Responsibility

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If I didn’t have to transmit my copy by computer, I would be writing on a typewriter instead of on this computer, which yesterday refused to work for reasons as mysterious as the subtlest passage of the I Ching.

My knowledge of computers consists of the on/off button and clicking on icons with a mouse. When what is supposed to happen doesn’t happen, I’m sunk. I believe this computer knows that I despise it. Several times it has provoked me into using foul language, and once it provoked me to slap it. I make that statement in keeping with America’s new motto, which is, "I ain’t responsible for anything."

Of course, I am responsible. It’s my temper and my choice to say or do what I say or do. The computer is a dumb, inanimate object, simply a glorified calculator with storage capacity. These days, however, many Americans desire to blame someone else or something else for whatever they do or for whatever happens to them.

That’s because some folks view the tort system as a trip to Las Vegas or as a lottery. If they are involved in a single-car crash, then it’s the car’s fault or the road’s fault. If they are stupid enough to get out of a car when live power lines are laying on it, it’s the power company’s fault that they die. If they get fat or harden their arteries, it’s the food industry’s fault. If they become drug addicts, it’s the drug dealer’s fault. If they stupidly shoot themselves, it’s the gun manufacturer’s fault. Et cetera, et cetera, and so forth.

"Responsibility," like "frugality," is a word that is out of favor and rarely seen these days. That’s because if you’re responsible for your own mishap, there is nobody to sue. The truth is, we are individually responsible for practically everything that happens to us. Not always, but most of the time that is true, especially in America, where there is still some liberty.

Just because a traffic light turns green on our side doesn’t mean we shouldn’t visually check to see if someone is about the run the light before we proceed. Having the right of way might be of some comfort in court, but not in the hospital or the cemetery. If we’re going to drive a vehicle, we need to know how to drive it when a tire blows or when there is snow or ice on the road. I’m convinced many of the people who sued tire companies caused the accident themselves because they didn’t know how to react to a tire blowing out.

(You grip the steering wheel tightly, keep the vehicle straight, take your foot off the gas and stay off the brake; when the car slows enough from the engine drag, you ease it over to the side of the road.)

Growing up as I did before the sexual revolution and the flood of lawsuits, I got a lot of advice from my father. The advice about sex was simple. Get a girl pregnant and you marry her, no ifs, ands or buts about it. For a young man not desiring to settle down, that certainly cooled my ardor.

The rest was all practical stuff. How to duck your head if you fall so you won’t break your neck. How to lift heavy objects with your legs instead of your back. Why you should never wear jewelry or loose clothing when working around moving machinery. How to avoid being kicked by mules or horses. How to drive safely. How to handle a gun, a knife and other tools safely. And, yes, how to fight. Such advice was common then, but I wonder if it is today, with laws mandating helmets and such stuff. A helmet can protect your skull, but it won’t keep you from breaking your neck. I was taught two cardinal rules: In driving, avoid the head-on collision at all costs, and in falling, avoid falling on your head, no matter what you have to do.

Any good martial artist or gymnastics instructor can teach your children how to fall properly and safely. If they learn that skill, they will have a better chance of staying out of a wheelchair, provided they are not stupid enough to dive into water the depth of which they do not know.

We are all responsible for ourselves, our family, our community and our nation. We need to shuck this "It ain’t my fault" syndrome and start taking care of business.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.

© 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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