Monday, October 31, 2022

Refusing to Be Responsible

When I was a kid, my parents always stressed the importance of telling the truth, and not making excuses if I did something wrong. I'd be surprised if your parents didn't teach you the same thing. For example, if you didn't do your homework, don't lie and say the dog ate it (or these days, that the computer crashed and erased it). Be honest and admit you messed up; and be prepared to accept the consequences of your actions.

What brought this to mind was some recent news stories which involved people who did something far worse than failing to do their homework; yet their reaction was to blame someone else rather than taking any responsibility for their part in what went wrong. In one story, an ugly brawl broke out after a college football game between rivals Michigan and Michigan State, a game that Michigan won 29-7. Things evidently got out of hand as the game was ending, when angry words were exchanged between some players. The situation escalated as the teams went into the tunnel at the stadium, on the way to their respective locker rooms. By some accounts, a group of players from Michigan State attacked a player from Michigan, kicking and punching him. An investigation into who did what, who started it, and why, is still ongoing. But preliminary reports seemed to devolve into various people blaming everything from crowding in the tunnel to trash talk between players. Meanwhile, four Michigan State players have been suspended, as both coaches called the behavior "unacceptable," and lamented the "poor sportsmanship." But why did it happen? Teams lose games. Teams have bad days. So, why did some players think that brawling with the other team was a useful way to act?   

And then there was the brutal assault on Paul Pelosi, husband of Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. The guy who did it had become a follower of the QAnon conspiracy theory; and having heard repeatedly online and in conservative media that Nancy Pelosi was to blame for the problems in society today, he planned to kidnap the Speaker (she wasn't there-- she was in Washington DC), and "hold her accountable." He planned to demand that she "tell the truth," and break her kneecaps as punishment if she lied about the terrible things he believed Democrats had done. We know this because we have his own statements to police. And yet, a number of Republican politicians, and even some famous people like Elon Musk, either rationalized what happened, or spread an outrageously false story that Mr. Pelosi was actually at a gay bar and had a quarrel with his attacker, whom he knew. (He did not know the man, and he was asleep at home, as witnesses to the attack attested. But that didn't stop the rumors.)  One Republican governor, when asked about political violence in America today, blamed it on Black Lives Matter. But however you feel about Nancy Pelosi, there is no excuse for someone breaking into her home and beating up her husband. Sad to say, some politicians could not bring themselves to say that political rhetoric has gotten out of hand, nor could they acknowledge their side's part without reminding everyone that the other side is just as bad.

But as my mother used to say, "two wrongs don't make a right." Whether some trash-talking football player egged you into a fight, or whether you sincerely despise your political opponent's policies, when did violence become an acceptable response? When did blaming "them" become the best way to handle a problem? And when did finding the right excuse replace admitting you were wrong? When I was caught lying about my homework, my parents were not amused. Even though it was not the biggest sin in the world, they didn't want me to think that lying and making excuses was okay. They wanted me to be ethical, or to at least understand the importance of ethics. That was then. Now, we seem to be in a historical moment when whatever happens, too many folks (especially celebrities and politicians) seem to think that saying "it's not my fault" is enough. 

But it's not. Leaving things unresolved and putting the blame on someone else sets a terrible precedent. I don't miss the "good old days," and I don't expect a return to "how things used to be." But I do miss the era when folks took responsibility for their actions, and I'd like to see that attitude make a comeback.  It starts with something simple: telling the truth and acknowledging when we do something wrong, as well as striving not to make that mistake in the future-- whether it's about a little thing like not doing the homework or a big thing like allowing our emotions to get out of control. My parents taught me that honesty matters, and I want to believe it still does. But it saddens me that some people seem to think getting away with lying matters more.

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