Bird Droppings December 1, 2013
Can we find Responsibility?
As I begin my morning of writing and wondering and my almost official third year as a grandfather the idea of responsibility sort of hit me. We live in a world of passing responsibility off to another generation be it natural resources, fiscal, educational, philosophical, judicial, military, and just about any other issue that you can consider. This is not some new human inability to deal with but an aspect of which we are that has been developed over some time. As family ties have been broken down and survival became a back seat event to accumulation “who has the most stuff”, we lost responsibility.
In my life time I have watched efforts to destroy wilderness loom up and always at the effort of someone who is out to reap a profit. It is not a betterment of mankind but a quick fix of accumulation to add to the growing self-centeredness of humankind. There are many attributes to humanness that provide us an ability to if we sincerely try take responsibility for and successfully provide a world for our children and grandchildren that they can make choices about and benefit from rather than a world that is dying and issues that literally will eventually destroy life as we know it.
“I am responsible. Although I may not be able to prevent the worst from happening, I am responsible for my attitude toward the inevitable misfortunes that darken life. Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have life itself.” Walter Anderson
Once before I used a quote from Walter Anderson and found an intriguing situation as I research the man behind the name. Walter Anderson is many people I found literally in that on my search I found a noted commentator and an artist who could have possibly made the statement above. Which if these two men said the words is hard to tell although as I read I would like to think this is the Walter Anderson whose brush strokes and colors emblazoned his art work and scenes of the Gulf Coast in wild vivid paintings.
The artist Walter Anderson was born into wealth and art and he studied the fine arts in college and was awarded scholarships to study aboard. In his travels became fascinated with the primitive cave art of France and Europe. He succumbed to mental illness and depression in his 30’s and spent the later years of his life alone painting on Horne Island off the coast of Mississippi. We know his art from the thousands of paintings drawings and sketches found after his death in his homes and cabin.
“Our lives improve only when we take chances and the first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves.” Walter Anderson
Responsibility is a big word and one that can affect us forever. I keep looking at the words above and thinking of a man alone on an Island painting feverishly getting his ideas to canvas and I think of students in a class trying to deal with what are sometimes the obscurities of modern education. As a teacher you try and point toward responsibility and “whatever” is the response always that classic catch phrase of teenage vernacular.
“The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs.” Joan Didion
“The ability to accept responsibility is the measure of the man.” Roy L. Hunt
Daily as I work with teenagers I see a correlation between accepting responsibility and self-respect and or self-esteem. I do not have specific data to back that up but a gut feeling that the child who states so glibly “whatever” as a catch all for their existence has little if any self-respect and or self-esteem and very often does not except responsibility in any shape or form. This seemingly simple concept carries far beyond the high school and into the halls of Congress. It seems few consider anything past the now and self-interest.
“We have a Bill of rights. What we need is a Bill of responsibilities.” Bill Maher
“The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority.” Stanley Milgram
As I wonder about the concept of responsibility and that it is so true we want to teach it yet strip it away as well. In a modern school so many teachers want to be the boss, the head honcho and what is so funny I have that on a name plate sitting in my room given to me by students in the 1970’s, Mr. Bird, head honcho. We tend to strip away responsibility as we demand authority to and or demand respect. I learned many years ago respect can never be demanded only earned.
“We are accountable only to ourselves for what happens to us in our lives.” Mildred Newman
This concept of accountability to ourselves is one that I find interesting and the degree to which we hold that varies according to what you are used to and have experienced in life. What is acceptable to me may be totally different to someone who lives within the limitations of a limited income, different culture, and as I think back to how they are in turn raised as a child.
“When we have begun to take charge of our lives, to own ourselves, there is no longer any need to ask permission of someone.” George O’Neil
“We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.” Ronald Reagan
It has been nearly fifteen years since I worked with indigent families operating a ministry that helped provide food, clothing and shelter when needed. I met a fellow who had diabetes however he did not truly deal with his diabetes which is point one. This fellow like the artist Walter Anderson who started today’s journey suffered from mental illness though he did not recognize it. After a severe car accident left him with a broken hip and unable to work I was called in as the motel where he was living was getting ready to kick him out. He was still in bed from the broken hip when I met him and still had on the hospital gown from several days earlier when he was dropped there by a local hospital service.
So here I was meeting this fellow who was a chain smoker and obsessive compulsive to a point the cigarette ash was literally in a six inch pile by side of the bed. I helped this man and a long story ensued but I will cut it short and make it quick. This man wanted to work yet as he tried different jobs things would happen as his diabetes was ravaging his body and brain. His personality would show or flare up might be better and his mental condition slipped from a cover he could present and he would be fired.
After getting to degree of health and on disability the urge to work was more than he could handle and he worked at a factory for a few days and was injured. A piece of metal punctured his foot and with neuropathy from diabetes he did not feel it. He walked all day with a piece of spring steel through his foot and bleeding in his shoe. As the event played out several days later a severe infection ensued and several more days and a partial amputation of his foot. Now he could not work and accepted to a point his full disability. Why should I even tell this story? This fellow if he is still alive I have not had contact in four or five years lives today in Texas and takes care of himself. We may question how and why he does and I hear so often that welfare and handouts are wrong yet he cannot work and in many situations no one would let him work for more than a few minutes.
Responsibility is a big undertaking. I read Ronald Reagan’s statement and thought to recent IEP’s and discussions in educational settings and to a few students I currently have. So many times we as teachers are guilty in regards to student’s actions yet we want them to be responsible. We set in motion the events that create incidents and actions and the student is held as irresponsible.
“Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will his personal responsibility.” Albert Schweitzer
“You must accept responsibility for your actions, but not the credit for your achievements.” Denis Waitley
Sitting in front of the computer this morning wondering about the day ahead to be responsible for my actions but not for my achievements a very difficult and almost inhuman task. However I do think this is a point and an interesting thought to end on along with please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and to always give thanks namaste.
My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
(We are all related)