Monday, January 09, 2006

Individual Responsibility

You know I’ve always been what my Dad called a "bleeding heart." I’m proud of it. Compassion for those less fortunate and idealism about the potential of people given access to opportunity aren’t just words for me.

I’m proud to live in a community that values its ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. I’m proud of the school system for aggressively addressing the achievement gap and the dropout rate. I’m pleased that individuals, neighbors, universities, local governments and the private sector are focused on neighborhoods in distress.

More and more, though, it’s dawning on me that what will make the difference is the individual…the individual person, the individual family and the individual neighborhood. I fear communities like ours have grown too reliant on governments and non-profit agencies, and we haven’t re-empowered individual responsibility and values.

Too often bad things happen, and people look immediately to the City or County or bus system or Public Schools or Social Services or emergency rooms to make things right. But it all starts with individuals and families.

Lots of people, including their children and some underage adults, were at a retail store recently when a young man outside was shot in the back for sticking up for his sister. Blame isn’t an issue, and the community has a role in the solution, but the dysfunctions that led to this will not be resolved until circumstances are unwrapped down to the individual and family levels. Everyone, including the news media, must dig down to immediately find out what went wrong at the individual, family and neighborhood levels so everyone in the community, including others at risk, can learn and improve.

In general, only by using each example to stimulate appropriate reactions and changes at those levels, will we be able to truly resolve community problems. It may be a wrongdoer comes from poverty, but lots of people rise from poverty without violence. It may be that the home is broken, but lots of very good and decent people survive and even thrive with broken homes. It may be substance abuse or holding two and three jobs has eroded the ability to parent and establish important values. It may be that neighbors and family members aren’t getting the reinforcement they need to rise up and deal with wrongdoers.

But in general, the solutions to the problems will be very clear as circumstances are evaluated at the individual and family levels.

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