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Think. Discuss. Act. Morals And Values

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Review: Responsibility Moral, Legal Or Mental Accountability

Dolbee, S. (1996, February 16). Responsibility: Moral, legal or mental accountability: ‘Stop whining’ is the new personal code for the 90s. San Diego Union-Tribune, pp. E1, 4.


The self-esteem movement (some prefer the term “self-respect”) can lose itself in self indulgence or move toward confidence and service for others. In 1969, Nathaniel Branden, a psychologist from Beverly Hills, California, wrote The Psychology of Self-Esteem.

Taking Responsibility (1996) is in tune with the U.S. mood and political rhetoric of the 1990s. The Million Man March urged African-American men to take responsibility for their lives, their families, and their communities. Promise Keepers fills stadiums with men renewing vows of fidelity and responsibility. Newt Gingrich described his welfare reform as a “Personal Responsibility Act.”

Branden notes:

More and more people are challenging the whole idea that nobody is responsible for anything…No one is is coming to save me; no one is coming to make life right for me; no one is coming to solve my problems…If I don’t do something, nothing is going to get better.

Branden quotes a description of “the entitlement age” from Time and tells how his wife fell on ice and refused the advice of a lawyer to due over a fall she took on ice outside a movie house.

If I want it, I need it. If I need it, I have a right to it. If I have a right to it, someone owes it to me. Or else I’ll sue.

Philip Hwang (professor of counseling at the University of San Diego) deplores the horrific results of decades of emphases on the self in his book, Other Esteem.

Today, we are waking up to a society consumed by moral decay, devastated by heinous cries and overtaken completely by financial greed and almost completely oblivious to social order.

The author of this article explains how Hwang discredits neither the self-esteem or self-responsibility movement, nor does he think that the self-responsibility movement is the total answer. Rather, Hwang suggests a balance or three-part harmony of emphases: self-esteem, personal responsibility, and social responsibility.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What is the proper emphasis on self-esteem in schools and youth groups these days? Do you prefer the term “self-worth” to “self-esteem?”
  2. Has there been a tendency toward feelings of self-entitlement apart from hard work and reponsibility these days?
  3. Is it possible to demand responsibility from people who really do need help?
  4. What do you think of a balanced approach based on the importance of personal responsibility, self-worth, and social responsibility?


  1. Strong opinions that miss the responsibility of either individuals or social structures can polarize a society just when the cooperation is most needed.
  2. In emphasizing personal responsibility, we should remember that all need opportunity, encouragement, and education that enables taking advantage of opportunities.
  3. In demanding social justice and welfare, the responsibility of individuals and families cannot be forgotten.
  4. Families, schools, the media, and youth work can all teach responsibility and social justice.

Dean Borgman
© 2018 CYS

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