Thursday, January 18, 2007

Responsibility for ourselves.

"Instead of saying that man is the creature of circumstance, it would be nearer the mark to say that man is the architect of circumstance."

--Thomas Carlyle

What am I responsible for? Am I responsible for driving 45 in a 35, or does my temporary ignorance abolish all responsibility for knowing the speed limit? Am I responsible for my busy schedule which leaves me little free time or is it graduate school's fault? Am I responsible for the life I choose to live or can I blame it on my parents?

A person enters a contest. This contest poses a longshot, but present, risk of injury. The contest organizers provide forms which release themselves of liability in the case such injury should occur. Bystanders even point out the risk, but the participants continue. One participant tragically dies after this contest, as a result of the contest itself.

Any time someone dies unexpectedly from something so seemingly harmless it is tragic and it is a loss to countless people. The family is obviously devastated and nothing will EVER bring that individual back no matter what anyone does or says. This person is a child, a parent, a spouse and for all we know their smile and laughter will never ring in the ears of their loved ones again. Almost every one of us has an experience with losing someone and it may drive to fruition the strongest feelings we as humans experience. It is obviously plausible to vent these feelings toward the easiest target in the case of a sudden, tragic loss. Perhaps I might do the same in such a situation. I dont know.

So here we are. Who is the responsible party? Emotionally it seems so easy to lash out at the contest organizer, the provider of this barbaric ritual who did little to protect the innocent, unknowing contestant. The family is irate, the community is shocked, and by god, a head must roll. The easy target is the organizer and "officiants" of this contest. They provided the means by which someone died, right? There was nothing anyone could do, right? I mean, that person certainly had NO CONTROL over what they were doing.

When I take a step back and separate myself from the emotional loss and tragedy and innate human need for vindication and revenge at what occured, I contend that the individual is the responsible party when it comes to their own well being in this situation. If I consider a situation whereby the result of this contest is that you win a video game console, the prize does not seem high enough to warrant risking my health and life. If the contest prize were that your child would not be taken from you, or your dog would not be put to sleep, or something dire--then perhaps the risk you entertain is more warranted. But who decides the value, the organizer or the individual?

Am I considered a callous, heartless, cold robot without compassion because I feel the need to look beyond the tragedy and examine this issue? I will probably be dismayed to find that most people would agree to that. Oh well.

Just because the option is made available, does this mean an individual has to participate? Is anyone forcing them? Anyone can sky-dive; the risk of death versus the thrill of falling at terminal velocity; why aren't thousands and thousands of people pursuing this?

The world in which we live today is a sensitive place, and telling someone that the consequences they face are the results of their choices is not a popular platform from which to speak. However, it is my humble opinion that our world would be a much better place to live were people more able to accept responsibility for their choices.

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