Collective Responsibility Key to Improving Nation

Article excerpt

Byline: TONYAA WEATHERSBEE

Seems like President Barack Obama is putting a new spin on this thing called responsibility.

It's about time someone did.

During his inaugural speech Obama, now the nation's 44th commander-in-chief, called for "a new era of responsibility."

Said that it means "a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task."

He talked about "the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break," and "the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job ..."

The way Obama sees it, responsibility isn't just a personal thing. It's a collective thing.

It means that as many of us go about our business of being good Americans, of paying our bills and our taxes, we shouldn't forget the difficult task of trying to lift each other up; of trying to help citizens who are now grappling with hard times and tearing down barriers that have always made it tough for other citizens to assume their full potential.

It means that it's time to stop using the notion of responsibility as a gavel to pass judgment on each other - and time to start using it as a hammer to build each other up.

But for some time now, that hasn't quite been the thinking.

Over the years, I've had more than a few conversations with people who have defined themselves as believers in personal responsibility. To them, it's a simple idea: Go to school, don't commit crimes, get a job, prepare for the future.

I believe in personal responsibility, too.

But I also know that the notion of personal responsibility, like so many simple things, has been muddled and distorted by the deteriorating economic and social realities that govern the lives of far too many people. …

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