When I was growing up, my mother often lamented how uncommon common sense was. For years she hammered into my head that education or beauty or intelligence or wealth or health or any other blessings won’t last unless someone has the common sense to make decent decisions in life.
Now that I’m grown up, I see the wisdom – dare I say, the common sense – of her words.
Did you know stupidity is a choice? Yes really. In the vast majority of situations, it’s up to us to decide whether to do something smart or something dumb.
If you have debt up to your eyeballs, why do you keep eating in restaurants and using your credit card to pay for expensive meals? If you’re pulled over by a cop for going 45 in a 25 zone, why do you cuss him out and act like it’s his fault you were speeding? If you’re dating a womanizing jerk, why do you marry him despite knowing of his behavior?
Look, we’ve all done stupid things in life. No one walks on water and we’re only human. But smart people – try to grasp this concept – learn from their mistakes.
But there’s a monkey wrench in what might otherwise be a simple matter of cause-and-effect in which people learn from mistakes and don’t repeat them: The government intervenes. Seriously, the government is so busy rescuing people from their own stupidity that consequences no longer matter when people do something foolish.
Consequences can be a powerful motivator for improvement. Consider the work of Edward Thorndike, a psychologist in the early 1900s who developed the “Law of Effect.” Essentially, he said behavioral responses to stimuli followed by a satisfactory response will be strengthened, but responses followed by discomfort will be weakened. In other words, behaviors that are rewarded are repeated; behaviors that are penalized are less likely to occur in the future.
Our government now encourages the removal of responsibility for our actions. If you take away the consequences of bad behavior, the incentive to improve is also gone. One child out of wedlock may be a mistake; five kids out of wedlock is a career. We could solve the illegal immigrant crisis in about a month if all government benefits for illegals dried up. Whining has become a trendy college major, thanks to government tolerance for victimhood.
Several years ago, the incomparable Thomas Sowell wrote a column called “The Great Escape.” “The great escape of our times is escape from personal responsibility for the consequences of one’s own behavior,” he wrote. “Whether the particular issue is education, economics or medical care, the preferred explanation tends to be an external explanation – that is, something outside the control of the individuals directly involved.”
Shifting the blame has become the buzzword of the 21st century. Schools are lousy, but parents or students accept no responsibility for education. Modern medical care is phenomenal, but people refuse to stop behaving in ways detrimental to their health. “Seldom is there any thought that people who choose to waste years of their own time (and the taxpayers’ money) in school need to change their own behavior – or to visibly suffer the consequences, so that their fate can be a warning to others coming after them, not to make that same mistake,” wrote Sowell.
See, that’s the thing. Once upon a time, societal expectation put restraints on unacceptable behavior, and it sure as heck wasn’t subsidized by the government. Have that baby out of wedlock, and your reputation was forever ruined, your future prospects were grim, and your fate was a warning to others. Do drugs or drink to excess, and no one wanted to associate with you except other reprobates.
Thanks to government subsidies, behavior and actions that were once unthinkable are now not only socially acceptable, but any criticism is perceived as “hate speech” and punished. Bad is good and good is bad.
Every time the government passes legislation to provide a benefit, be wary. It means the incentive to provide that thing for one’s self is proportionately reduced … and recipients become slaves to the government for that item. It’s a vicious spiral. Lack of incentive creates a crisis for the government to solve, which then solves it by providing more goodies and taking away more incentives. When will it end?
What people forget is this: If it’s not laid out in the Constitution or Bill of Rights, it’s not (or shouldn’t be) the federal government’s job to do it for you. Unfortunately, our government has convinced us that it’s supposed to provide basic necessities – and greedy, selfish people welcome it. What used to be free and independent citizens are now pigs at the trough, gobbling up every benefit the government can offer in exchange, apparently, for their immortal souls.
As my brother once noted, if you totally “fork up” and become a “victim,” you’re a hero. You receive praise for the hardships you’ve “overcome.” You get elected. You can write books. You get free housing and medical care. But if you’re constantly responsible in life, you get nothing. No praise, no accolades, no talk-show circuit.
Look, life is tough enough as it is. Things get thrown in our paths that are entirely outside our control. When life throws you a monkey wrench – when you face a devastating illness or suffer through a disaster – how much better would you fare if you already have a solid bedrock of faith, a happy family life, no debts and other tools for coping because you made smart choices? Many of life’s difficulties – even those beyond our mortal control – can often be mitigated by common sense before, during and after the difficulty. It drives me nuts to see people make stupid choices and then wonder why they have it so tough.
Now that we’ve gotten to the point where bad choices and irresponsibility are rewarded – where good choices and personal responsibility are ignored at best, penalized at worst –people don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to hear that they themselves might be responsible for the mess they’re in. All the self-help books in the world can’t help if you won’t get off your butt and start using the common sense God gave you.
This ain’t rocket science, folks. Remember, stupidity is a choice. It’s just common sense.
Uh-oh … unless common sense isn’t common anymore. On second thought, we’re in trouble.