Whiting column: Societal change requires individual effort

Bryan Whiting
Personal Responsibility

It’s not a societal issue, it’s an individual issue.

It has become standard to blame society for our problems and demand societal change to solve them. We forget society can only do what we choose to do. Society is a composition of us all. It can’t do anything on its 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.”

The thought isn’t reserved for crime. Take whatever issue you choose; it will only be solved when we each take command and do what is right and necessary. When racism is present it isn’t societal or systemic, it’s an individual prejudice. Many feel a corporation or business can be racist, but contrary to what the Supreme Court may say, the corporation is not an individual, but rather a function of the people who own and work in it. Any change must come from within.

The extreme 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 be personally responsible.

Those who feel today’s young people lack manners and work ethic tend to blame society. Wrong. It’s a function of what they see role modeled, whether it be as parents or community members. If we blame society rather than ourselves, our children will do the same rather than hold themselves accountable.

We also 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, teachers may blame the school. That’s easier than admitting a school is composed of teachers, parents and students with change coming from and supported by each individual within the group.

Our work environment is the same. 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 don’t work hard because they feel they already possess the technique required to be an all-star, so someone else is the problem. Their lack of coachability magnifies when their parents feel the same. The team will only improve when each individual composing the team improves.

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 what the coach said we 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.”

We blame society for our economic position. We blame the haves because 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, improve our skills, work harder. There isn’t any shortage of positions possessing the work characteristics employers find desirable. But it’s work; it’s not sitting home eating potato chips, but that is our, not society’s choice.

Holding ourselves personally accountable is difficult. As an educator, I had students whose lives were subject to unbelievable hardships. I soon learned it didn’t help to tell them their circumstance was a valid excuse. Whether it was a single parent family, a drunken parent, lack of family support, discrimination, or any negative situation imaginable, 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. Many have enormous and difficult negative circumstances in their lives from something over which they have no control. It provides available excuses, but using them won’t change their lives. There are innumerable examples of people overcoming tremendous obstacles. We call them “self-made” people. Each of us can and should be self-made.

We can call it systemic and try to legislate a solution, but it doesn’t work. Often, the result is contrary to our intent. Legislating long-term governmental intervention enables poor decision-making and stifles personal growth instead of encouraging personal responsibility.

We can’t legislate attitude or effort; we can only help people acquire it. The best way to change society is to change ourselves.

Bryan Whiting feels most of our issues are best solved by personal responsibility and an understanding of non-partisan economics rather than government intervention. Comments and column suggestions to:

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