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There is a strange dichotomy going on in our society. When someone’s mistake or carelessness or forgetfulness or laziness negatively impacts our lives, we insist on finding and exposing those responsible. Yet, when the situation is reversed, and we are on the accusatory end of the pointed finger, we often deny, shift, or otherwise attempt to escape responsibility. Mistakes exist, but it wasn’t me! 

It is so ironic that great problems exist in our world but, apparently, they have no connection to any human error. No one seems to be responsible. 

It reminds me of my college years here in SoCal. Back in the ’70s we had pretty bad smog in the Santa Clarita Valley, and pretty much everywhere else except the beaches. But, funny thing, you could never find anyone who actually lived where there was smog. We all declared that, while there were faint traces here, the wind actually blew it over to Pasadena, whose residents insisted the wind blew it to Riverside, where folks declared that it actually was on its way to San Bernardino. We were all coughing and wheezing but were united in denying we lived where there was smog. 

Today it is uncommon to find anyone who will accept responsibility. At the highest levels of government and industry, hardly anyone ever takes responsibility for things going wrong.  

Sadly, this attitude is filtering down to the most basic levels of daily living. Here’s why: For far too many today, any responsibility placed on them from outside themselves is really a curtailing of their individual liberty. It’s a power play designed to squeeze them into someone else’s reality … and they just won’t stand for such a slave mentality.  

Take, for example, something as simple as arriving on time for an appointment. Some folks, like me, are so anal they always get there 10 minutes early. But most today have absolutely no problem arriving 10-20 minutes late. And when they finally do grace you with their presence, they can’t imagine why you might be miffed. After all, to impose your time frame on them just isn’t going to work. They march to their own drummer, and the rest of the world will just have to chill. 

Another example is not quite so innocuous. I believe we all have the responsibility to keep our word. When we say we’ll do something, we are obligated to do it. If exigent circumstances arise, we can adjust our obligation but we can’t nullify it; we can communicate and come to a new standard of expectation, but we can’t just throw our responsibility to the wind.  

I could add more examples but you get the point. We stand at a crossroads in our culture. Once there were clearly understood and agreed-upon standards of behavior that included individual responsibility for things like keeping promises, showing up on time, working hard, being honest, caring for the weak, serving your country and loving your neighbors.  

Today there are increasing signs that these standards are losing their value. We are watching as selfishness is repackaged as freedom, and freedom re-defined in terms of personal autonomy. But it was never meant to be this way.  

From the beginning of our great American experiment the glue that held our democracy together was our realization we could only be strong when we held ourselves responsible for the welfare of those around us.  

We still give medals to those who, on the battlefield, sacrifice their own wellbeing to save their comrades. Why? Because, regardless of how some may consider responsibility too confining, the human heart will always understand the nobility of taking responsibility for others, and the moral value of doing so as the necessary foundation of a healthy society.  

Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.