THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 399, December 24, 2006
Loss of Meaningful Rituals = Lack of Responsibility
Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise
Perhaps I'm off on a tear again but I have something to get off my cerebral cortex, as the title says "Loss of Meaningful Rituals = Lack of Responsibility". This little formula has been kicking around in my brain for some years; I believe it began to take shape in the late eighties when I ran a halfway house for troubled teens (mostly runaways) in the great metropolis of Portland Oregon. The young people who at times seemed to flock to me and mine at a house lovingly referred-to as "The Inferno" after Dante's book of the same name. For many of the same reasons, young people gathered at what was seen as a portal out of hell. Many had been abused (male and female), many had come from intolerant homes, and many were struggling to find a meaning, any meaning, in this life. What we provided most was not food, water or shelter, but a sense of belonging, a sense of structure, and a sense of progression. Those who stayed short-term in turn referred others to our care, some who stayed long-term; stayed from a sense of family and duty to those that came after. As an experiment it would finally fail, but not for lack of anything except money, "ole mighty dollar".
One thing each of my friends there seemed to long-for was meaningful rituals. What I brought to them was meaningful ritual, like the kind I had grown up with myself. Birthdays were a cause for celebration, for our friend had lived another year through, despite the poverty, crime and homelessness. We celebrated Thanksgiving for much the same reason, with wine to toast our warmth and comfort of the "family" we had become. The most extensive gift at Christmas was love; and with it we made popcorn strings, paper chains, and paper snowflakes to decorate the tree that had most likely been given to us. But through it all was shared a sense of (at least for this brief moment) family and home, where we were safe and warm; a sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves.
Each member of the house was given responsibilities, especially during the holidays or before parties, and those were expected to be fulfilled. Woe to those who shirked their duties or were niggardly in the attempt, I had no need to mention it as the rest of the "family" would have beaten me to the punch, then we would all pitch-in together, save for the shirker, and finish what was not done. This form of non-punishment had more effect than any cane or belt ever could, the guests would comment on how clean the house was with 12 people living there, and many family members would comment that so-and-so had done the decorations, the girls had decorated the cake; when the shirker was asked what they had done, many would glare and wait for the honest response, a lie would never have been tolerated, and was always immediately shouted down.
This is just an example, and many of our success stories are great; paralegals, secretaries, computer programmers and repairers and consultants, industrial workers, housewives, and many other professions to numerous to include. In all of that time, before regulation took over the helping of homeless, runaways and the like, we tried to give all of our rituals a sense of meaning. These things will only come once, and never be seen again, and you only have one chance to get them right. What this bred was a sense of responsibility, something which seems to be lacking more and more these days.
Now god knows, I'm not the most responsible person, in fact I can be downright irresponsible at times, but I try, and I won't run away from or deny my responsibility, even for my being irresponsible. (In fact this column is a day late because I irresponsibly didn't finish it on-time!) Day after day I see politicians, policemen, captains of industry, and so-on, those stand before a bank of microphones and pleadingly implore that "It's not my fault!" Bullshit! I hope I don't offend anyone but that's the way I feel. Responsibility was metered out to me as a child, rituals followed and more responsibility awarded for success. Nothing was ever given for irresponsible behavior, but then nothing was taken away either. The lawn still had to be mowed, grades still had to be made, and so-on until I had proven all over again I was worthy of the next stage of responsibility.
Key to all of this was meaningful ritual. Today the ritual has little or no meaning, graduation from fourth grade only serves to degrade the final high school graduation ceremony we strove towards, and like Mr. Incredible says "It's psychotic. . . just another way to celebrate mediocrity." Because we now celebrate even the most trivial and mediocre achievements, true accomplishment of something great or heroic is left feeling flat or commonplace. To L. Neil I offer my congratulations for achieving the Eagle Scout Honor, and I'm sure that his induction ceremony into that rare and limited society was impressive and movingfull of meaningful ritual and meaningful praise, and more responsibility to his Troop. My best friend achieved the rank of Black Belt, and though his ceremony was very meaningful and traditional, he was still under scrutinymore responsibility and a probation period followed in which he could have lost his honor at any time. When his one year of probation was finished the celebration and congratulations were much more hearty and heartfelt, they had meaning.
My point is simple but its meaning huge, without real, meaningful rituals our society has bred and continues to breed people who; won't take responsibility for their own children, refuse to be responsible for their animals, and deny all responsibility in their jobs where it is usually most needed. My last example illustrates this point very well.
In the summer of 1993 four police officers were found not guilty of irresponsibility in the felony arrest of Rodney King, an arrest (and beating) viewed by millions across the US and around the world, the police department that they worked for refused to take responsibility for the policemen's actions, the City of Los Angeles refused to take responsibility for their jackbooted thugs performing their duties as prescribed, and in response a city exploded in anger. Had those responsible accepted their responsibility to their citizens, Fifty-Four (54) people need not have died while hundreds-of-millions of dollars damage was done, by people who will never take responsibilitybecause if their leaders don't have the guts to do so, then why should they?
We need people in this country to take responsibility, for their actions and their inactions as well; politicians take note, if you are caught in the act of even more obvious stealing, you must take responsibility for your actions. I simply won't vote for them anymore, that is how I'll help them take responsibility; perhaps we all could do a little more helping? Hey! That's a good idea, why don't we all help them take responsibility for stealing (National Archive documents?) from us? We could do it, if we are all willing to take the voter's responsibility to do so.
Well, it could happen!