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Understanding Personal Responsibility

Personal Responsibility is your acceptance of and adherence to society’s established moral and ethical code of conduct and a willingness to abide by these standards even when no one is there to hold you accountable but yourself.

Personal responsibility is owning your failures, assuming the duty of task completion, and committing to the subscriptions of your life. It is caring for your own well-being, handling the needs of those who depend on you, and serving those who are underserved. It is also employing your inherent gifts and talents to advance that which you are able to advance. Personal responsibility is the fundamental essence of human character, of a free society, and of a free world. Without it we have chaos. There will never be enough rules, laws, and enforcement to hold every person accountable. Our society depends on the vast majority of us exhibiting personal responsibility.

Teddy Roosevelt’s speech, Citizenship in a Republic, which he offered in 1910, gives one of the best explanations for the importance of PR to a society. They are as follows: “…In the long run, success or failure will be conditioned upon the way in which the average man, the average woman, does his or her duty, first in the ordinary, every-day affairs of life, and next in those great occasional crises which call for the heroic virtues. The average citizen must be a good citizen if our republics are to succeed. The stream will not permanently rise higher than the main source; and the main source of national power and national greatness is found in the average citizenship of the nation. Therefore, it behooves us to do our best to see that the standard of the average citizen is kept high; and the average cannot be kept high unless the standard of the leaders is very much higher.” These inspirational and prophetic words were not only to remind his generation of their obligation to PR, but also served as a warning.

In these last few years, I have noticed two very interesting things about PR, and these things have happened consequentially. The first is that accountability to society’s standards has severely diminished – particularly among our leaders. The second, which is more apparent now than ever, is that it has become increasingly less popular to even believe that one has a duty to society’s standards.

In addition to government and organizational decisions such as decriminalizing “petty” crimes, an onslaught of abrasive and disrespectful rhetoric from both sides of the aisle, using influence and power for the advancement of oneself, and phenomenal levels of hypocrisy as it pertains to policy making and media reporting, we simply have an abject loss of commitment to Right vs. Wrong. Because we are creatures with a conscience, we are born knowing right from wrong – even before someone tells you. So, my question is this: What has changed that made it O.K. to run from obligations, disrespect and harm people, ignore one’s duty to help those who need it, and ALWAYS decide what side of an issue you are on based on who suggested it rather than on the merits of the argument? We were forewarned by Teddy Roosevelt that when our leaders abandoned a commitment to personal responsibility, then so too should we expect our citizenry to follow.

Second. The rejection of one’s duty to society is parasitical in nature. This preposterous post-modern groupthink scenario perpetuates the lie that we are OWED something by our existence. Here is some breaking news: this world, including those who live in it, do not owe you anything other than an unfettered, equal pursuit of happiness: a happy life is EARNED. Each of us has a personal responsibility to handle ourselves first, so that we can then be a productive, contributing member of society. Once on a solid foundation, we then have a responsibility to use our influence, power, wealth, and abilities to make a better world for every member of our republic. This growing belief, however, that we are not responsible for ourselves, but rather we have a right to be taken care of is destructive and unsustainable. Again, Teddy Roosevelt warned us, “The average citizen must be a good citizen if our republics are to succeed”, and “In the long run, success or failure will be conditioned upon the way in which the average man, the average woman, does his or her duty, first in the ordinary, every-day affairs of life”. Remember, JFK famously exclaimed, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

I fear the lack of personal responsibility I see in our leaders, our media, our entertainment, our social media, and many of our large corporations. But, we can’t call out those if we ourselves are not exhibiting our own personal responsibility. Teddy Roosevelt has warned us if we are only willing to listen. Force yourself to handle today’s duties. This is the essence of human character. Our free society and free world depend on it.