to do so is fatally flawed. Government provides boundaries.

Most importantly, you can begin the process of taking responsibility by looking inwardly for solutions to your problems and not seek governmental intervention as the get better fast solution. Do what President Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. What he was talking about was personal responsibility.

Frank Ryan is a member of the Lincoln Institute Board of Directors and lectures for the AICPA and BLI on management related topics. He can be reached at [email protected].