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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Accepting Responsibility

Some years ago, I volunteered to help counsel recently diagnosed cancer patients. While I was certainly ill equipped to offer medical advice, I could and did offer personal experience as someone who had been a caregiver. Over time I found that most patients reacted in one of two ways: either they accepted personal responsibility for their care or placed the burden solely on their physician(s). My experience does not represent a scientific analysis, it is purely anecdotal but there was more than a passing correlation between survival prospects and attitude. Those who took responsibility, sought information and made decisions in concert with their physician generally fared far better than those who passively delegated responsibility for their treatment to their doctors.


The fact remains that doctors are neither omniscient nor infallible, mistakes can and do happen all the time. Doctors' knowledge and experience guide them but they cannot know, feel, or synthesize precisely what a patient is experiencing. Those who place their healthcare decisions strictly in others' hands deprive both the practitioner and themselves of crucial information and may as a result receive sub par or even detrimental treatment. Abdication, delegation and other passive responses to life’s challenges are an easy trap to fall into. Sometimes we do so out of a desire to transfer blame or avoid consequences.


We humans often credit people in authority in the same way we see physicians, as infallible or all powerful. We may even exalt them to godlike status. It places us in a position to follow them blindly, to abrogate our own responsibility to reason, reflect and make decisions based on our moral understanding and life experience. When we put any sense of right and wrong aside or trade it for blind obedience to another person, regardless of the position they hold, in public office, in a pulpit, exam room or anywhere else—we place our destiny in someone else’s hands.


In the aftermath of January 6th and the transfer of power that recently took place we can observe the consequences of thousands who blindly followed others—who found valence in online forums that echoed beliefs most of us would find horrifying and ignorant. But regardless of what those sentiments were—and remain even in the face of massive repudiation and shock—many people remain willing to follow those who led them astray once again, or now hide behind their allegiance as an explanation for behavior they knew was wrong.


One man, a well-educated scientist who nearly beat a police officer to death in the Capitol insurrection subsequently attempted to escape to Switzerland and also attempted to take his own life. He claims he was drawn to the riot by the explicit demand of his President and was just caught up in the rage of the moment. But videos of him hours before denouncing members of Congress as traitors deserving of death suggest quite a different picture. No doubt his predisposition was reinforced in the moment—but his presence there and the hate and blind obedience to another individual are undeniable. Temporary insanity, blind rage are nothing more than attempts to dodge responsibility—to extenuate blame and excuse action based on emotion and cultivated prejudice.


We must not excuse these actions, but we must also work to shatter the cults and forums that sponsor such thinking and prompt such action. If social media has become a sponsor of anti-social behavior the perversion is one we have permitted as a society. When we assign god’s intent to a politician, we do precisely what humans have done since the dawn of time—blame some force beyond ourselves for what we have done. When we observe perpetrators of ghastly actions facing incontrovertible evidence of their actions saying, “that’s not me, that’s not who I am’, we are witness to the consequence of placing oneself beyond moral authority and beyond responsibility.

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