Saturday, July 25, 2009

Choice or Personal Responsibility?

This is something that has been on my mind lately. What is the relationship between choice and personal responsibility? Can one exist without the other? Which focus is more dangerous?

In today's society it seems like personal responsibility has become quite unpopular and many are trying to shove it out of society. Our litigious culture is willing to sue anyone for anything. If someone makes a mistake, they tend to point their finger at someone else. I see this at work, in the news, and at school (which really gets me). Our school system has become scared to discipline our children or hold them back due to the possibility that they might get sued by angry parents or damage the students' "self esteem". If our school system is afraid to teach our children to take personal responsibility (morally or academically), how can we expect our students to take any kind of personal responsibility when they are adults?

Let me clarify something about our schools. We have many awesome teachers who have found ways to hold students responsible regardless of the flawed system that limits their activities, and I commend them for this. However, if the system would allow students to be held directly responsible, the teachers would not have to spend so much energy on that, and instead spend more energy teaching our students.

Our government surely doesn't seem to care much; they like to institute more and more social programs that allow the public to rely on the "system" rather than taking responsibility for their own lives (I understand that sometimes people need help, so the system should allow for these situations, but only these situations).

What I find ironic, is that as our society disowns personal responsibility we clamor for more choices, more options. But, the thing is that choices have consequences that come with them. If you are given a choice between two things, normally each option has pros and cons that the other doesn't. To get the rewards of one option you must accept the consequences of not choosing the other. I will soon be faced with a choice like this. I plan on buying a new computer in the next year or so, and my options will be either a desktop or a laptop. The desktop is faster than the laptop, but does not provide the portability of a laptop. If I choose the laptop, I gain a reward (portability), but I also accept the consequence (slower speed). I don't like it, but if I want the choice I must accept one or the other. If I don't want to accept the consequences I could have someone else make the decision for me, then blame them for making the "wrong" choice. Now, this example is really trivial (no moral or life-long consequences), but it is an example that we can all see.

I see the same concept played out in much less trivial situations all over; from work to school, from leisure to relationships. Employees blame coworkers for their bad performance; students claim that professors are too tough because their grades suck; people sue fastfood chains because their health was compromised; men and women cheat on their spouse, then blame their spouse by saying that their spouse didn't meet their needs. What do all these situations have in common? Choice. The person chose to take the action that looked enticing on the surface, then refused to take personal responsibility for the consequences of that decision.

If people don't want to take personal responsibility, then why not remove options? Take choice out of the equation. If you can't choose, you're not responsible. If there are fewer choices, then social equality is closer to being realized also. With no choices, everyone is equal (no "Jones Complex" or desire) and not responsible (no stress). What could be better than that?

Many people value personal responsibility, because it is a sign of strength. Personal responsibility is perceived by others when a person has tough choices and accepts both reward and consequence of the decisions made. Strength is perceived when others realize that despite the consequences, that person made the right choice. Those who focus on personal responsibility value choice because personal responsibility is dependent on choice being available. However, those who focus on choice, value it because it gives an illusions of freedom and control.

Lack of personal responsibility is a sign of weakness. Someone who is weak is unable to make reliable decisions, and more options tend to confuse the issue more. Those who are personally responsible are then given the opportunity to take responsibility (and control) for the weaker. When control is taken, options are taken.

Choice is good, but should not be our focus. If we, as a society, focus on personal responsibility, more choices and fewer consequences will follow. We will remain in control and have true freedom. If we, as a society, do not focus on personal responsibility, we will see our choices dwindle into the hands of those who do focus on personal responsibility- we lose our choices, our strength and eventually, our self-respect.

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