During a recent commentary I was making on the floor of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, I uttered the words “personal responsibility” and you would have thought that I had screamed an obscenity in hearing the response and jeers from some of my fellow representatives from the other party.
Apparently the phrase personal responsibility undercuts the mainstay of a society convinced that everyone is a victim.
One of the first leadership principles that all Marines and servicemembers learn is to take responsibility for your actions. That leadership principle is the basic premise for virtually every other character trait and leadership principle that we teach.
In a society which fails to exercise control within a recognized societal framework, the absence of personal responsibility will wreak havoc on those citizens and their attempt to improve their lot in life.
Personal responsibility is a critical aspect of accountability and most importantly it is also a right. The right to accept personal responsibility is essential to any individual exercising free will and to the society at large for its own long term survival and growth.
The Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence were quite clear in their exhortation when they said:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--...
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
The Founding Fathers took total responsibility for their actions. They achieved liberty because of divine intervention and their willingness to pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. Personal responsibility is a sacred right, a sacred honor.
The past 10 years have seen countless examples in which personal responsibility was shunned with disastrous effect.
Commentaries in 2009 about home prices plunging the greatest amount in two decades, debtors defaulting on debt claiming mistreatment by lenders, and presidential candidates promising hope provided by the government are all so commonplace today.
For some reason, though, our problems always seem to be someone else’s fault.
When a society becomes convinced that all their woes are the result of someone else’s actions, and that government intervention solves problems, the concept of personal responsibility and the freedom that personal responsibility brings are lost forever.
Personal responsibility does bring freedom. It is so liberating to realize that you can influence your own life without having your government intervene on your behalf. If government can give you a benefit, it most definitely can take it away. How liberating is that?
In 2014 I walked across United States as a walk of atonement and a walk of gratitude. The walk of atonement was my way of saying and asking that if I hurt you to please forgive me, if I have disappointed you please pray for me, and if I helped you please help another. It was a walk of gratitude because I recognized that despite the growing up in a very poor family I knew that my family loved me which was the most valuable gift of all other than by relationship with my Savior.
Let me start out by saying that virtually all the problems I have encountered in my life have either directly or indirectly resulted from mistakes that I have made. I seldom was victimized. I may not have been pleased with the way some others capitalized on my mistakes but, then again, that is their problem. Only I can be responsible for my own actions or inactions.
I asked a dear friend a while ago, during a rather interesting exchange about the California Supreme Court decision about marriage, about what is right or wrong. He responded by saying “What is right or wrong?” If a society has no standard, then the chaos that ensures is destructive. Basing laws or governmental policy upon situational ethics or situational morality is potentially destructive.
Taking personal responsibility is about leadership and self-discipline. It is about denying yourself something you want now for some benefit in the future. It is about choices. It is about consequences and accepting the consequences of your actions. If there is no personal responsibility the breakdown in the way we deal with one another will also break down.
Personal responsibility is so crucial to the rule of law in any economy. As soon as the concept of personal responsibility deteriorates, the normal functioning of an economy and a society are impeded.
Parents and our religious institutions must set the standard for our children towards taking responsibility. Grandparents can have a crucial role in our society in this regard as well. You cannot legislate personal responsibility and expecting the government to do so is fatally flawed. Government provides boundaries.
Most importantly, you can begin the process of taking responsibility by looking inwardly for solutions to your problems and not seek governmental intervention as the get better fast solution. Do what President Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. What he was talking about was personal responsibility.
Col. Frank Ryan, CPA, USMCR (Ret) represents the 101st District in the PA House of Representatives. He is a retired Marine Reserve Colonel and served in Iraq and briefly in Afghanistan and specializes in corporate restructuring. He has served on numerous boards of publicly traded and non-profit organizations. He can be reached at FRYAN1951@aol.com.