What has happened to personal accountability? It used to be that society knew that people were involved in things like alcoholism, pornography, adultery or even questionable ethical activities, but they were never excused or accepted. People were held accountable for their own actions. Our Southern ancestors had a well defined concept of honor and accountability. I love the story of a time during the War for Southern Independence when Robert E. Lee, at the head of his army, was passing through a town. A woman was standing on the side of the road with her son watching as the Confederate army passed by. She approached General Lee and explained that her husband had been killed in service to the South and asked the general for some words of encouragement, or wisdom she could give her son to help raise him to be the kind of man his father had been. General Lee said, "Teach him to deny himself."
I love this story because it speaks volumes on our tradition of civilized self control. General Leeís admonition is one of the foundational qualities for any society: Deny oneself raw self-gratification for the greater good of society as a whole. Our society today, rather than focusing on self control (self denial), has focused on denial. Denial in todayís terms means denying responsibility for personal actions. We see time and again excuses of "everybody does it," "donít look at what I did, what that person did was worse," "I can do what I want in my private life as long as it doesnít hurt anyone else." The truth is that everybody doesnít do it, even if someone else does something worse, that is no excuse for your actions, and there are lots of times where what seems to be things done in personal lives has a tendency to seep into otherís lives in one form or another and it can be harmful.
The South is the stronghold of moral and ethical standards. We must hold ourselves and others accountable for inappropriate actions and behaviors. If we do not hold individuals accountable, where does the buck stop? Usually we here society is to blame, well society is made up of individuals. So we spread the blame and we can all move forward feeling guiltless because it is "society" as a whole, not us personally to blame. No one is called to accountability for anything specific. So called doctors say that we hurt a personís self esteem if they are burdened with guilt. This is why we have things like support groups, because people lack the personal character to be strong enough for themselves. Bob Livingston, the once-elected Speaker of the House, set a good example. After it was found out that he had had several affairs during his long marriage, he held himself accountable and said he would not take the seat as Speaker and that he would resign his seat in congress. There is good and bad in this, as there should be. Good in that it sets a good example, and that it was a Southerner setting the example (Mr. Livingston is from Louisiana). Bad in that it happened at all and the folks Mr. Livinston represents have lost the man they elected. The worst part is that Mr. Livingston did this in part to set the example for Bill Clinton to do something honorable during his Presidency, but these actions are wasted on a man lacking in any personal convictions or character. Bill Clinton wants a lot of things, but none of them have to do with be accountable for anything he does.
December 21, 1998