January 30, 2007



Here's a pair that beats three of a kind: FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY! In America, the national monument that symbolizes our freedom is the Statue of Liberty. (Thank you, France). Lady Liberty has greeted thousands of immigrants who came to America in search of "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". (Bachelors are afforded the happiness of pursuit.) What does it mean to be free? Does it mean we can do whatever we want, whenever we want? No, because then there would be total chaos. Does freedom come with an implied code of conduct? Yes, because with freedom comes responsibility. Where is the national monument that depicts the need to think, feel and act responsibly? (What about the three-legged stool?) When will a philanthropist come forth to donate the money to build the Statue of Responsibility? Lady Liberty needs a friend standing next to her to remind us that we are all accountable for what we think, feel and do.

The genesis of our "no-fault" society has made the idea of "personal responsibility" an unpopular view. This "no-fault" mentality is one of the many barriers to living a responsible life. It is easier to blame others for what we think, how we feel and what we do than it is to be a responsible person. It takes work to own our thoughts, emotions and actions. This is most likely the case because it is human nature to assign blame to someone or something else when something goes wrong. There is a part of us that wants to deny our role in having caused conflict or harm. The drunk driver is a good example. Even though our society has attempted to stigmatize drunk driving, some people still do it. Yes, it is a bad choice and an abdication of personal responsibility, but I can hear the excuses now: "I didn't mean to kill those people in the accident. I was drinking. I wasn't in my right mind. Please be lenient with me, Judge." It is easier to look for a scapegoat than it is to accept the blame. It takes an honest person to admit when he/she is at fault. There is no denial. Even the drunk driver can use the three-legged stool metaphor to avoid making the same mistake twice. A person who chooses to drink and drive has two of the three legs wobbling, not from the alcohol, but from thinking and acting in an irresponsible manner in the quest to feel pleasure. I would call a three-legged stool with wobbly legs a "loose stool." The goal of a well-adjusted, high functioning and responsible person is to keep sturdy all three legs of that stool. This means being reasonable, aware of our feelings and acting responsibly.

What is the yardstick by which society judges someone to be a responsible person? There are different levels of personal responsibility. It is someone who uses their moral compass to help differentiate between right and wrong and then acts accordingly. It is somebody who does the best they can to obey the laws of the land. It is the person who uses common sense with a sense of reason. It is the assertive person who shows respect towards others as well as toward himself. What about the guy who makes a mistake, admits it, learns from it and then moves on? Lets remember the people who are willing to "stand up and do something" as opposed to sitting down to watch their hopes and dreams be lost. When we want something to happen in our life, we can either sit around and wait for it to happen, or we can set a goal, aim for it and take responsibility for the results.

It is easy to accept the credit when something goes "right" in our life. When something goes wrong, it is natural to look elsewhere to assign the blame. Here is a list of the top ten SCAPEGOATS that get the blame for our behavioral problems:

1) Parents.
2) Spouse/Significant other.
3) Genetics.
4) Medication. Either taking it or neglecting to take it.
5) Income level.
6) Alcohol/illicit drugs.
7) Intelligence level including I.Q.
8) The government.
9) Hormones.
10) Hey, I'm only human!

Yes, it is true that each example from the above list may have "influenced" a negative result, but only we can "determine" a negative result. It isn't the fast food restaurants that are making us fat. It is we who decide what food we put in our mouths. It isn't the fault of the company that builds ladders that caused someone to fall while climbing one. Some people must think it because ladder companies have been sued for this very reason. The ladder company then passes on the cost of the law suit to the consumer. Who is responsible for the mentally ill person who refuses to take their medication and then acts in an irrational manner? Current laws state that if someone is mentally ill and commits a crime, the person may not be guilty by reason of insanity. More than likely, if the person had come to terms with the need to take their medication, we would not be asking this question. The time to treat mental illness is before something bad happens. Someone with a mental illness is acting responsibly when the person negotiates a treatment plan with their doctor that includes the use of medication to help manage disturbing thoughts and moods. This is conventional wisdom from the mainstream medical community. (On behalf of the seriously and persistently mentally ill population, it may be a long time before society understands mental illness and all of the disturbing symptoms associated with it. Many people who are mentally ill struggle to understand it. As our understanding increases, hopefully, the stigma of mental illness will decrease. Not all mentally ill people are criminals. Mental illness is not at the root of criminal behavior. To think this way means that society is looking for a scapegoat to try to understand the crime rate.)

