For years, the refrigerator door sported a list of maxims that the mother had optimistically titled, "Golden Rules." Sometimes the list was lost amidst the clutter of pictures, schedules, wedding announcements and children's drawings, but as these came and went, the list remained, a permanent part of the room's decor.
Every parent can identify with its simple premises. Among them: "If you get it out, put it away." "If you break it, fix it." "If you borrow it, return it." "If you make a mess, clean it up." "If you lose it, replace it." "If you use it, don't abuse it." They were admonitions whose purpose was to make life a little bit saner in the household and also to convey a set of attitudes and values.Behind the hopeful posting of the list was an understanding that children must learn responsibility in this life. It's a core value that every parent yearns for his children to acquire. The list wasn't so much put there for punishment as it was to define a set of enduring standards.
This is no idle consideration. One of the major problems of life today is the refusal of so many to learn and practice individual responsibility. We live in a litigious time, when the impulse around us is to place fault in others whenever possible. More and more, society is trying to avoid its responsibilities by temporizing, rationalizing and procrastinating.
People know better than to drink and drive, but they still do it and try to bargain out of their convictions. They know better than to use tobacco, but they still smoke - and sue when they get ill. We know that the country's bills must be paid, but the nation's debt has shifted to our children's shoulders, and not on ours. Every statistic shows that children do better in a home with loving parents, yet divorce and illegitimacy rates have grown appallingly.
Others have also noted this unhappy trend. Lawrence Siskind, a San Francisco attorney and columnist, wrote: "Responsibility is a word with old-fashioned, even Puritanical overtones that jar on the modern ear. Yet individual responsibility is the essence of a free society. Without it, we become a herd of mindless, choice-less creatures, acting on whim, not will: a mob that is neither free nor a society."
The gospel is very clear on the role of individual responsibility. Not only is it the cornerstone of society, it is a basic teaching of the Church. If men are not responsible for their actions, then agency itself is in question. Successive latter-day prophets have spoken often and eloquently about it.
President Joseph Fielding Smith: "There is no such thing in the science of life as a man laboring exclusively for himself. . . . Each individual is a unit in the household of faith, and each unit must feel his or her proportion of the responsibility that devolves upon the whole. Each individual must be diligent in performing his duty." (Gospel Doctrine, p. 115)
President Spencer W. Kimball: "We have our free agency. We may sin or live righteously, but we cannot escape responsibility. To blame our sins upon the Lord, saying they are inherent and cannot be controlled, is cheap and cowardly. To blame our sins upon our parents and our upbringing is the way of the escapist. One's parents may have failed; our own backgrounds may have been frustrating, but as sons and daughters of a living God we have within ourselves the power to rise above our circumstances, to change our lives. We must accept responsibility for our sins." (Faith Precedes the Miracle, p. 175-176.)
President Ezra Taft Benson said it succinctly: "You are responsible for yourself! There are no collective panaceas - only individual ones. ("On my Honor," Explorer President's Conference, Ogden, Utah, 1978.)
President Howard W. Hunter said, "I submit that the Church of Jesus Christ is as necessary in the lives of men and women today as it was when established by Him, not by passive interest or a profession of faith, but by an assumption of active responsibility." (Conference Report, October 1967, p. 13.)
It's that quality of "active responsibility" that the Savior referred to when He told the parable of the talents, wherein various amounts of money were given to each of three stewards. The two who increased their allotment were handsomely rewarded, the one who did nothing with the funds was scathingly condemned.
Christ also told Peter and the other disciples, ". . . For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." (Luke 12:48.)
The message is important. We will be held accountable for the way in which we accept our responsibilities.