THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 405, February 11, 2007
"When you end up having to force people to behave
as if they agreed with you, it's almost certainly
because what you're peddling is horseshit."
Spare the Rod
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
I've said it before, and I'll doubtless say it again: There's not a problem we have in this country that couldn't be solved with the application of a healthy dose of personal responsibility. After all, when you get down to the root of everything good or bad, personal responsibility or the lack of it is almost universally either to credit or to blame. Unfortunately, there's a sad lack of any inclination these days to accept personal responsibility. Instead, blame for even the most obviously personal of problems is spread thickly across almost everything that we see and do.
Former Congressman Mark Foley, for example, blames alcoholism on the allegations of his sexual harassment of young male Congressional pages. I'll readily acknowledge that being drunk can impair your judgment. But the fact that his problems apparently spanned years and a variety of individual pages would seem to indicate he'd have to have been drunk almost all the time to cover those many incidences. And whatever else his friends and his critics have said about Mr. Foley since, nobody has alleged he was much of a drinker. In fact, some have said he was all but a teetotaler.
Actress Lindsay Lohen has been publicly called on the carpet by movie makers for being chronically late to the set and for making unacceptable excuses for her tardiness and absences. Lohen's friends say she's carried away with fame which is to blame for her partying and drinking and that, in turn, is what has caused her irresponsibility. She's currently enrolled in a rehabilitation program.
Actor Isaiah Washington (one of the stars of the top-rated Grey's Anatomy) got into a fight on set with a cast member who happens to be gay. After calling T.R. Knight the "f" word (comparable in many ways to the infamous "n" word), he then had the lack of sense to repeat the word at the Golden Globe Awards. He has since said that he's going to enter a rehabilitation program to find out why he speaks inappropriately.
The Reverend Ted Haggard, the founder of an evangelical mega-church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was removed from his position of authority when allegations were made that he'd purchased illegal drugs and that he'd engaged the services of a male prostitute. Haggard says he's sorry and that he's working to overcome a sickness. He's undergoing intensive counseling by other church leaders.
In the case of Congressman Foley, the truth is that alcohol isn't to blame. His own inability to control his urges is. This may be part and parcel of the stress of his long closeted homosexuality, or it may simply be that the man has tendencies to pedophilia. Either way, blaming alcohol is a cop-out.
Lindsay Lohen has long been something of a wild child, and has been drinking and partying in Hollywood bars for some time now despite being underage. Her choice of friends and a clear lack of control by adults is far more to blame in that she wouldn't have an alcohol or drug problem if she weren't drinking and partying.
Isaiah Washington is an ass. That's all. He's an ass. But he doesn't need rehabilitation. He needs to learn to keep his opinions to himself when he's in mixed company. If he's not fond of homosexuals, that's his business, but given what he does for a living he might want to keep his mouth shut on set. Blaming alcohol or the fact that his mommy didn't love him is a cop-out for what is simply poor social behavior.
Meanwhile, the Reverend Ted Haggard can blame anything he likes, but the truth is almost certainly that the man is gay. If he wants to solve his other problems, the best thing for him to do is to come to terms with the fact that homosexuality just is. What it is not is a sickness that canor even that ought to becured. What it is not is a sin committed by a weak-willed man or woman. The minute he stops looking for and blaming something besides his own DNA, he'll be effectively all better.
But blame is so easy that Foley, Lohen, Washington, and Haggard aren't really doing anything that too many of us don't do ourselves. It's not our fault we got fired; the boss didn't like us. It's not our fault we're not nice people; it's the booze, our bad childhoods, or our anger. We tell others that need rehab or we need counseling. We need government hand-outs because we can't possibly make it on our own; it's just too hard. It's not criminals who cause crime, it's guns. It's not our fault we're not happy or successful, but rather those who offend us or who criticize us who are to blame.
The reality, of course, is that what we all need is some personal responsibility. The minute we admit that we're not nice, lazy, or that we dug our own hole in life is the minute that we can start working to improve ourselves. But somehow, we're under the impression that we don't have to do that. Somehow, we think that factors outside ourselves and beyond our control are to blame and that if we can only change those things, everything will be all better. And after the last couple of days, I think I know why we think like that.
An acquaintance of mine who happens to drive an elementary school bus in one of our local districts told me a story the other day that was more than a little disconcerting. He'd clipped a newspaper article that had something to do with him and his family, and he brought it on the bus to show the kids. The children passed the clipping from hand to hand. The looked at the cute picture, and then they started to ask him questions which he was only too happy to answer for them. But then the clipping reached the hands of one particular little girl.
