Responsibility As Citizens

Ubuntu means shared humanity, knowing we are all connected in the world.

In some ways, we are all responsible for 9/11, for the war on Iraq, for the failed dikes and appalling response to the crisis in the South, for our country’s pitiful world image. We are still a democracy, though tattered. If our voices are not heard, we are not shouting loud enough. I know I didn’t shout loud enough during the last election. No one has found a better political system than the United States. Let’s turn up the heat and boil off the poison.

We are all looters. We loot the world, quietly rape the planet, then tell everyone to leave us alone. As a country we are deluded in thinking this can continue any longer. We smile and say we are doing our best. Would you give up your roomy house and car tomorrow if everybody in the world could be fed and housed? I know I wouldn’t. Not without a fight.

That’s the fight we’re in. A fight inside each of us. Personal responsibility for the future. There’s so much blame going on right now. Why don’t we point that critical telescope at ourselves? Ask yourself difficult questions. What is the planet worth? What sacrifice will you make toward preserving what we are now destroying faster than it can heal? What are you doing to make poverty history? What did you do toward any of these ideal ends today? Think big, act in small ways.

OK, enough of this lumbering stump of a post, I’d like to add some quotes from a rich, edgy post by Jessamyn over at at Theriomorph. These ideas stir the pot, get you thinking. Dense stuff.

Trying to summarize the complicated, serpentine issue of blame and its twisted misuse:

Some of us – those who still have the luxury – just can’t deal with the sickening horror of the idea that perhaps we do not have full control over our experience, so we defend the notion that we do by blaming others who experience, or admit, powerlessness.

And she finds this hypocracy hiding everywhere:

It’s even in our syntax.

“Mistakes were made.” What mistakes? By whom? Presto: one neato passive construction and both consequence and responsibility are neatly evaded.

“A woman got raped.” By whom? A phantom? She GOT raped? Like, got herself raped? Where is the rapist in the sentence? Nowhere. We don’t say “A man raped a woman.”[…]

These are not linguistic coincidences. These are reflections of our values in our language that allow us to retain privilege, distance from responsibility, strip the powerless of their humanity so we don’t have to identify with them, or blame them for what happened to them so we don’t have to concede it could also happen to us.

In summary, after a firey review of other socially presumptuous language, we are presented with:

The inequities of this society are ubiquitous. That doesn’t mean we aren’t responsible for them. And magical thinking and blaming the victim, while a comfortable habit of generations and generations, has yet to effect change.

She ends with a wake up slap.

And aggression almost always begins in our words.

Worthy reading if you care to pop over there.

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6 thoughts on “Responsibility As Citizens

  1. Hi!
    I found your article most compelling–thoughtful and well-written and I agree that we all own a piece of the our country’s situation. So we start at the core where we agree.

    Forgive me now for this . . . please.

    In some ways, we are all responsible for 9/11, for the war on Iraq, for the failed dikes and appalling response to the crisis in the South, for our country’s pitiful world image.

    I wrote something on my blog not too long ago
    Different Drummers–August 16

    No wonder the world looks at me with distrust. . . . I’ve just said agree with them. I . . . hold myself up to the world saying so.

    It frustrates me intellectually when we walk around screaming out our flaws and then see that the world sees only our flaws. Don’t we do anything right? For all of the money spent to make me sick of the words self-esteem–which took a lot. I wrote my thesis on it before you could find any research in the area–why do we insist on constantly self-flaggelating?

    Yes we own the world’s opinion of us by our actions toward them. But way more by the way we act, speak, write toward ourselves. We are like a person filled with low-self esteem and a chip on his shoulder.

    Forgive me, dear one, I am just trying to explain what I see. Why do I never hear anyone say anything good–not any thing–about this country? Not from either side? It feels like the whole world, even my friends and my cousins are picking on my family. No wonder the rest of the world hates us. We hate ourselves most noisily.

    thank you for giving me a place to put these words where I know you will hear their meaning and their feeling and not hear them as an attack on you personally.


