From cradle to grave, and beyond, accountability is an inescapable fact of life. We may rejoice in it, respect it, expect it, shy away from it, deny it or seemingly avoid it at times, but accountability is everywhere.
When the legendary Pied Piper of 1284 A.D. offered to rid the sleepy little German town of Hamelin of its swarming rat infestation, the mayor and town council agreed upon the goodly sum of $50 in exchange for his exterminating services. Sure enough, the piper played his shrill tune and led all the rats out of the city and into the river where they drowned.
Afterwards, the mayor refused to pay the piper, appalled that he failed to think of such a simple remedy himself, and certain that the piper could do no harm.
So, the piper took his pay later by enticing 130 children out of town where they disappeared forever into the hills.
From this story comes the adage about “paying the Piper” and “paying now or paying later.” These are not mere theories, but wise proverbs sustained by years of human experience.
However, inconsistent, whimsical or delayed accountability leads some to conclude that there is no accountability.
If accountability is not immediate they think, “I am not accountable.” Therefore, an undisciplined child learns to mistreat others. The unpunished criminal laughs in the face of the so-called justice system. When atheists cry out, “God, strike me dead if you exist” and it doesn’t happen right then, they conclude there is no God.
Accountability is often incubative. Like fertilization, or an infection, or an education, or just plain eating, it may take time before the full results appear. Pregnancy may take weeks to show up; rabies months; AIDS years; yet each of these consequences result from earlier actions.
When construction began on the infamous Leaning Tower of Pisa in the 12th century, someone probably said, “I think the ground is too soft in this location to support a marble bell tower. It might lean.”
Someone else probably said, “Land sakes, man! We’re building a fifty foot wide base! Besides, what difference will it make in a hundred years?”
Sure enough, when the tower began to tilt during its construction, someone probably said, “I knew it. Let’s rebuild the tower elsewhere.”
But, not surprisingly, the tower was not rebuilt in a different location, probably because “It would cost too much” and “We’ve gone too far to start over now.”
In 1350 A.D., after nearly two hundred years of Pisan’s complaining about construction delays, the eight-story 174 foot high tower was finally completed. Now, over nine hundred years after the laying of the first stone, the tower leans seventeen feet out of perpendicular. The concern in our century is not that it might lean, but that it might topple. Note, the original Pisan builders laid the egg of this situation when they determined the tower’s location and laid the cornerstone, and the consequences have been incubating ever since.
Healthy accountability requires a balance between desirable rewards and undesirable consequences. According to psychologist Dr. James Dobson, children thrive best in an atmosphere of genuine love, undergirded by reasonable, consistent discipline. As do we all.
That is why governments should commend those who do right and punish those who do wrong. Presidential recognitions, and our society’s many awards programs, are good examples of the former.
Likewise, good employers make it a point to affirm their employees.
On the other hand, if all people hear is how bad they are, they may never realize how good they can be.
Accountability requires two things: Lawmakers and Law-keepers.
To hold people accountable, there must be something – some law, some rule, some standard – to which people are held accountable.
Additionally, someone must actually hold people accountable.
Lawmakers draw the lines, write policies, and establish standards. They usually operate within certain domains, such as within a family, organization, or civil government division.
Lawmakers also usually operate within set timeframes. Terms of office, length of employment, and age limits help define these timeframes.
Much societal confusion and divisiveness emanates from the fact that lawmakers domains sometimes fluctuate and overlap.
For example, an elementary student functions under the domain of both her parents and educators. The student’s family may prohibit her from celebrating holidays.
Yet, her schoolteachers may celebrate them all. They will expect her to join in singing “Happy Birthday”, reciting the “Pledge of Allegiance”, and in making Halloween masks, valentines and Easter eggs. In such a case, the lawmaking domains of her family and educators overlap inconsistently and cause confusion, at the very least.
Another student’s religion may require that he wear a yarmulke and, yet, the local school board has banned all students from wearing hats at school. What happens then? Conflict.
When government polices conflict with religious beliefs, community policies conflict with an entrepreneur’s business desires, or world humanitarian policies conflict with a particular nation’s treatment of people within its own borders, then confusion, divisiveness and outright war often result.
The root issue is which law or lawmaker is primary? According to at least one federal judge, parents give up their rights when they drop their children off at public school.
However, not all parents agree with that ruling. Without consensus, a battle will rage over this and other issues until someone says ‘uncle’ or a recognizable winner emerges.
Unfortunately, some battles rage for centuries.
