Responsibility - And the Reason I Write

I didn’t want to do this. I had a nice little article all planned out (a dash of political rhetoric, a handful of sarcasm), but then it happened. I opened up the local news website to find the City of Lakewood smack dab in the middle of yet another controversial lawsuit.

The parents of a child who has been bullied are suing the school district.

Well, if you’ve learned anything about me from the short duration of my column, you should know two things: 1) I’m strongly opinionated, and 2) I rarely keep my thoughts to myself. But, the reason this story struck me so hard was that it instantly brought me back to an earlier time.

When I read about this case, I was reminded me of one of the defining moments of my life. Coincidentally, it was my first foray into the print editorial. Several years ago, before 9/11, before terrorism ruled the day, the news focused on the recent rash of school and workplace incidences of violence. Unfortunately, this also marked a time of personal loss for me, as late one fall afternoon I received a call that I both expected and feared. While the country sought answers to several community tragedies, I sought solace for a personal one. But, in the late hours of the night, these two seemingly divergent issues came together in a singular form of expression. For whatever reason, at that moment, I felt compelled to write. Written well before the existence of the Lakewood Observer, I submitted the following piece to several different newspapers. While I received notes of thanks for the submission, to my knowledge, nowhere has this letter ever seen print.

However, with my personal apologies for waxing nostalgic, I’d like to re-submit what I believe most accurately describes my thoughts regarding the timeless issues that reflect this recent litigation.

(The following article was written more than five years ago, so please forgive the dated references)
An open letter to my family, friends, neighbors, and community:

Dear friends,
I lost my grandfather this past Saturday. At a little after three in the morning, Seattle time, he lost his personal battle with cancer. He wasn’t a politician, a celebrity, or even a well-known local figure. And, although on the surface this loss to our family may not seem too profound in the larger scheme of things, I fear that the death of this one man represents the continuation of a losing trend in an ongoing war of numbers through population and its effect on our country’s proud moral heritage.

To me, my grandfather represented a nearly pure model for life. He was proud, passionate, responsible, respectful, well spoken, dignified, and loving. I don’t mean to suggest that he was perfect - like all men, he made his share of mistakes. I also don’t mean to put him on a pedestal; he didn’t discover a new vaccine, build a better mousetrap, or even break any long-standing sports records. His great contribution was in the example he was to all who knew him.

I greatly fear that a way of life, a code of ethics, and a moral foundation is dwindling in this country, marked by the loss of one virtually unknown man. My grandfather taught me many things, but the greatest lesson I learned was that of responsibility. “If you hit your thumb, you don’t blame the hammer or the board, the fault lies with the fool who missed the nail.” All too often, people are hesitant, if not fearful, of taking responsibility for their actions, or lack thereof. This past week alone has brought about several more cases of workplace shootings and school violence, prompting another round of intense debate over “responsibility.”

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, in this case, most of the discussion focuses on the inanimate object, the gun. And, if it’s not the gun, it is most certainly blamed on an egregious oversight by some faceless set of contributors: the laws, the system, the schools, the police, the government, or even just the community at large. As if by spreading the blame over some wide array of determining factors we somehow resolve the problem.

It is the denial of responsibility that is the problem. If I take a gun and kill someone, it is my fault. I am responsible for my own actions and should be held accountable. That part is the easiest, but often times the most overlooked. But, it doesn’t stop there. While it’s hard enough to take responsibility for our own actions, we must also take responsibility for how our actions affect others. The most tragic loss is often the one that nobody cared prevent. Is it not the parents’ responsibility to teach their children the value of life? Is it not a coworker’s responsibility to acknowledge a possible problem? If a friend isn’t the one to intervene when they see a situation developing, then who? These questions are the ones that we should be answering, but, instead, we deny our responsibility to the point that our courts are overflowing. Our judicial system was established to settle honest disputes of ownership, exchange, and interpretation. Instead, due to our overwhelming irresponsibility, we use it more to place blame and extol recompense. It boggles the mind to consider how many court cases are brought about by the proclamation of irresponsibility: “Oh yeah? Prove it!”

But, my grandfather’s lesson in accountability didn’t stop there. He taught me the responsibility of taking action. I vote as often as I can, but not before becoming as knowledgeable as possible on each subject and the consequences of each choice. He taught me to speak out when I disagree and to hold my tongue when my opinion is not at issue. I learned that if you don’t agree with the way a company does business, it is your responsibility to take your business elsewhere. If we continue to buy into a concept, practice, or product that we believe is inadequate, we have no right or reason to believe it will change.

My grandfather was not a special breed, he was not a martyr to some lost cause - he was just another man born of a generation where responsibility was a way of life. A generation that finds itself dwindling in number and declining in its ability to continually strengthen the positive moral standing of this country. He, like so many others, taught by example to stand up for who you are and what you believe in, to never shirk responsibility, and to beware the standards you demand from others yet cannot meet yourself. Although he will be missed, it is not my goal to seek comfort or condolences. Instead, I take this opportunity to remind those around me to heed the lessons learned and the ideals established by our ancestors. Neither be quick to dismiss or to follow blindly. Rather, take the time and the responsibility to understand the consequences of your actions on all those around you.

In honor of my grandfather,
Bret A. Callentine
Lakewood, Ohio

I don’t know the particular circumstances surrounding the events in question in this latest lawsuit…nor do I need to. Without having been personal witness, I can tell you that tragedies such as this can easily be prevented. Not through the punishment of any one individual, but, rather, through the cessation of inaction of everyone even remotely involved.

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.
Read More on Perspective
Volume 3, Issue 6, Posted 11:58 AM, 03.09.2007