  2. Liz- I appreciate the commet. very thoughtful and thought provoking.

    I agree we as a country are in an identity crisis.

    If we see ourselves as a person, we would be like a teenager compared to the rest of the world, since we are about half the age of many European nations.

    Following that metaphor, we are a big, strong, rebellious teenager trying to assert himself in the world. We have ideal intentions, but not much forsight. We see things simply, but not deeply. That is costing us, and will cost us for awhile. Right now, our older neighbors are looking on in dismay, trying to figure out how to help us without annoying us. And it’s dawning on us we may not know everything we thought about how the world works. But we’re proud, and don’t want to admit our embarassment. So we pout, and pretend nothing happened, hoping the problem will go away.

    Yes, our self-esteem is damaged, because we are learning hard lessons about growing up as a nation. It’s normal to have self doubt. It’s dangerous, however, when a strong teenager denies the truth. That’s a reicpe for disaster. Even worse, a natural disaster found us unprepared in the South, because we were sitting around desperately trying to be smug about how right we are. We got caught with our pants down.

    A proud, angry teenager who can’t admit mistakes is an unhealthy citizen of the world. That where we are now.

  3. Well-said. This would make a terrific discussion. I enjoyed reading Liz’s comments and your reply to her. I defintely will jog over to the site you linked after catching some shut eye. You’re right on target, as usual. Hit the “bull’s” eye…

  4. As a Canadian, who met and fell in love with an American, then moved here and had a child …all within the last 6 years… it breaks my heart to see how hard Americans seem to be on themselves.

    Last year was a tough year for my family. We struggled financially, went without several comforts, no gas to heat our home, no stove to cook on, no running hot water… yet we knew in our hearts it was our responsibility to turn our situation around. It wasn’t the country’s fault, it wasn’t the government’s fault, and even though the sudden stop in cash flow came as a result of an injury on the job suffered by my husband, we didn’t blame his company, his Union, the inability to qualify for disability…

    No. We looked at this country as the land of opportunity. We borrowed from family and friends to turn opportunity into financial stability and we paid back every cent within 14 short months. It wasn’t easy, but it was our responsibility – and we met it head on.

    I say this not to impress, but to impress upon any who care to read this that America really is the land of the free, rich and flowing with opportunities, filled to the brim with caring souls …also ready to fight the good fight for the less able abroad.

    In it’s own way, on a much longer time-line, this great nation has earned its richness through trials, tribulations, making mistakes along the way and learning from those mistakes to evolve higher.

    Yes, it is just a child when compared with the overall age of nations… and yet, in many ways it is far more enlightened than some nations centuries older… nations who choose not to learn from their mistakes, choose not to grow, choose to ignore their responsibilities to themselves and their people.

    As a country, America doesn’t have to be the first to respond… the first to send troops, send aid, send food, send help of any kind. They don’t have to be last to respond. They could choose not to respond at all. They could sit back and enjoy their riches and look solely and exclusively after their own, pretend they are an island unto themselves …and then where would the world be?

    When is the world going to highlight this nation’s generousity, instead of pointing a finger asking — is this all your giving?

    As a nation, is America supposed to be embarrassed by its own fortunate circumstances? Would the world think better of this country if it were more humble about its own wealth? Would it make the country as a whole less of a target in the eye of terrorists? Somehow, I doubt it.

    It reminds me of the parable and the 3 bags of gold.

    One buries his gold and waits for his master’s return. Another invests it in a bank and earns a small return. And the third…

    I don’t think the USA is meant to bury its gold, nor sit on it like some countries have. I think it should stand up proud in its accomplishments, hard-won has they have been, and inspire others to greatness in the process.

    Just my humble opinion. I hope it doesn’t offend.

    Please be kind to yourself.

  5. Wow. Karen, you wrote that so beautifully. We are lucky to have you. Thank you for reminding us of what we are really talking about.

    Only here Garnet. Only at your house. You should be proud.


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