Sunday, September 04, 2005

Taking Responsibility for Yourself

At this time, countless writings and commentaries have been focused on Hurricane Katrina and I do not intend to focus this essay on that topic specifically but on what it teaches us about personal responsibility. I, as a citizen of a large country with many layers of bureaucracy, know that I cannot depend on the government to support me and protect me from harm. In my daily life, I do not depend on the government to feed me, shelter me, and pay me etc. whether I am in a crisis situation or not. In short, I accept personal responsibility for my own well-being.
The disaster that has befallen us demonstrates how dependent many Americans have become on their government and society’s infrastructure. Many Americans are unprepared to help themselves, in other words, helpless. This is the case even without a disaster. To take it a step further, those who wholly depend on the government are that much more helpless. To take my point even further, I would argue that those who depend on the government to meet their daily needs when we are not in a crisis are not only helpless but feel a sense of entitlement to the resources that are literally given to them.
In this most extreme but common case above everything manages to function OK as long as the distribution of assistance is not interrupted. That is, as long as the government is supporting all aspects of the people’s existence. What happens when the government fails to meet the unreasonable expectation of unwavering support? What happens when those who have the expectation of and the belief that they are entitled to complete support by the government lose that support over night? Well, I think you know the answers to these questions. If not watch the news.
Now lets look at another group of Americans. These citizens take responsibility for their own well-being in their daily lives. They work, pay taxes, pay rent or a mortgage, pay for food, pay insurance or pay out of pocket for healthcare. They understand that the government’s ability to protect them and support them is limited, even more so during times of crisis. Not only do they understand such limitations in the system, they accept them and do not assume that they are entitled to support. These are the people who, in short, have accepted responsibility for their own well being. These are the people who also have made preparation for almost any unexpected crisis or emergency, beyond just daily living in “Pleasantville”. So what happens to them when the worst transpires around them? Again, watch the news.
Now, ask yourself which end of the spectrum do you fall in. Most probably you do not fit on either extreme end of the spectrum but somewhere closer to one end or the other. Well, I am writing this to educate you so that you can be more responsible for your own well-being. Let’s assume that you think you fall more in the range of the second example but you are not sure you are prepared for “almost any unexpected crisis or emergency”. What is the crisis or emergency of which I speak anyway?
Well, it could be a massive natural or man-made disaster or it could be something smaller. What if your power went off for a week? What is your plan? Power and water are both out, what is your plan? Do you see where I am going with this? How about another angle? You smell smoke and you go into a room in your house and there is a fire blazing. What is your plan? Do you have a fire extinguisher, no? You have a fire department; surely they will get there in time to save your house, family and possessions, right? Maybe not, do you have a contingency plan for not having a house? A drug crazed maniac is kicking in your door while you are sitting there watching “The Simpsons”; quick, what is the plan? Call the police? Will they get there in time to stop the crime or in time to put you in a body bag and pullout a rape kit for your wife? One evening you are driving your SUV in a rain storm and the rain turns to freezing rain. Your big bad 4X4 will protect you; at least that is what you think. You are running low on gas; there are cars piling up all over the road, traffic comes to a standstill and you have to spend the night on the roadside. The cold front comes in and the rain stops and the temperature drops even more. It is going to be a cold night. Cell phone to the rescue! Oh, the towers are down because of the ice. Ever hear of hypothermia? By the way, you do have some water don’t you? Surely somebody will come along to save your rear end, after all that is what you are counting on, right? Don’t be so sure.
In all these examples above it is painfully obvious that most people’s plans depend on some form of government or other external intervention. They demonstrate just how dependent most people are on a system that is inconsistent at best. There is the expectation of immediate help; we are entitled to it right? Well, think what you want, but the truth is a different story. Don’t believe it? Watch the news.
Accepting responsibility for one’s own well being is a necessity. As we can see, we are only one step away from life altering experiences, which can be deadly if you are not prepared. For those of you who match the first description outlined in the beginning you have much further to go in accepting your role in your well-being and safety. Unfortunately many of you who think you are a closer fit to that second category have more to do than you may realize. It is time for all of us to start being responsible for ourselves.

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