Personal Accountability as a Basis for Change
by Will Wilkinson
The nuclear nightmare in Japan confronts us with painful lessons. Where to start? There’s the obvious: ignoring warnings (it can’t happen here). Making choices from greed and laziness rather than wisdom and common sense (building unsafe facilities, filled with volatile, radioactive materials, near fault lines). Hubris (trying to replace the sun). The list could continue for a while.
George Bernard Shaw once said, “We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.” Over and over again we witness mind-boggling repetition and denial. World War One was described as “the war to end all wars.” Actually, it marked the beginning of a long line of wars. Vietnam was one of them, recent enough and failure enough — you would think — to have warned us about the folly of Iraq. Quite the opposite.
Ten million protesters in 60 countries tried to stop that war in 2003. We were ignored. Things turned out much worse than even we had warned. Those who ridiculed us and lied to us were wrong, dead wrong. They have never admitted it and they have never apologized. They persist with their same flawed ideologies, in the face of completely contrary evidence from the real world.
The millions who have protested and begged for sanity relative to the absolutely unacceptable risks inevitably associated with nuclear power have likewise been ignored and ridiculed. They were right. But they will never hear that and they will probably never hear an apology.
I once asked people during a meeting to put their hands up if they thought they were a bad driver. Not a single hand went up. I bet if you asked that question of a million drivers almost no hands would go up. But we know there are bad drivers. Where are they hiding? If you asked people if they thought they were a bad person, if they made stupid mistakes and refused to learn from them, how many hands would go up?
It’s always “them.” But what about me?
I totally support the brave souls in Wisconsin standing up for their rights. Looks like this is a battle most of us will end up fighting. But there’s one thing I haven’t heard mentioned much. Governor Walker won the election. People voted for him. Where are the thousands of voters admitting they made a big mistake? I’m not blaming them for Walker’s insanity. But Walker didn’t force anyone to vote for him, that was a voluntary (albeit an expensively manipulated) choice.
Newt Gingrich has been complaining that people are berating him for mistakes he made long in the past, particularly the obvious hypocrisy of engaging in an extra marital affair while attacking President Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal. As he contemplates a run for President in 2012 he scoffs at those who dig up this “ancient history.”
Quoting from a 2011 interview with David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network, we learn that “Gingrich addressed his past infidelities by saying, ‘There’s no question at times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.'”
Things happened in my life that were not appropriate? That could be an “appropriate” epitaph for the human race. Where’s the personal responsibility? Things happened? No they didn’t. You did things, Newt. Your pants didn’t fall down because you felt passionately about this country.
There’s a remarkable moment at the end of David Lean’s 1957 film, The Bridge on the River Kwai, where Sir Alec Guinness’s character sees the light, realizes he’s the bad guy, and bemoans, “What have I done?” It’s an amazing moment, one we could all learn from.
Indeed, what have I done? How have I been complicit in the woes of the world? Who did I vote for, what corporations have I supported by purchasing their goods and services, what mind-numbing propaganda media machines have I financed by watching Super Bowl TV ads, what sweat shops have I supported by wearing designer clothing, etc.? How do my daily habits contribute to a world of insane suffering?
Until enough of us bite the bullet, feel some genuine remorse for “my actions” rather than “what they are doing,” actually learn from our own personal mistakes, and make real personal, behavioral changes, we doom ourselves to repeating our catastrophic failures. More Fukushimas are waiting in the wings. In this school called life, we’re given the same lessons over and over again, until we have learned what we need to learn from them.
While we pray with all our hearts for those suffering through an unimaginable tragedy in Japan, let’s also look in the mirror and ask ourselves … wait … let me look in the mirror and ask myself, “What have I done?”
Maybe that simple, personal step could be the start of something genuinely new…
Will Wilkinson has just completed collaborating on Forgiving The Unforgivable, a book that recounts how survivors of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack forgave their attackers, and is currently launching a global change initiative, Training for 2012. He lives in Ashland, Oregon, and can be reached at: [email protected].