Today I saw something that always irritates me, but which I never do anything about. A person threw a cigarette butt out their car window. Since I was in a drive-through, both of our cars were stopped and I considered getting out of the car and picking up their cigarette butt and throwing it back in their car. Or maybe I would be courteous and say, “Excuse me, I think you dropped this.” Of course, I did neither of those things and the cigarette butt remained on the ground. I had the opportunity to take action and I chose not to.
We might debate over whose responsibility it is to deal with someone who litters, but I think we would all agree that it is ultimately the individual’s responsibility to not litter in the first place. We could probably agree that there are great benefits to not trashing up the environment, and very little, if any, hardships or negative consequences associated with disposing of ones’ trash in a trashcan. Most of us may not litter, but there are probably other actions we take that directly or indirectly have negative effects on others. Effects that are often not easily visible to us and so continue in obscurity. What if we were all more socially responsible? This is not a new idea, but one worth seriously reconsidering in the New Year.
2020 was a year that separated people literally and figuratively. People were told to stay away from their families. People were divided by politics and race. Social responsibility unifies people. It acknowledges that we’re all connected and our actions affect the people around us. And it says we care enough to hold ourselves accountable for our actions in society (as consumers and producers). Social responsibility helps build strong communities, instead of tearing them apart.
To practice social responsibility a person must be open to understanding the consequences (good and bad) of their actions. They must have integrity, empathy, and feel empowered by their ability to do things better than they used to do. The individual cannot nurture a victim mentality and be socially responsible at the same time. If one claims to be a victim, they have also absolved themselves from all responsibility for their actions, because as a victim they choose to believe their choices are entirely under the control of outside forces. Practicing social responsibility requires one to take part in their local and global community to do less harm and more good.
So, here’s to a New Year lived better than the one before. To a feeling of empowerment when we vote with our dollars in ways that are just as important, if not more so, than the vote we cast every four years. To being true to our principles even when others seem to have sold theirs. To turning off the TV when we feel our blood pressure rising. To preserving sanity, decency, and integrity in the face of forces that intend to create instability. To questioning the motives of those who try to drive humanity apart. To rebuilding community stronger than it was before. And remembering life is about more than just avoiding potential danger, but experiencing all the good that is possible, as well.
More to come…