Whiting column: It’s not society. It’s you.
It’s not a societal issue, it’s an individual issue.
Lately it has become standard to blame society for our problems and society must change
to solve them. We forget that society can only do what we choose to do. Society is a composition of all of us. It can’t do anything on it’s own. Ronald Reagan stated, “We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”
Take whatever issue you wish; it can only be solved when each of us take command and be personally responsible to do what is right. When racism is present it isn’t societal, it’s an individual prejudice. Some feel a corporation or business can be racist, but contrary to what the Supreme Court may feel, the corporation is not an individual, but rather a function of the people who own and run it. Any change must come from within.
The Congressional partisanship which has made it ineffective is not a societal or Congressional issue, but rather an issue with the behavior of each legislator. Change will only occur when each individual politician chooses to change.
Those who feel today’s youth lack manners and work ethic tend to blame society. Their behavior is not determined by society, but rather a function of what they see role modeled by each of us, whether it be as parents or community members. If we blame society rather than ourselves, we can only expect our children to do the same rather than hold themselves accountable.
There is also a tendency to blame the micro-societies, such as schools, work, and other organizations. If their child has a problem, a parent may blame the school; if the school isn’t effective or a great place to work, teachers can blame the school. That’s easier than realizing a school is composed of teachers, parents and students. If change is to occur it must come from and be supported by each individual within the group. The same can be said of our work environment. If it isn’t functioning as we desire, it is up to those within it to make a change; it can’t do anything on its own.
Any high school coach will tell you some players are uncoachable. They feel someone else is the problem, they already possess the technique required to be an all-star or just don’t want to work hard. Their uncoachability can be magnified when their parents feel the same. The team will only improve when the individuals composing the team improve. As a teenager, I once complained to my father, both a coach and an employer, about my baseball team. He asked “What does your coach say?” I told him all the things the coach had said I and the team needed to do to improve. I followed it up with “but he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” My father’s response: “Uncoachable kids, lead to unemployable adults.”
It has become common to blame society for our economic position. We blame the haves, because we feel we’re the have nots. Society can’t change our economic position; nor should we expect it to. It’s up to us. If we desire more money, work more. Employers will tell us there isn’t any shortage of available positions. It’s work; it’s not going skiing, but that is our, not society’s choice.
Society doesn’t cause some to be homeless or unemployed for the long term. There are jobs available for those who are educated, trained and have work ethic. We supply free public education through high school. Those who can’t find a job chose to not take advantage of the educational opportunities and to not possess the work characteristics employers finds desirable.
Holding ourselves personally accountable is difficult. We must be tough on ourselves and not be naïve. Addictions to alcohol and nicotine are a good example. I am not a scientist and will concede they are a disease, but we have to realize they are a disease by choice. If we don’t ever take a drink or smoke, we aren’t going to become addicted.
As an educator, I had students whose lives were subject to untold hardships. I soon learned it didn’t help to tell them those hardships were a valid excuse. Whether it was a single parent family, a drunken parent, lack of language, family responsibilities at a young age or whatever negative situation we imagine, the only way to help them was to tell them the truth. “You caught a bad break in life that wasn’t your fault. You can use it as a valid excuse your entire life and no one will blame you. But if you want things to be better, use it as motivation instead of an excuse. You can let it define you and determine your life or relegate it to history and move on.”
We must do the same. There are plenty of negative circumstances and excuses available, but they won’t make things change or get better.
We have a tendency to try and legislate a solution to a societal issue, but that doesn’t work either. Many times the result is contrary to our intent. The more we legislate long-term governmental social programs, the more we enable poor decision making, instead of encouraging personal responsibility.
Shootings have become too commonplace that last few years. As a result, we tend to think lax gun laws created the problem, when the problem is with the individual pulling the trigger. Changing the individual is the only way to lessen the occurrence. We have to be smart enough to look at what hasn’t worked in the past. A few weeks ago, a person in a restaurant requested a column advocating stricter gun laws. They said “If we make guns illegal then nobody will get shot anymore.” My response wasn’t nice but truthful. “That’s how we stopped people from doing drugs, right?” We can’t legislate morality, we can only help people acquire it.
Bryan Whiting feels most of our issues are best solved by personal responsibility and an understanding of non-partisan economics rather than by government intervention. He recently retired after 40 years of teaching marketing, entrepreneurship and economics. Comments and column suggestions to: email@example.com