Responsibility, Taking Personal

Responsibility, Taking Personal

by Rubel Shelly

Published in LoveLines (Feb. 16, 1994)

Letting Ourselves Off the Hook


Making excuses for inexcusable behavior seems to be the standard defense we human beings adopt in the face of moral failure. It's time to grow up, accept responsibility, and hold one another accountable.

Someone molests a child. A drug addict kills someone in the process of stealing to buy more drugs. A serial rapist is arrested. An unmarried 17-year-old gives birth to her second child. Someone fired from a company seven months ago walks into one of its outlets, pulls out an automatic pistol and three ammunition clips, and leaves four dead and three wounded.

What do all the situations just named have in common? Each will produce questions like "What is wrong with our world?" or "What sort of sick person could do that?" Furthermore, each will result in a series of expert witnesses being brought into court by defense attorneys to explain how the deed in question was produced by early childhood trauma, poverty, or diminished economic-social opportunities. Thus the perpetrator should be pitied, treated, and rehabilitated. Then, of course, he should be released from confinement.

This demeaning view of human behavior holds that all human behavior is simply the deterministic outworking of prior impressions. We do not really make meaningful, free choices. We are not really "moral" beings at all.

The implications of such a view of humanity are horrific. People are free (sometimes even encouraged) to give in to their dark and sinister impulses. Having done some terrible deed, they are told not to feel guilty. Perpetrators are given sympathy and support, while their victims suffer without relief.

There is no doubt that trauma, childhood experience, and other influences beyond our control incline us toward certain behaviors. For example, genetics seems to play a role in alcoholism and children who have been physically abused by their parents are more likely to abuse their own children. But genetics and environment do not tell the full story of what it is to be human. Personal freedom and moral responsibility must also be taken into account.

Some people are mentally ill, and their illness mitigates the responsibility they bear for certain things they have done. But many more of us are morally guilty and hiding behind a sick-not-guilty approach to our personal misbehavior.

We do make choices. We can say no to our negative impulses. Seeing undesirable traits surface in our actions, we can seek help to confront and control them. We have been given the power from God to respond to our physical limitations, psychological issues, and spiritual deficiencies. That we affirm our ability to respond is at the heart of showing ourselves to be responsible (i.e., response-able) beings.

In our schools, communities, and homes, the time has come to act responsibly. There have been too many misguided theories offered (and accepted) about why we are not to be held accountable for our lies and thefts, betrayals and murders. The bitter fruit we are reaping tells us how foolish we have been.

We can't wait any longer to act on what we all know but have been too intimidated to say: Some things are wrong and others are right, and we have the obligation to hold one another accountable for choosing properly between them.

The solution for the things scaring our nation silly right now is not in Congress but in human hearts. Letting ourselves off the hook so easily has put all of us on the spot.




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