Friday, July 24, 2009

Personal Responsibility

If you haven't the strength to impose your own terms upon life, you must accept the terms it offers you. Thomas Stearns “T.S.” Eliot

More and more I wonder what is happening to the concept of personal responsibility. The idea that I am responsible for my choices is becoming more and more quaint. It’s easier to blame circumstances, history, or even neighbors.

About two months ago, I was taking out the trash when I noticed a police car in my neighbor’s driveway and the family gathered near the door. Not wanting to be nosy, I took care of my business and started to head back inside. In spite of my best efforts, I managed to hear them loudly explaining their disagreement to the officer. I couldn’t make out exactly why they were angry, but judging by the profanity and volume, there was a lot of emotion involved.

The next day, I learned from the wife that her husband had been abusive for some time and she had finally kicked him out. She was surprised we had not heard their arguments, which apparently were common, long, and loud. She added that she was disappointed that one could no longer count on neighbors looking out for each other. She wished that someone would have called the police on them sooner. Thankfully, I didn’t really grasp what she was saying at first. By the time my mind got in gear, I was already inside and the conversation was long over.

After I had a chance to think it over, I felt sorry for her and her daughter. Here she was, in the middle of a dangerous situation, yet she stayed because no one had rescued her. She could not come to terms with the idea that, while she could not control her husband, she alone was responsible for her actions. We couldn't kick him out. She had to make the decision. Although she had finally kicked him out, it was a last resort for her. It was a decision she was "forced" to make because society had let her down. It was my fault for not calling police (never mind that I never heard anything). It was the other neighbors’ fault for not getting involved. The blame for staying fell on the shoulders of everyone but her. It’s a terrible role model for her daughter. Her inaction has taught her daughter that a man can mistreat a woman. Her dependence on others has set the standard for her daughter.

A fighting spirit, dignity, and need for respect, are God-given. But, if not nurtured, encouraged, and developed, those standards become nothing more than a romanticized ideal. No one will ever look out for me as much as I will. If I do not require respect, I will get none. If I do not fight the important battles, no one will. If I do not make the difficult decisions, I will have no right to complain about the results. In the end, my life will be a sum of my decisions, not a sum of what happened to me. Don't get me wrong, I will seek God's direction, but ultimately, the decision to move belongs to me, not to anyone else.

That's what I teach my children. We trust God, but do our part. We will not live life blaming someone or something else. We will not waste time feeling sorry for ourselves. We will understand that tough situations in life are simply opportunities to prove leadership and wisdom. We do not run from life's challenges but accept them as part of the color in life's tapestry.

Yesterday, as I was walking in the house, I see a familiar car pass me by. Perplexed, I watch the car pull in the neighbor’s driveway. It’s the husband. I watch as she welcomes him in. Looks like he’s moved back.

I'll be in my yard, binoculars in one hand, phone in the other, keeping an eye on the neighbor. After all, I guess it’s my job to protect her from herself.

No comments: