Monday, February 18, 2013
The Blame Game
Responsibility problems inhibit much improvement in America. When we look for someone else to blame for our problems, it takes us off the hook. We don’t have to work on our own failings in perspective or discipline. Citizens play the victim, adopting the view that their bad consequences are someone else’s fault.
The most obvious indicator of weakness in responsibility is the number and types of lawsuits that frequently appear in the news. Not all are without merit, but many serve to demonstrate how easily people look to collect compensation when life is not fair or serves them up an unpleasant experience. You can hardly turn on the television or radio without hearing ads for personal injury attorneys. Billboards along the side of the road proudly display their names. Not long ago these attorneys were derogatorily referred to as “ambulance chasers,” but lately, perhaps due to these ads and effective lobbying, their status has improved. Still, in this survey, which was the most current and reputable I could find, less than 50% of Americans have a great deal or a fair amount of respect for the legal profession in general.
Here are two recent examples that reflect why we feel this way and why responsibility is considered a key dimension for improving our country.
Over the past couple of weeks the crippled cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico has gotten a lot of coverage. In the end, besides the loss of reputation by the particular cruise line and the stigma now attached to cruises in general, they “promised to give refunds, offer passengers another trip and cover their transportation costs home.” Within 24 hours of reaching shore, however, a woman seeking more retribution or compensation arranged to file a suit claiming that she “feared for her life or that she might suffer serious injury or illness because of the presence of raw sewage and spoiled food.” Note that this is not even about a real injury or illness, just the fear of one.
The second instance in the past week or so was the decision in the $1.3 million lawsuit against Lehigh University over a C+ grade. The woman lost the suit, but the first sentence of this NPR story provides telling insight. “The latest person to sue a university over a ‘bad’ grade has failed to make her case.” The implication is that suing over bad grades is a fairly common occurrence.
It certainly is puzzling to consider how often students would take legal action to shift the blame for a poor grade onto the teacher or how, with the unemployment as high as it is and some giving up even looking for work, that anyone who can afford to take time off for a cruise would lack the gratitude that comes from perspective. This type of behavior, of which these are just two more examples, and those who encourage it for their own gain, should not be tolerated. How many potentially productive resources are wasted when the fearful, offended, vengeful, indignant or otherwise upset decide they want compensation for their emotional distress and can pursue it with less risk than buying a lottery ticket? How can we begin to get America on the right track unless behavior strong in responsibility begins to replace this attitude of victimhood and abdication of personal responsibility?