Is Personal Responsibility Dead?


Written by Matt Jabs -



“The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs.”

-Joan Didion


While attending a recent Homeowners Association meeting, my wife and I were overwhelmed by the attitude of a majority of our neighbors. With few exceptions, they wanted everything done for them and thought all they had to do was sit around and complain loudly enough to make it happen.


After about 15 minutes of complaints and finger pointing, I chimed in on a specific issue with, “What if each of us just committed to doing our part to help make things better for everyone?” The crowd fell silent for a good five seconds (which felt like an eternity in a room full of 50 people) before everyone astoundingly agreed.


I don’t think that my neighbors were incapable of thinking up such a simple solution on their own. Rather, I think this is an illustration of the depth of our cultural dependence and reliance on others for seemingly everything in life.


Let’s consider the notion of personal responsibility as a whole, with a heavy focus on financial accountability at the individual level. After all, by developing an understanding of things that are going on at a personal level, we’re sure to gain insight into what’s happening at higher levels.



The root of the problem


“No alibi will save you from accepting the responsibility.”

-Napolean Hill


Unless you’ve been lost at sea for the better part of seven years, you’re likely aware of the economic problems that have pushed us “against the financial ropes,” both individually and as a nation. As ridiculous as it sounds, these problems stem from Ricki Lake and Richard Simmons as much as they stem from Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush.


No, we’re not in this predicament because we haven’t been “Sweatin’ to the Oldies.” Nor are we here solely due to 9/11, Republicans, Democrats, or other bureaucrats. We’re here because, on a whole, we’ve become a nation that rebels against virtue and character, and chooses instead to value the emptiness of fame and fortune.


Unfortunately, relying on fame and/or fortune for happiness is grounds for disaster — just ask anyone who has ever been rich or famous!

Who can we blame?


“Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will – his personal responsibility.”

-Albert Schweitzer


In our culture, we seem to have an unquenchable need to blame someone for everything, and therein lies the problem… Personal responsibility is the polar opposite of pointing the finger of blame. Who is responsible for the fact that you have a negative net worth? The credit card companies? No. While I believe their practices to be a crime, you are the one who signed up for the offer to get a free t-shirt and a license to spend money you didn’t have!


Granted, in this day and age of rampant corporate bailouts, our leadership continues to set a terrible example of fiscal responsibility for its citizens. Their utter non-chalance when it comes to their use of presumptuous money to fund their wayward behavior. While this is glaringly obvious, I propose that we need to consider things at a more granular level.


What if our individual track records over the course of the last year were made public for all to see? How would we fare? Most of us would have a few skeletons that would quickly quiet our brash criticism toward others. The point here is simple: before we can expect others to act in a certain way, we need to be sure that we’re behaving appropriately ourselves.


Don’t like how the government is spending money they don’t have? When is the last time you made a credit card purchase with money you didn’t have? Angry with how your employer is failing to budget enough money for personal raises? How would your family budget hold up under similar scrutiny? Moreover, if you weren’t living paycheck to paycheck, you wouldn’t be so dependent on your employer, and might be more thankful that you still have a job.


Obviously, I’m painting with broad brushstrokes here. Not everyone in our society lives beyond their means, or mismanages their money. On the whole, however, these things ring true.



So what’s the answer?


“Accept responsibility for your life. Know that it is you who will get you where you want to go, no one else.”

-Les Brown


Yes, our political leaders have shown an immense amount of irresponsibility have fallen victim to fashionable corruption. This does not, however, give us the right to follow their lead, complain about their inadequacy, or wait for them to fix our situation. What it does give us is an ever-increasing need to take responsibility for our actions!


Here’s a list of suggestions to help us regain personal financial responsibility:


  • Accept that you cannot blame others for your position in life. Pointing fingers might feel like the easy way out, but it doesn’t do anyone any good. Instead, take a good look at your own financial state, accept full responsibility for it, and work out your own plan to change it for the better.
  • Don’t expect anyone to change anything for you. Don’t wait for handouts. Instead, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and work harder than ever to fulfill your own goals.
  • Decide that your past will no longer dictate your future. Commit to putting your old financial habits behind you. Wipe the slate clean and give yourself a fresh start.
  • Consider your own actions before you attack the actions of others. Make sure you have your own financial house in order before you start tearing down others who have an obvious problem. On the contrary, if you see they need help, find out if there is anything you can do the assist!



Concluding thoughts


“No one will improve your lot if you do not yourself.”

-Bertolt Brecht


All of the above may sound simple and obvious to you. If it does, that’s great — I’m obviously not talking to you. In the end, I thought these ideas deserved mentioning, and that they might be just the sort of thing that some — like my neighbors in the condo association meeting — needed to hear.



Click here to download this article.