Personal responsibility is dead. Long live personal responsibility!
I cannot speak for other nations, but America suffers from a debilitating lack of ability to take responsibility for its own failures and faults. Every time something bad happens, all involved parties shift the blame to the other parties, yet when something goes right all parties claim the success for themselves.
The history of this trend is difficult to trace, but it likely emanated out of the emergence of the United States as the dominant world power after World War Two. With America’s newfound dominance and prosperity, a sense of entitlement began to sink into the psyche of Americans. Those with a sense of entitlement often believe that nothing is their fault, but instead the failings of others.
This buck-passing can be illustrated with numerous examples from recent history. To begin with a fairly light instance, examine the case of Oakland Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain. McClain was pulled over for driving a car with excessively tinted windows but refused to allow the police officer to examine the window. When he was finally given a citation, McClain signed it with an expletive. Was this McClain’s fault? Of course not, as he explained that he is “falsely accused of everything” and went on to imply that the cops are corrupt and out to get him.
Another superficial example is a personal pet-peeve of mine. Taylor Swift is, as everybody knows, an immensely popular singer who has a reputation of writing songs about ex-boyfriends to expose how poorly they treated her. In the past four years, she has been romantically connected to six men (Joe Jonas, Taylor Lautner, John Mayer, Jake Gylleenhaal, Connor Kennedy, and Harry Styles). Yet, after each relationship ends, Swift implies that it was not her fault; the common dominator to all these “heartbreaks,” however, is Swift herself. She appears to be unable to accept the fact that her actions are likely the true cause of these failed relationships.
Americans complain about the ineffectiveness of Congress and the incessant bickering between the two parties over what should be simple issues. We blame polarization for creating two parties which can hardly agree on anything, the lack of term limits for politicians who only care about getting reelected, and the power of lobbies for unduly influencing policy. All of these are certainly factors to the political inertia gripping the nation, but again we fail to see the root of the problem. Who put the extreme ideologues—from both parties—into office? Who continues to reelect politicians who only care about getting reelected? Who continues to award politicians who live in the pocket of special interests with reelection? It is all of us. The problem exists in Washington, D.C., but it starts in every polling place in the nation.
To hit closer to home, the lack of personal responsibility is overwhelming in all levels of education. There is a cliché that teenagers believe that they know everything, that they are always right. A keen ear in schoolhouses and classrooms certainly seems to affirm this stereotype. Did I get a bad grade on that essay because I did not try hard enough or put it off until the last second? Of course not, the bad grade is the fault of the teacher or professor who grades unfairly. An examination of RateMyProfessors.com points a bright spotlight at this syndrome as students refuse to accept responsibility for their own shortcoming and instead pin it on the professor. The worst grade I have received at Loyola is a “B” in Professor Shuster’s Contemporary American History class. Did I receive this grade because Professor Shuster is a bad professor? No, I earned that “B” because I half-assed that class and quite simply did not try as hard as I should have.
The most topical example of shifting blame everywhere but where it truly belongs is the gun control debate raging after a year of violence. Both the pro-gun control camp and the anti-gun control camps take part in this regrettable exercise. Who, or what, is responsible for gun violence in America? According to a statement by former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in the second presidential debate, it is single parent households. According to the National Rifle Association, it is violent video games and movies—a theory given legitimacy by Vice-President Joe Biden’s absurd summit with movie executives this past week. Yet all of these frivolous efforts simply distract from the true cause, which is the possession of guns by unstable individuals. The N.R.A. likely realizes this, but they unfortunately operate under a paranoid assumption that if they give an inch, they give a mile.
I realize that there are authentic situations where one fails due to circumstances beyond their control, but these cases are not as omnipresent as people like to make it seem. Individuals must begin taking responsibility for their own personal shortcomings first before we as a nation can address our failures as a nation.