To get back on track, life is about choices. As adults, it is also about accepting the consequences, good and bad, after having made a choice. Living in a free country offers us this opportunity. We can define our lives any way we want, keeping in mind our strengths and limitations, because we have the freedom to make choices. What kind of job do you want? Who do you want to include in your circle of friends? For what do you have a passion? What do you need to do so that in five years you will be where you want to be in life? (Either we'll be doing what we want to be doing in five years from now or we won't.)

I believe there are two camps of people. The first camp believes that all people are created equal. What happens after that is a personal choice. The second camp believes that only a select few are winners in life's lottery. Here's the truth: We can all feel like winners if we choose to think and act responsibly. Ideally, this is a lesson we begin to learn in childhood and have it at least semi-mastered by the time we are adults. If we don't know how to get this done, then we may need some help. Responsible parents, family members, mentors, teachers, priests, counselors, friends and support groups are good places to look for direction, guidance and instruction.

It is not always easy to wear the hat of personal responsibility. The shoes are sometimes a tight fit, too. To live a responsible lifestyle is its own reward. There are no alibis nor any self-deception. Our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are our own. We look for no excuses or scapegoats for which to blame our shortcomings. We accept ourselves for who we are (mortals) and then work to improve on who we are. All of this contributes to a more civilized society because we are held accountable for our actions. This promotes values like honesty and integrity. Yes, President Harry S. Truman, your motto rings loud and clear: "THE BUCK STOPS HERE!"


* All people are created equal. What happens after that is a personal choice!

* The Statue of Responsibility National Monument is to be dedicated on July 4th, 2020. It will take on the appearance of two arms clasping each other at the wrists in a vertical position, a metaphor for human interdependence. It reminds me of the following definition for the word, "responsibility":

When you look closely into the eyes of another, the first person you see is yourself. When you hold their hand, you feel your own warmth. When you give of yourself, you give to yourself. This is done voluntarily.

November 30th, 2005: Bay Voice Newspaper, New Baltimore, MI.

The Statue Of Responsibility Foundation http://statueofresponsibility.com/

Liberty + Responsibility = Our Freedom.

Written by,
Mark S. Rogers, LPC.
Licensed Professional Counselor.


Viola Jaynes said...

Great article! Thanks for posting it!

Mark S. Rogers, LPC. said...

Thanks, Viola. It was this article I originally posted on my site in January, 2002, that caught the attention of the Statue of Responsibility Foundation. They invited me to join them in their quest (now our quest) in August, 2005, to help build the monument. I was tickled and delighted, and after some careful thought, said, "Yes".

You, too, do some thoughtful writing on your site. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Viola!


DK said...

I was directed to this post (maybe by you) when someone posted a link on my blog post about the statue of responsibility.

Great post. It's great to see more people having this conversations (though I know this particular post is rather old now).

Unknown said...

I love this post!! I will share some personal experiences that my husband I and went through because I trust you. My husband was involved in a bad car accident alomst 3 years ago and it totally changed his life. He was taking his anger and frustation out on me and anyone one who looked at him the wrong way. I started seeing an amazing counselor and my husband came with me. But, what I took from the session, was that we are all responsible for our own actions and using the car accident was not an excuse for poor behavior.

Mark S. Rogers, LPC. said...

Having a car accident is never fun, and probably always painful in one way or another. Depending on the severity of the accident, it can lead to episodic-aggressive anger if the related thoughts lead to destructive and self-defeating outbursts. That would be a toxic expression of the anger. To have a car accident totally change your life is traumatic, but it doesn't need to pose a lifelong risk of feeling angry and stressed-out. It is good to learn the lesson of being pro-active during difficult times by taking responsibility for your thoughts, feelings and actions. Learning that important life lesson allows us to move on to the next lesson.