By David Hegg
Ever notice how no one in our society is ever wrong? I’m not talking about missing a test question or predicting the final score of a ball game. I’m talking about the fact that when bad decisions are reached, or bad choices are made, or bad results are confirmed, no one ever stands up and says, “I take responsibility for what just happened.”
In my world, I often find myself sitting with two people whose marriage is falling apart. Some recent event or argument has brought them to the breaking point and they turn to me for help. And after they gush forth their version of the marriage, paying special attention to all of the hurtful things that have happened to them, I will ask them to complete a very simple assignment: “Write down the three things that, if they were to happen, would greatly improve your marriage.” That’s it, just three things on a piece of paper that matter most in your marriage.
What I find most often is the three things the wife writes down have to do with changes the husband needs to make, while the husband almost always gives me three things the wife needs to do. Apparently, the state of their marriage is clearly the other person’s fault.
This little exercise demonstrates what is decaying in our society across the board. Not only do we see everything as someone else’s fault, we all too often believe that if they would just make the changes we think are necessary, everyone and everything would be better. In other words, we harbor the grave misconception that the goal of history is for everyone to think and act like we do! And of course, the fact that they are blind to our brilliance is the basic reason things are broken and life is hard.
Of course, I am oversimplifying things greatly. But I do so to make a point. Just once I would like to hear a spouse in a deteriorating marriage say, “we’re in a downward spiral and it really is mostly — if not all — my fault. I’m being a jerk, and I am filled with pride and selfishness, and quite frankly, I’m not all that consistent or thoughtful. And that’s just for starters …”
Just once I would like to hear a business man, or a politician, or a clergyman, or a judge, or an athlete, or a neighbor say, “The problem has come about because I was shortsighted, I didn’t do my work well, and I let my arrogance and selfish ambition get in the way of what was best for others.”
The sad truth is that personal responsibility has taken a back seat to public hubris. Perhaps it’s that today, one mistake can be blown up by the media into a life-long disqualification. Or perhaps it’s that our society is strongly into hero worship and dresses our heroes in the false robes of perfection. Or maybe our refusal to honor personal apologies and responsibility stems from the fact that we’ve largely forgotten the true blessing of forgiveness.
Whatever the case, taking personal responsibility has become tantamount to standing before a firing squad. Admitting a mistake gives the opposition all the ammunition they need, whether it is a spouse, a competitor, or the other party.
But it has to start somewhere. And we all know real virtue and real honor begin in the home where children grow up believing that the ethics around them are the ones that make for successful lives.
Parents, take responsibility for your actions, both good and bad, and teach your children well. Spouses, live up to your own highest standards and realize that the only person you can change is yourself. Americans, let’s stop blaming everyone else for our situation and take a good look in the mirror.
Then, accept what you see, change what you don’t like, and take responsibility for your past even as you determine to make a better future. Maybe if we learn to take responsibility, we can be responsible for something great.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident.“Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.