September 24, 2011

“A Shining City upon a Hill”.



Reflections to a lecture on leadership and personal responsibility.
As I listened, John Winthrop's 1630 sermon "A Model of Christian Charity" came to my mind. (Still aboard the ship Arbella, Winthrop admonished the future Massachusetts Bay colonists that their new community would be a "city upon a hill", watched by the world.  Winthrop's sermon gave rise to the widespread belief in American folklore that the United States of America is God's country because metaphorically it is a “Shining City upon a Hill”, an early example of American exceptionalism.)
On 9 January 1961, President-Elect John F. Kennedy returned the phrase to prominence during an address delivered to the General Court of Massachusetts:
…”History will not judge our endeavors—and a government cannot be selected—merely on the basis of color or creed or even party affiliation. Neither will competence and loyalty and stature, while essential to the utmost, suffice in times such as these. For of those to whom much is given, much is required”...


I started scribbling a diagram on a napkin and noted that Los Angeles in not on a hill.  Returning to the napkin, I wrote "You" in the middle, and around it I penned in all the big questions that affect our lives. Among the rays pointing towards us are work, education, utilities, housing, health care, food, natural resources, global interdependence, human rights, arts and entertainment, transportation, infrastructure, security and justice.
The cockeyed bit about all of these critical parts is that we elect or submit ourselves to others to make these big decisions.
Chances are you’re not particularly happy about how that’s working for you. In the shining city on my napkin, you have the right, and responsibility, to make the choices you feel are necessary for your life and your community.
So how is it that we built this new society based on autonomy, equality, self-management, mutual-aid, solidarity, diversity, and participation across all spheres of life and ended up with…?
Personal responsibility was, and I believe should be, a key principle, and if it applies to our spirituality, I see no reason to omit it from all aspects of our life.  That would mean that we need to build and understand our community, and address the pressing issues of our time in the best way that we can, because there is so much to be addressed.

14 comments:

frenchtoast said...

Personal and social responsibility — the essential social contract that our system of civil responsibility is founded upon.
From today’s public perspective on attorneys, this may sound ironic coming from a soon-to-be- lawyer. But I hope to see more seeking of truth and less attempts at selective, self-advantaged distortion of it. Or has winning become so paramount in our society that we’ve made the truth forfeit to our chance of winning?

Anonymous said...

Based on how our children are raised in the U.S. these days, they enter the world with NO understanding of personal responsibility, and an enormous expectation regarding what the world owes them.

Charles said...

I’m taking the responsibility to thank you for this fine post.

Karen (SAG) said...

Just what I needed to hear right now. I especially love the comments.

Ms. Capshaw said...

Excellent. Took the time to print. Will be stashing in my journal. Great contribution to us all.

your gaggle of fans said...

A great post with some insightful points. A good read for motivation.

Alfonso (L.A. on a shining hill) said...

And now let us recall the “Fable of the Shoes.”
The biggest obstacle on the road out of serfdom is “status quo bias.”
In society, we’re accustomed to rapid change. New products, new life styles, new ideas are often embraced eagerly. Not so with government. When it comes to police or firefighting or sanitation, government must do those things because that’s what government has (allegedly) always done.
So identified has the State become in the public mind with the provision of these services that an attack on State financing appears to many people as an attack on the service itself. Who wants to get the government out of a certain business is treated in the same way as he would be if the government had, for various reasons, been supplying shoes as a tax financed monopoly from time immemorial.
If everyone had always gotten their shoes from the government the proponent of shoe privatization would be greeted as a kind of lunatic. How could you? Defenders of the status quo would squeal. You are opposed to the public, and to poor people, wearing shoes! And who would supply shoes ... if the government got out of the business? Tell us that! Be constructive! It’s easy to be negative and smart-alecky about government; but tell us who would supply shoes? Which people? How many shoe stores would be available in each city and town? ... What material would they use? ... Suppose a poor person didn’t have the money to buy a pair?
Our specific error is to use “society” and “government” as interchangeable terms. People need shoes. But that doesn’t require the government to provide shoes for everyone?
Maybe the answer is yes. But if it is, the burden of proof that the government can do better than “society” should fall on those who, in effect, want the government to win the future by “investing” in shoes — rather than on those of us who are open to the idea of better leadership and personal responsibility.
Thank you for posting this.

Karen (DB) said...

To me personal responsibility just goes to one's ethics and morality. I personally believe that we need to have the utmost in those two categories yet it seems that most of us have very little of either.

Anonymous said...

And alas,..not covered under ObamaCare...

now I am awake said...

Unless you’ve been lost at sea for the better part of seven years, you’re likely aware of the economic problems that have pushed us “against the financial ropes,” both individually and as a nation. And no, these problems do not only stem from the late Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush.
No, we’re not in this predicament because we haven’t been “Sweatin’ to the Oldies.” Nor are we here solely due to 9/11, Republicans, Democrats, or other bureaucrats. We’re here because, on he whole, we’ve become a nation that rebels against virtue and character, and chooses instead to value the emptiness of fame and fortune.
In our culture, we seem to have an unquenchable need to blame someone for everything, and therein lies the problem… Personal responsibility is the polar opposite of pointing the finger of blame. Who is responsible for the fact that you have a negative net worth? The credit card companies? No. While I believe their practices to be a crime, we are the ones who signed up for the offer to get a free t-shirt and a license to spend money we didn’t have!
And NO… And alas,..NONE of this is covered under ObamaCare...

Anja said...

I am concerned that Abraham Lincoln was right when he said that looking at our schools today is a good way to see what the nation will look like in twenty years.

lost in academe said...

A student complained to me that she could not understand that my paper was satire since the satirical nature was not evident in the title. She claimed she needed to see "smiley faces" of the use of "LOL" in the paper in order to understand. Jonathan Swift did that in "A Modest Proposal." Lots of smiley faces and LOLs to help those suffering from severe intellectual hernia.

Anonymous said...

Regrettably many in America will never sign up for Personal Responsibility 101, opting for the crib notes instead.

from the L.A. that is not on a shining hill said...

Hot damn! It's about time that someone did a post about personal responsibility.