“To demand that people take personal responsibility for their behavior is extremely difficult. It doesn’t come naturally to any of us. Perhaps the case for it can best be made by using other words to describe the assuming of personal responsibility. Those words are ‘growing up.’” This quote from Dennis Prager captures a major societal problem today. People today, from young adults to politicians, too often make excuses for their negative behavior instead of owning up and trying to improve the way they act.

Taking responsibility for our actions was hammered into many of us by our parents and teachers when we were children. We learned to do our chores and homework, and that we are accountable for our behavior. My parents told me that my grades in school would reflect the amount of work I put in. They did not consider that my teacher was bad, or that I’d be distracted by my friends, or that maybe I just didn’t like the subject or school in general. Those were not and are not adequate excuses. The lesson that your life is in your own hands is something lost by many today.

The conduct of many politicians today has, at times, sunk far below civility. Even some of the more reserved, professional representatives have had moments of weakness.

During the 2016 presidential primary race, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., responded poorly to outside stimuli but proved to be a perfect example of assuming sole responsibility for his conduct. Rubio, in response to Trump’s continued and relentless barbs and jokes about the competition for the Republican nomination for the presidency, began to make the same type of jokes about Trump. He joked about Trump’s constant tweeting, his spelling mistakes and even his apparently small hands. Much of Rubio’s campaign, for a few weeks, became centered on out-Trumping Trump, during debates, speeches and rallies.

What is unique about this situation is that Rubio felt remorse, acknowledged his poor conduct and apologized to Trump for his jokes and comments. Rubio said, “I don’t want to be that. If that’s what it takes to become president of the United States, then I don’t want to be president.” It is refreshing to see a politician realize their misconduct instead of sweeping it under the rug or blaming someone else, like Rubio easily could have done here instead of accepting and apologizing for it. It shows true class from a man who understands what personal responsibility is. Instead of dwelling on politicians and their misdeeds, we should first look upon ourselves and fix our own character. Once we have done that, then we will be able to hold elected officials accountable.

Take this lesson and apply it to your own life: the way you act, your work ethic, the way you treat people. Those things are all completely, unquestionably in your control. Don’t blame societal pressures, peer pressure, racism, sexism, tiredness, poverty, a busy schedule or anything else for disappointments or failures in your life. While these things can certainly, and often do, affect people in a myriad of serious ways, they do not determine anything on their own. The number one factor in every event in your life is you. Accept that and embrace it. It does yourself no favors to attribute the ability to determine the outcome of your life to any outside influence. Treat your life as if it is just that — yours. If you can do this, then you will be motivated to make the most of life’s many opportunities.

I understand that people don’t like to be told to “grow up” or to “take responsibility.” It sounds authoritative and, in a way, scary. I think, however, that it is an empowering idea that especially applies to many of us as aspiring young adults. Blaming supposed insurmountable barriers for our own lack of success may make us feel better about failure, but it does us no favors.

In high school, I saw plenty of the blame game. The “non-stop grind” of student-athletes being blamed for poor grades. “Crappy” teachers who apparently didn’t teach the material, even though plenty of kids in class got As. Friends pressuring friends into making inadvisable decisions. Personal responsibility and accountability is something I was raised to believe and that I believe in fervently. For that reason, when I graduated from high school and we were asked to pick a “senior quote” to accompany our picture in the yearbook, I chose one that embodied that belief. Former President Ronald Reagan said, “We must reject the idea that every time a laws broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”

David Hayse can be reached at dhayse@umich.edu.


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