The Israelites and Philistines – also known at the Jews and Arabs, or Jews and Moslems, or Israelis and Palestinians – have fought over land in the Middle East ever since the time of Abraham. The Jews claim it by right of Abraham and Sarah’s son, Isaac. The Arabs claim it by right of Abraham and Hagar’s son, Ishmael.
According to most religions some supreme being is considered the ultimate, primary lawmaker.
The Christian scriptures claim “The Lord is our lawgiver” and “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge.” They purport that one God designed the world, created it, and sustains it, and since He made the rules, we must live by them because He will hold us accountable to them.
However, we all know there is no worldwide consensus on this.
Christians claim their messiah, Jesus Christ, will put the matter to rest when he returns to earth again in an event so monumental and manner so unequivocal that every knee will bow and every tongue that confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Meanwhile, other religions claim their god or god(s) are ultimate and primary. Greeks claimed Zeus; the former Soviet Republic claimed the state; and humanists, evolutionists and atheists claim themselves as the ultimate primates of law and truth.
Furthermore, these primary lawmakers tend to work through designated people.
The Egyptians claimed that their greatest god, Amon, ruled through Pharaoh. The Sumerians claimed that each city with its surrounding lands belonged to a certain god or gods; priests managed the land and interpreted god’s will to the people. The Babylonians claimed Hammurabi received the inspiration for his Code of 282 laws from the sun god, Shamash. The Hindus claim Varuna, the guardian and enforcer of right and wrong, transmitted the sacred knowledge through the Vedas, with Brahmans serving as the designated interpreters.
The Chinese claimed their rulers received power and orders, called “the Mandate of Heaven”, through communication with spirits of nature and dead ancestors. Over the rulers was the good, all-powerful dragon, who became symbolic of Chinese rulers. The Japanese emperors claimed divine descent from the sun goddess, hence the Japanese symbol of the rising sun.
The Greeks claimed the gods spoke through priests and priestesses, like through Apollo’s oracle at Delphi. Both the temple and the god’s supposed pronouncements were called the “oracle.” Thousands flocked to consult Apollo through his priestess at Delphi before making decisions. From kings and queens to paupers and slaves, inquirers brought multitudes of gifts to the temple, bestowing upon that Greek city one of the greatest treasure-troves in ancient history.
Jews and Christians claim that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Then God spoke through Moses and his brother, Aaron, to the people. Later, they claim God continued to speak through judges, prophets, Jesus, his apostles and disciples.
Muslims claim Allah gave instructions through the archangel, Gabriel, to Muhammad, whose teachings were later written down as the Koran.
Catholics claim God speaks through the infallible words of the Popes.
Joseph Smith claimed an angel from God dictated The Book of Mormon to him. Succeeding prophets have continued to claim a primary role in mediating God’s continuing revelations to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Jehovah’s Witnesses claim God spoke through Charles Taze Russell, and continues to speak through the Watchtower Society.
“We make these laws and will enforce them by the authority vested in us from the heavens” seems a continuing theme throughout world history.
From priests and presidents to councils and congresses, most authorities claim authority based on their original establishment by a supreme god of some type.
The presence of lawmakers in every society and culture throughout history seems to not only suggest the universality of the ideas of authority and accountability, but to affirm that governments have an ordained place in society.
As much as many might wish it, governance and our accordant accountability to them are not going to go away.
There are four basic attitudes of accountability.
The most healthy one is that of an Owner, whose general perspective is “My life is my responsibility.”
Owners accept the responsibility to work, to make a living and a life, to accept credit where credit is due and blame where blame is due.
Owners don’t wait for handouts, nor do they ask for them, but rise to meet each day with opportunistic fortitude.
Like the many entrepreneurs who have helped make America successful, owners operate out of the motivation that “we get out of life what we put into it.”
Though the rich often get lambasted, most rich people earn their riches through the blood, sweat and tears of responsible labor.
Furthermore, most of the populace, who never amass great fortunes but who do manage to earn a respectable living, also approach life with an “I am responsible” attitude.
Then, there are the Overcomers. An overcomer’s general perspective is “My life is still my responsibility.”
For example, Joni Eareckson Tada broke her neck in a diving accident when she was a teenager. Although she felt sorry for herself initially, she became an internationally recognized author, speaker, musician, and media personality who embodies the perspective that “Gump happens; so get on with your life.”
