An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Personal responsibility’

Mom Doesn’t Work Here

George cleaves to the notion that “the natural man is an
enemy to God.” I favor the Buddhist notion that humans are innately good.
Evidence for my belief is dog poop. Even though the number of U.S. households
sporting one or more dogs as pets has risen exponentially in the past couple of
decades, the amount of dog poop left on city streets has declined. Signs have
been posted in many communities ordering people to pick up after their pooches—even
threatening fines for noncompliance. Still, I’ve yet to see anyone receive a
citation for leaving their pet’s poop on the sidewalk or a neighbor’s lawn. When
New York City passed a law targeting animal feces as a health hazard and pooper
scoopers went on the market, most of us caught on that our pet’s waste matter
is our responsibility. Of course, kids who walk dogs are exempt from civilized
behavior. They still believe that Mom or some adult in the sky will clean up
after them and their pets.

I think it’s time to extend cleaning up to include ourselves
and our kids as well as our pets. An astounding amount of trash litters
American streets and public areas most of the time. Obviously, few cities have
the funds to hire full time clean-up crews to pick up our water bottles, candy
wrappers, even disposable diapers. And nature can’t decompose trash fast enough
to keep up with our habits. We need an anti-littering campaign with signs
posted in our cities and suburbs—possibly saying: “Pick up your own litter. Mom
doesn’t work here.”

My dad told me my ex-stepmother
used to criticize him for taking their empty cups and burger wrappers to the
trash can at their favorite fast food place. “Just drop it out the window,” she
insisted. “They hire kids to clean the parking lots. You’re taking jobs away
from them.” Now, my stepmother is an extreme example, but I often see people drop
the Styrofoam containers from their lunch out the window after dining in our
church parking lot or along a shady neighborhood street.

I don’t believe people who drop trash from car windows or
fail to pick up after themselves and their  kids following a soccer game are bad people. They
are predominately good people who just don’t realize the trash they leave won’t
magically disappear or be cleaned up by someone else. It’s time for a reminder:
Mom doesn’t work here.


It’s Not My Fault, Dammit!

George woke up in a brown funk this morning—as we all do on occasion. I shared an amusing item from a blog I’d read earlier and George attacked the writer as a trouble maker. (Over the years, he’s learned not to attack me unless he wants his life to escalate into something far worse than a brown funk). I laughed his remark off, but began silently berating myself. I shouldn’t have brought up a subject with which George might potentially disagree—something that might set him off on a tirade against a person he’s never met. I searched my mind: Had I said something last night that brought on this mood? (This event took place at breakfast, so I couldn’t distance myself from George without distancing myself from my oatmeal with blueberries and sunflower seeds—a sacrifice I was not prepared to make). I tried to tune George out, but my ears wouldn’t cooperate. I built up a fair amount of resentment before he finally released enough steam to come back to earth and say, “I don’t know why I got up feeling this way.”

Of course, I get up grouchy on occasion and take it out on George—but he has a major advantage. He never takes my bouts of irritability personally. Men are not trained from childhood to take responsibility for relationships the way women are. Are men ever told they are the “heart of the home,” that they set the tone for the family? Are little boys told, as I was in Primary, to greet the day with a song? That their smiles and cheery dispositions make everyone in the family happier—and by extension—their fits of crankiness destroy the harmony of the home?

Responsibility for the happiness of others is a tremendous burden. Just providing clean clothes and adequate nutrition strained my personal resources when our kids were small, but I still fretted over their happiness or lack thereof. Not that I had any solutions to the fact that their teachers didn’t always appreciate them and their friends didn’t always like them. Heck, I didn’t always appreciate them or like them either. But I did feel responsible—and apologetic: “Yes, I know it’s embarrassing for you to be seen in our old station wagon with the ‘Please steal me” bumper sticker, but we can’t afford to replace it now.” It was my job to make everyone in the family happy and most of the time I failed—somebody was always in a snit about something.

It’s time I and many other women realize that people are responsible for their own happiness. So, the next time George wakes up with his underwear in a knot, I’m taking my oatmeal to my desk—being careful not to dribble it onto my keyboard. That’s my own responsibility.

Wake Up and Sniff the Roses

Last week I phoned my ex-sister-in-law. I’d heard she’s having more health problems. Chaotica sounded groggy. “I’m on pain pills. I’m having surgery next week and the pain in my back and legs is excruciating.” I’m not surprised she’s on painkillers. Chaotica has spent most of her adult life going from doctor to doctor for hard-to-diagnose ailments. She had triple by-pass surgery three years ago and nearly died—not only from the heart problem, but from the effects of all the prescription drugs she’d been on.

“I went to Seattle with a friend last week and had a rotten time,” she said. “I started vomiting non-stop.” “Was that a reaction to your meds?” “I don’t think so. I ate a cookie that wasn’t cooked thoroughly. I think that did it.”

She ate a cookie. Chaotica has diabetes and insulin doesn’t bring her blood sugar down to safe levels.  Her heart and other organs are affected. Yet every time I see her at a social occasion, she’s tanking up on desserts. Although she’s a bright person with a degree in counseling, Chaotica has never managed to exert any control over her own life. Currently, she’s married to a guy who has lost his driver’s license for multiple DUI offences. A compulsive gambler, he cleaned out her checking account while she was in the hospital for her heart surgery.

Recently I attended a session at the SL Zen Center with Genpo Roshi. He talked about awakening—being fully conscious of our lives and our behavior. I thought about Chaotica—and other people like her—stuck in unproductive behavior, stumbling through life, eyes closed to the possibilities available to them—seeing themselves as victims of circumstances beyond their control.

Roshi talked about karma—the chain of cause and effect. While we don’t control everything that happens to us—getting hit by a bus, rape, and disease, for example—we are responsible for our reaction to these events. Awakening is becoming fully conscious—aware of our responsibility and our choices in life.

For many people I know, a religious experience or conversion is an awakening factor in their life. I used to be critical of people who experienced a conversion, joined a church, then left it for another within a short period. I now realize that we humans generally need more than one awakening in our lives. And there’s nothing wrong with seeking that awakening experience in a new setting.

I wish I knew how to help Chaotica. I want to yell, “Wake up! You’re missing out on a great life!” Of course, telling her what I think she’s doing wrong would be even less effective than telling my dog that rolling in garbage makes her stink. Most religions call unskillful behavior “sin” which is much like dropping acid onto a wound. It might kill a few germs, but will the collateral damage be worth it?

Is there any way to help a person who takes no responsibility for her actions? A person who sees herself as a victim of circumstances beyond her control?

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