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Personally Responsible

In light of current events, I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight the importance of personal responsibility.  I will do so by first providing an example in my own life.  This January, I was pulled over.  I wasn't sure why.  I didn't think I had been speeding.  The officer told me that my vehicle registration had expired.  In sincere incredulity, I responded "It is?" I honestly thought that I had remembered to renew it on time last year.  It turns out I had been driving around for six months with an expired registration.  When I realized this, after I was given the citation, I drove straight to the DMV to renew.  On the court date, I appeared in court, pled "no contest", paid my fine, and went home.

I was unaware that I had broken the law.  It was not intentional.  However, when it was brought to my attention, I owned my actions and did what I could to make it right.  I did not deny it.  I didn't blame anyone else.  I could have blamed the DMV or my husband or anyone else.  It wouldn't have been logical or justified to do so, but that is often what people do when they refuse to accept personal responsibility.  It wasn't the cop's fault for pulling me over nor the judge's fault for assessing the fine, nor the clerk's fault for collecting the fee.  It was my fault for failing to renew the registration before it expired.

Now, I would like to contrast that with the recent events involving Donald Trump.  We have all seen the tape where he was bragging to Billy Bush about how he was entitled to grope women without their permission because he was a celebrity.  When he responded to this tape, he insisted that it was "just words" and "locker room talk" and that he hadn't broken any laws or hurt anyone by his actions.  Then we saw several women come forward and assert that he had made advances on them or walked into their dressing room while they were partially or completely naked.  We heard when he was on a radio show bragging about doing this on purpose.

He has not accepted responsibility for his actions.  He has denied the accusations that have been made.  He even lashed out at the women making them saying that they weren't attractive enough to get his attention, so he certainly wouldn't have made advances on them.  He blamed Bill for saying worse things on the golf course than he said on that bus.  He blamed the women, saying it was all false and they just wanted to malign his character.  He blamed the Clinton campaign, saying it was all a plot to ruin his chance in the race.  (I do not deny that the timing is opportune for such a plot.)  He has accused the media for being biased and trying to slander him.  He has even threatened to sue for libel against him.

He has done nothing to accept responsibility.  He doesn't want to accept responsibility and try to do what he can (very little at this point) to make it right.  All he wants is for it to go away.  Returning to my story, it would be akin to me blaming the cop for pulling me over, saying he just wanted to ruin my day, make me late for work, or take my money.  Blaming the judge for having a personal vendetta against me and wanting to make me suffer for something that I didn't do.  Blaming Conrad for not reminding me to renew my registration (or doing it for me).  Blaming anyone but myself.

As I said before, there is very little that Trump could do at this point to aright the wrongs he has done to countless women in his past.  One thing he could do is to accept responsibility, own his actions, and apologize for them.  He could admit that the women are correct in their accusations and vow that he will not do such disgusting things again.  He won't.  He doesn't have that kind of humility.  He doesn't have the fortitude of character, the maturity to do so.  And it certainly wouldn't undo all the harm he has caused to who knows how many women in his life.  But it would be better than pretending he has done no wrong and pointing the finger of blame everywhere except a himself, where it rightfully belongs.

Now let us examine a few more examples, but this time concerning Hillary Clinton.  She voted for the war in Iraq when she was in the Senate and W decided to invade on false charges of WMD's.  She has admitted her decision was a mistake.  She has not pretended that anyone forced her had.  She hasn't blamed anyone else.  (She did say that according to the information she had at the time, she felt that her decision was justified, but that's not quite the same as placing blame on others.)  Now it doesn't fix the harm that was done.  It doesn't make the region any more stable because she admitted her mistake.  But it shows humility and maturity on her part that she is able to own the mistake.  None of us can claim to be free of past mistakes.  But each of us has the opportunity to choose whether to pretend past mistakes never existed or to learn from those mistakes to build a better future.

She has admitted that her use of a personal email server was a mistake.  She accepts responsibility and has stated she will not make the same mistake again.  She has opposed marriage equality in the past (as recently as just a few years ago), but has admitted that she was wrong about that and now supports the equal rights movement for the LGBT community.  Again, none of this completely undoes any of the harm that has been caused in the past.  It is an important step in the healing process, as far as I'm concerned.  And it shows fortitude and maturity.  It shows that she is willing to face her accusers and address their concerns.  She is adult enough to admit that she has done wrong and she will do what she can to fix it.

To be clear, I have more respect for people who own their own actions.  People who are capable of taking personal responsibility for their mistakes are more respectable than those who are not.  People who do not admit when they were wrong, or who try to point the blame away from themselves for their own wrongdoing are childish and, in my opinion, not deserving of respect.

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