Ludwig Van Beethoven, the 18th century German composer of such great renown, wrote most of his great compositions after he went deaf. Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles are blind. So was Fanny Crosby, the great American writer of over two thousand hymns, including “Blessed Assurance”, “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross”, “Sweet Hour of Prayer”, and “To God Be the Glory”. Mel Tillis stutters; so does James Earl Jones, as did Marilyn Monroe and Winston Churchill. World renowned guitarist José Melindez has no arms; he plays with his feet.
The thirty-second President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, suffered polio at age thirty nine. He permanently lost the use of his legs and endured confinement to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, including throughout his presidential reign. Baseball player Dave Dravecky lost part of his pitching arm to cancer, and came back to pitch again anyway.
Gianna Jessen’s mother aborted her, but she survived. Although she suffers severe physical handicaps as a result, she and others embody the spirit of overcomers. Overcomers maintain that “Whatever I must overcome, it is still my responsibility to make something of myself and offer positive contributions to society.” Gianna, through her national speaking, music and book ministries, has challenged and inspired thousands of people to be overcomers.
The Apostle Paul wrote most of his epistles from jail, yet millions have read his writings during the past two thousand years. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote magnificently from jail too, as did Martin Luther King.
“So what if something bad happens” overcomers believe. “That doesn’t give me an excuse to lie around and whine for the rest of my life and expect everybody else to make up for my misfortunes. There’s life to be lived and things to be done and I’ll be darned if I’m gonna let handicaps overcome me.”
There also exist on this planet Whiners who believe “My life is your responsibility.”
Whiners are persons who unequivocally expect, even demand, others to compensate for their weaknesses. The reasons vary from being down and out on their luck, to they don’t have much money, to claiming some kind of disability, losing their job, having a child out of wedlock, their spouse leaving them, a natural disaster, etc. Wherever inequity exists, staunch whiners insist to the point of coercion that the supposedly more fortunate have a duty and responsibility to help those who are supposedly less fortunate.
I remember a man and his family who used to drop by our church a couple of times a year. He halfheartedly mowed part of the church lawn once, but he usually just outright begged for food and money. He seemed to want to collect whatever he could from us and head off to the next church on his route. The man evidenced no physical disability. Neither did his wife or children. Though he probably could have made a decent living if he tried, the man embodied the spirit of some whiners – he was just plain lazy. Neither he nor his family seemed to really want to earn anything or to contribute something positive to society. Rather, they wanted handouts, and the more and sooner, the better.
So, can anyone help whiners, really?
That depends. Perhaps you’ve heard how many psychologists it takes to change a light bulb?
One, but, the light bulb has to really want to change.
Likewise whiners. Many do not really want to change; they do not want to own or overcome. Why work for something if you can get it free? If there is food in the public trough, why build and stock your own?
Furthermore, hold on to your britches if anybody tries to hold back handouts. The political debate over the extent of public welfare in our country reveals the truth that suckling children scream the loudest when pulled away from the breast.
Of course, most citizens receiving public aid are not children, though many would claim that children are predominantly the direct and indirect beneficiaries. Even if they are, perhaps children benefit more when fed and nurtured by those who model personal responsibility and a healthy work ethic.
There are also Victims who have the attitude that “My life is your responsibility and your fault.”
Of course, there are many legitimate victims in society, but the ones I’m talking about are those who claim that their victim status gives them the right to riot, kill, file for bankruptcy, sue, or receive compensation or extra-special treatment because of their supposed victim status.
We hear their claims all the time: “The cigarette you made gave me cancer. The booze you manufactured made me get drunk and kill somebody in a car accident. I was abused as a child or watched a violent TV program recently, so I am not responsible for my savage actions. She wore alluring clothes so it is her fault that I raped her. My relatives were slaves so my underprivileged lot in life is anybody’s fault but mine.” These are all examples of victim mentality, or “non mea culpa,” Latin for “I am not at fault,” mentalities.
A doctor once sued my relatives after he bicycled into one of their business trucks and broke his neck. Their broken down truck was parked in a highway emergency lane. The doctor and a companion never saw the truck because they weren’t watching where they were going. They had their heads down to reduce wind resistance and were guiding themselves by watching the white lines marking the roadside. They claimed in court that my relatives, not they themselves, were entirely at fault!
I once heard a politician make the claim that “We need safer guns and safer bullets,” echoing the perspective that those who make weapons are more at fault than those who use them against others. Absent from the debate over guns is the fact that almost anything can be used as a weapon, even a piece of paper. Whether guns, rocks, paper or scissors are involved, illegitimate victims deny any responsibility for their actions. Rather, victims seek to pin all the responsibility on anybody, or everybody, else.