Monday, January 29, 2007


(News-Herald, January 2002) It’s common to complain about irresponsible people. But I don’t think irresponsibility is nearly as large an issue as nonresponsibility.
Irresponsible people make bad choices with a willful disregard for the consequences. “I want to steal this stop sign,” they declare, “and I don’t care whether it causes problems or not.” But the nonresponsible person is cut from different cloth.
The nonresponsible person pretends not to choose. The nonresponsible person picks a pre-emptive scapegoat; he doesn’t let the cat out of the bag until he’s already got someone or something holding the drawstring.
This is, traditionally, one reason that religion gets a bad rap; God has always been a popular scapegoat. “God told me to take your land and kill your neighbors” had its day, and “God wants me to have your money” never fails to open a few wallets. It’s an unfortunate tradition because there are so many people really trying to do what God wants them to do. These folks have to shoulder the bad press that nonresponsible believers generate.
Modern times have created even more places onto which we can shift responsibility. Upbringing is a popular one, along with any number of traumas and social and emotional disorders that provide excuses. “I’m not responsible,” the litany goes, “because my mother used to dress me in ugly clothes.”
But the disordered nonresponsibility really takes a back seat to modern faiths like counseling and therapy, because these, like God, allow the nonresponsible person to claim a Higher Purpose.
“I decided to dump you because your car is ugly” doesn’t sound very noble, but “My therapist thinks I need to move onto a more self-actuating plane of function” sounds really cool. “I wanted sex” sounds so cheap. “God sent this person into my life so I could make her happy” sounds like missionary work.
The telling detail about the nobly nonresponsible is that God and their therapists always seem to direct them to do what they wanted to do anyway.
Now, irresponsible people do whatever the heck they want to also, but they at least are honest enough to say, “Hey, it’s what I want. I’ll worry about the consequences some other day.” And when you want to complain about the act, the owner is there. But nonresponsible people are like a restaurant where the service is bad and the manager is never in. “We really don’t have anything to talk about,” says the nonresponsible person. “I was just being moved by my God/therapist/urges. I just did what I had to; it’s not like I really had a choice.”
Nonresponsibility also works for inaction. On my worst days, I will sit in the middle of the tracks watching the train bear down on me and complain about God’s shabby treatment of me. On my best days, I’ll get the heck off the rails.
It’s hard to have a relationship with a person in nonresponsible mode. To have a relationship, both people have to show up, and there really isn’t any substitute, any excuse, that changes that.
I have logged as many miles on the Lie-o-meter as anyone, but I wasn’t responsible because it wasn’t really my choice. Right. I proved conclusively that if you do not show up, in person, for the important relationships in your life, you can wreck them. And no excuse, no note from your Higher Power changes that.
If you make nonresponsibility a way of life, you eventually become a joke. You acquire a long string of short term relationships, punctuated by traumatic periods in which you meditate, pray, fast, consult your magic 8 ball. But the nonresponsible person isn’t looking for answers; he’s just looking for the solution to the puzzle of how to get what he wants and still feel good. He’ll walk around and around the situation, looking for the angle from which the choice will appear to serve some purpose greater than his own selfishness.
Is the nonresponsible person bad? Usually not. Just afraid, or uncertain, and looking very hard for something to make him feel good about the choices that he’s made. You don’t mean to lie, and when you think you find your answer, you’re sincere. But still, after a few years of it, you’re explaining the really good reasons that it was necessary for you to dump your twelfth spouse so you could fly to Bimini with the woman that God made just for you, and people’s eyes glaze over because they understand that you’ll always do whatever you want to do, but it will never be your responsibility. They know you’ll be full of excuses. They just won’t care, because they’ll have decided that you’re full of something else, too.

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