This fifth grader didn't bother to read or even look at the clipping. She simply crumpled it up and threw it toward the front of the bus. When the driver asked her why she'd do such a mean thing, she looked him right in the eye and said, "You don't know the upbringing I've had." Excuse me, but ten year-olds don't talk like that unless they've heard it before, and more than once. This child is under the impression that she can do as she likes because of the "upbringing I've had!" How much would you care to bet that she's going to grow up and, like Lindsay Lohen, blame everybody but herself for her inevitable problems, and refuse to listen to anyone who suggests otherwise?
The very next day, a small boy told the same bus driver that, "We'd better not get into an accident!" Given that this particular bus driver hasn't ever been in an accident, he was a bit taken aback by this. But when he questioned the child, the boy told him, "If we get in an accident, I'm gonna sue. My dad's a lawyer, and we'd better not have an accident!" Now how many times do you suppose that child heard those words in his own home before he started spouting them in public, hmm?
This all goes quite well with those stories we all know too well about children who are drugged at the behest of impatient parents and harried school teachers. There was a time when a kid who didn't pay attention in class would be pushed right back into his seat and told to shut up or else. Today, that same child is permitted to act out to a point without any discipline whatsoever. Then, when he understandably escalates, he's put on Ritalin to deal with his "hyperactivity" or his "attention deficit" problems. The reality is that the only thing he suffers from is a lack of discipline, but it seems nobody wants to talk about that or to bother imposing it any more.
So now we've got children making excuses based on the excuses they've heard made by adults. We've got children who believe they're sick and are drugged into submission rather than taught any kind of self control by either teachers or parents. We've got children who resist authority at younger and younger ages, and who refuse responsibility for any of their actions largely because they've never in their short lives been made to be responsible for anything before. And the ongoing lack of consequences for these children only cements their bad behavior and their irresponsibility for it into their very psyches.
I can continue to suggest that personal responsibility would solve all of our problems, and that the lack of it is contributing greatly to those same problems. And I'd be right. But there's something underlying that lack of responsibility that has got to be addressed before any of our myriad other problems can be solved, and that is this: poor parenting.
I understand completely if you don't want to be responsible for a child. I'm not willing to do that myself, so I certainly won't demand it of you. I relate entirely to the fact that you selfishly want to do whatever it is that you want to dohave a high-end career, take great vacations, go out to nice dinners, or buy fancy carsinstead of catering to your children because I feel just the same way. I honestly get it if you're out of patience with your small children because I have virtually no patience with kids myself. But here's the difference between me and irresponsible, selfish, impatient parents: I don't have children.
Raising kids is a tough job. Raising good kids is even tougher. If you're not prepared to make the sacrifice, I'm not going to blame you. Sure, there are trade-offsevery delight from a baby's first smile to pride at a son's or daughter's accomplishmentsbut the sacrifices are never-the-less substantial and range from emotional to financial.
Many people are quite willing to make that sacrifice. They forego fancy dinners for Happy Meals, and they trade Oscar™-nominated foreign films for cartoons. They spend time with their children rather than time with their friends. They attend school plays rather than travel to business seminars. They do without so that their children are fed, clothed, and entertained. And the best parents suffer the pain of disciplining a misbehaving child not because they like it but because they know they must if they expect their child to grow up accepting that actions have consequences.
Some people, however, are less willing to sacrifice their own lives for that of their children. They want to have their cake and eat it, too. And it's my opinion that the single most poisonous portion of that cake is the mouthful that suggests everything is someone or something else's fault. We don't spend time with our kids because we're too busy. We don't discipline them because it's too difficult or too painful. We let the television babysit, and we're happy to send them to a friend's house because that means we don't have to deal with them. And in those rare times we do spend any time with them, we do them the worst disservice of all: we bend over backward not to upset them because we want those limited times together to be quality times together.
(I'd add here that a few people are actually smart enough to know they're too selfish or irresponsible to become parents now, or perhaps ever. We owe it to them not to look down on them or to argue with them. Assume they're right and give them credit for knowing themselves. I've seen television interviews where those who don't want children are all but burned at the stake for their views, and that's almost as shameful as having children when you know you shouldn't.)
I've been thinking about writing this column ever since I heard the stories about the kids from the bus driver. But this weekend, every complaint I've had about bad kids and every iota of disgust and dismay I've expressed for irresponsible adults was hammered home in a single infuriating experience of my own.
I was paying my usual Saturday morning visit to the bank, and was running a little late. I hurried inside the lobby to fill out my deposit slip and noted that both of the two counter areas designated for that purpose were occupied. A customer stood at one. A child, perhaps 8 or 9 years old, stood at the other. From a distance, it appeared she was scribbling on a scrap of paper or perhaps a blank deposit slip. I approached her, intending to quietly excuse myself and do what I needed to do. But when I stepped next to her, I saw that she wasn't scribbling on a piece of paper at all but on the wall next to the counter!
