By Samantha Strong
The day before his inauguration, President Obama”s press officials leaked a phrase – which he then reiterated himself in his inauguration speech – that called on all Americans for a new “era of responsibility.” This call for a new era must mean the old one is ending. I didn”t realize an era was ending, but Obama seems as good a person as any to call it. We have new leadership and are heading in a new direction. Let the new era begin.
If this new age is to be one of responsibility, what was the defining characteristic of the old? Was it the era of complacency? Impulse? The era of selfishness? Arrogance? Or maybe just the era of well-intentioned mistakes?
According to Obama, the usher of this new era, labeling the old one is simple. It”s the new era”s perfect opposite – irresponsibility. In an address at George Mason University on Jan. 8, President Obama said blame for the current economic conditions can be appropriately allotted to “an era of profound irresponsibility that stretched from corporate boardrooms to the halls of power in Washington.” Ironic, isn”t it, that the blame for old mistakes is placed on “the man” while the job of correcting them in the future is placed in the hands of the public. Now that Obama IS “the man”… the responsibility lies elsewhere.
Era is a nebulous term. The lines between them are always blurred and they”re hardly ever recognized until they”re over. This time, however, we”ve been asked to do more than acknowledge an era, we”ve been asked to create one. That fact and the ideas associated with it – initiative, pro-activity, ingenuity and work – are consistent with the product President Obama seeks to inspire. But what does he mean? What does “responsibility” really mean?
First, responsibility means accepting that things could get worse before they get better. The struggling economy is the undertone in almost every news story and the overtone in almost every life. The cold hard facts, displayed inhumanly in graphs and numbers, are personified in families all over the country. Physical and mental preparation for the rock bottom many have yet to hit is vital. More business will go bankrupt, more houses will foreclose. Improvements, no matter how drastic or ingenious, take time to generate results.
Responsibility means making hard choices. In his inauguration speech, President Obama referenced “our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.” When times get tough, it”s often easier to recoil in denial. We are faced with difficult dilemmas, sometimes with monumental consequences. Our defense? Ignore the issue. Sometimes, the most difficult part of those dilemmas is making the choice to make a choice. We mustn”t be so afraid of making wrong choices we fail to make any choices at all. Fear and the paralysis it causes force us backward.
Responsibility means making sacrifices … and making sacrifices means exercising self-discipline. Many of the luxuries we enjoyed previously will be and should be out of our reach now. We must recognize that cutting back, as difficult as it may seem, is inevitable. We must learn to live within our means and to be happy doing it. We must shift our thinking, shuffle our values and continually remind ourselves that contented, humble living is better than borrowed, transient bells and whistles.
Responsibility means looking outside oneself. For the first time in a long time, the world”s trust in America is being restored. Now is not the time to slow or stop that progress by focusing inward, by allowing our trials to obstruct our view of others. For other countries, our current bell curve valley is still a significant hill. Comparatively speaking, we”re prosperous. Our military is stable and will remain so. There is no real danger for a government overthrow of any kind. By and large, we have dinners on our tables, or at least more ways to get dinners to our tables than the average world citizen. Elder Neil A. Maxwell once said, “Empathy during agony is a portion of divinity.” For those in economic agony, economic discomfort or something in between, this is your chance to develop divine compassion. At the very least, it is an opportunity to get the slightest taste of others” plight.
“Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly.” This idea, articulated by Plato, is an ideal to strive for. The unfortunate reality of the past is that there are plenty of people who never meet that standard and precious few who always meet it. But maybe this new era will be different. Maybe President Obama, the man and the movement, will be enough to inspire responsibility in all of us without forcing it upon us with legislation.
I”ll give him the benefit of the doubt. I”ll choose to believe, at least for now, that President Obama”s call for responsibility is more of a humble plea for help in solving the nation”s problems than a convenient deflection of blame for them. I”ll do my part, I”ll act responsibly. From the corporate boardrooms, to the halls of power in Washington, to the living rooms across America which resonated with Obama”s call, let us all live a little more responsibly.
Samantha Strong is an Issues and Ideas Editor at The Daily Universe.