It’s been a rough week for America. After the Boston Marathon Bombing, one thing resonates through most of our discussions: how can we stop something like this from happening again? In American-speak that usually translates into “What can we regulate now?”
So, I ask the question: What would we regulate? Pot smoking? (I wish we would – I live in Washington State if you are thinking, “But it already is”). Religion? (Many are trying.) Back packs in public? How about boxing? Pursuing a college education? Pressure cookers?
I’m not trying to make light of the situation. It’s just that I wonder at the American answer to everything which so often boils down to “Let’s make a new law.” Somehow we convince ourselves that another law on the books means that we are a safer people; that evil can’t touch us now. I’m all for laws, but when you are a society with a world view that has morphed into Moral Relativism rather than Moral Absolutes, there will never be enough laws.
We compound the problem by adhering to a mantra of “diversity and tolerance” that ends up meaning anything but tolerance. We work so hard to make sure that everyone and every idea is accepted, but then try to regulate anything that seems potentially harmful. How confusing is that? Especially when we foolishly believe that right and wrong is in the eye of the beholder.
We’ve become a nation which believes in everything, which means we believe in nothing. This should sound familiar to those who watched Life of Pi. What a profound truth was spoken when Pi’s doubting father admonishes, “Believing in everything at the same time is the same thing as believing nothing at all.” What a sadly, apt description of America right now. And what a challenge we’ve created for ourselves in having to face the evils that many insist don’t exist.
What makes a society work best, then? I think back to an idea practiced in America at its beginning and tagged as the “Principle of Self-Government” by two elderly ladies who penned their thought-provoking Red Books. This one of their seven principles occurs to me over and over and is something I try to drive home to my students. Here’s how I paraphrase it:
Take responsibility for your own life and actions. Care about others. Then take responsibility for your family. Care about them. Be a responsible local citizen. Care about others. Give back. Care about others. Do this and you will find yourself a trusted and reliable citizen who helps make a positive difference in the world.
The thing that struck me most in Verna Hall and Rosalie Slater’s Principle Approach is what happens when people refuse to take responsibility for themselves and their families. Other people have to step in. The man who won’t mow his lawn and allows noxious weeds to take over, becomes subject to the neighbors who are eventually forced to create a regulation that forces him to do so or he faces reprimand of some kind. At this point his personal choice are infringing on others … this equals a lack of responsibility.
Don’t we see this everywhere? The more entitled people become, the more their undisciplined kids, rude behavior, slothful work habits , etc. affect others. That’s why we keep making laws; individuals refuse to act responsibly.
Thankfully, not everyone in our country lacks an attitude of personal responsibility. How poignantly this was proved by heroic people in Boston, who ran toward the bombs – toward danger – toward evil, instantly ready to help and care for others. That, to me, is what being an American is about.
We must accept that there is evil in the world. We must also realize that evil cares nothing about our entitlements or personal rights. Evil is only defeated when citizens act as citizens; when we get out of our bubble of self-focus and contribute willingly to the society we are apart of, at every level, at all times. Thank you, Boston, for reminding us how it’s done.