A section of the wall perhaps 8 inches tall and about half that wide was covered with dense scribbles of blue ink. By the liquid shine, I could tell she'd scribbled so thoroughly that the ink on top of the ink was actually wet. Without a thought, I opened my mouth and said, "Stop that! What do you think you're doing?" The child looked up at me, utterly stricken. She dropped the pen and scurried back to her father who was standing in line and, I assumed, ignoring what his child was doing. Surely not even a bad parent would let his child simply destroy someone else's property in public! But no, it was worse even than that.
The child, who was now sniffling, was patted on the back, and her father saidloudly"Don't worry, baby, some people are just crabby." At that point, I couldn't help myself. I turned around, looked him in the eye, and said, "Excuse me, but your daughter is vandalizing bank property!" And do you know what that man said to that little girl? He patted her again and said, "Good for you, honey, good for you."
The only positive aspect of that whole experience was the fact that several other people who had also been in line smiled and nodded at me as they finished their business and left the premises. When the man and his badly behaved daughter left, I supposed I could have looked the other way and ignored them, but I didn't. I stared right into that little girl's smug little face, and she scrambled to get on the other side of her father as they passed. On their way out the door, I heard him say, "Now don't you worry about that nasty lady. . ."
Someday, probably soon, that little girl is going to be in our local newspaper. She will have spray painted somebody's storefront, or she'll have shoplifted something. She'll be a 14 year-old unwed mother. Or maybe she'll assault a classmate, or be sent to a school for delinquent children on the grounds the teachers can't get her to behave. At that point, she'll probably claim it's not her fault, that her parents didn't raise her right. And on that day, I expect I'll agree with her wholeheartedly. But that won't for a minute change the fact that that little girl will be a detriment to society and a drain on it rather than a contributing member of it.
The lessons that people like Ted Haggard or Isaiah Washington teach us shouldn't be that someone or something else is always to blame. It should be that they're under the mistaken impression that someone or something else is always to blame. It might very well be too late to "fix" them. In fact, I'm not so sure it's not too late to "fix" that awful little girl in the bank. But unless we want it to be too late to "fix" this country, we'd better recognize that we're going to have to "fix" some responsibilities right where they belong!
Responsibility starts with parents. They're the first and best teachers for their children, and you had better believe that their children are learning from them. That holds true whether the lessons are good or bad. I don't believe for a minute that Hillary Clinton was right when she said that "It Takes a Village" to raise our children. What it does take is responsible parents.
We can't very well mandate responsibility in others, but what we can do is ensure that they bear the consequences for their irresponsibilities. If they let their children run wild in restaurants, they should have to leave. If their children are doing poorly in school, they should be required to work directly with their children on the necessary remedial education. If their children hurt other kids (I personally know a child who has twice assaulted other children and been the direct contributor to the death of several pets, and to this day, her mother defends her actionsneither that child nor her mother is permitted in my house), they should participate in the punishment of the child and see some consequences for themselves.
Most important of all, every last one of us has got to overcome the sadly mistaken notion that self-esteem is the be-all and end-all in our children and that any form of discipline might undermine that. Yes, our kids may feel good about themselves. But do we feel good about them.? Read the paper sometime and see how many of them are in trouble, and how many of them are blaming somebody else for it. The kids on the bus are actually righter than they know. Many of our problems really are a direct result of how we were raised (or not raised), and this bus really is about to crash. But who, pray tell, are we going to sue? We can point fingers all we like, but at the end of the day, we've only ourselves to blame.
I don't mean to paint all parents with the same broad brush. I realize that there are a number of good parents out there who are doing their best to instill a sense of responsibility into their children. I congratulate and admire each and every one of them, and I even confess (please don't tell anybody) to actually liking a few of their kids. Those parents, however, are too few, and their efforts are more often than not undermined by others (NEA-brainwashed teachers, government sanctioned social workers, psychologists, and assorted other do-gooders at the forefront among them).
We can't raise other people's children for them (more's the pity sometimes). What we can do, however, is refuse to let their kids get away with irresponsibility when we're actually privy to it. We can refuse to let them run wild in our homes and on our property. We can get involved in our local schools and do all that we can to encourage discipline and eradicate "feel good" programming in place of genuine education. We can, when in public, use their children as object lessons for our own. And if their children interfere with ours, we can give them a lesson, too. We can, in short and when necessary, be the mean lady in the bank. It's clear enough that somebody's got to do it!