Saturday, December 31, 2011

Want less government? Take more responsibility!

Has it ever occurred to you just how interdependent we are? To a degree so surprising we seldom if ever consider it, our well-being and that of those we love depends more often than we’d like to think on the willingness of complete strangers to take personal responsibility for their own behavior.

Think about it. How many times each day do you assume others, usually complete strangers, will act responsibly? As you watch your child head off to school in the morning, you subconsciously assume that teachers and school officials will interfere with bullying, that school ground equipment will be safe and maintained, that bus drivers are safe drivers and that other drivers will stop behind the school bus as children disembark.

When your teenagers go out with friends at night, you assume other parents are not providing them with alcohol and that an adult clerk at a local liquor store is not selling it to them.

As you and your family drive home after an evening of fun, you assume the oncoming cars will not veer into your lane, and that drivers who are neither impaired nor distracted operate them.  You likely assume that if you make a mistake in your driving, that another driver will not fly into a rage, threaten and chase you or worse, If others drive your children home, you assume they are safe drivers, that they require your children and theirs to fasten seat belts.

Perhaps you used to assume parents didn’t provide loaded guns to their teenagers to carry for “protection” from bad guys despite laws against doing so and without assuring the child had proper firearm safety training.

For the most part, you would be safe in making any one or all of these assumptions. And still, any one of those or countless other assumptions we make everyday about the behavior of others prove at times to be hazardous to our lives and the lives of those we love.

Of course part of the answer to this is for all of us to be more aware, make fewer assumptions, take fewer chances. But there is something bigger going on here and it is the growing trend to decouple rights and responsibilities. There seems to be less and less of a recognition that we do have a shared responsibility to one another.  The choices I make impact people I don’t know and may never meet.

It is a mantra we hear everyday in political discourse. Candidates pepper their speeches with talk about government interference in our lives but they never venture into the swamp of asking voters to take personal responsibility.

It is expected of all who live in a free society that we vocally demand and adamantly protect our rights. But who is as adamant and vocal about taking responsibility? Our rights are fully spelled out in a Constitution we revere. But the Constitution is rather silent on personal responsibilities. The framers of the document seem to have made an assumption of their own. They assumed the American people would discipline themselves, manage their own lives and that, as a result, the role of the government could be limited. 

When you think about it, isn’t it rather bizarre that a free society has to have laws that say you cannot drive a car while you are intoxicated, that you cannot sell alcohol to those too young to drink it, that you can’t provide loaded firearms to teenagers, that you must stop for children unloading from a school bus? The list of those laws that should have been rendered unnecessary by responsible citizens would fill volumes…and in fact they do.

Perhaps there would be less government in our lives if we each accepted personal responsibility for how we lived them.

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