It’s Your Own Dumb Fault …would often be our parents’ response when kids back in my day would come home crying or complaining about something, whether it be from climbing too high in a tree and a branch would break off, or we would get punished for talking back to a teacher, or beat up after mouthing off to a bigger classmate. The exceedingly blunt remark usually was following warnings that had gone unheeded.
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Though not very kind words, we learned quickly about personal responsibility. We were instructed to think first before doing things because consequences were often harsh teachers. We were urged to “Think first!” and “Look before you leap.” After a mishap we were often asked, “What were you thinking?!”
If we injured ourselves after trespassing over a fence, no one ever thought of suing the property owner. There was no looking for loopholes like the lack of warning signs being posted. Our parents would simply say, “What do you think a fence means?!” If it is not your property, you had no business going in there. Period. You got no sympathy and the neighbor got no blame.
When did we lose this idea of personal responsibility? Was it when the jury awarded damages to the poor fool who shook and shook a vending machine until it fell on him? Or perhaps when the man who decided to trim his hedges by picking up his lawn mower sued the manufacturer for his injuries?
The other day I misunderstood some instructions and, therefore, blew by a deadline. When I realized my error, I wrote a kind note thanking the person for trying to let me know the deadline was rapidly approaching. I said that we would put that in the “live and learn” category.
That is how people used to look at things. When there was a consequence, one would say, “Note to self — don’t let this happen again.” We would use it as a teachable moment whether for ourselves or for our children. My girls quickly learned to read directions more carefully, to write down deadlines in several places, and to let it go without complaining when they messed things up.
I don’t think I ever gave them the, “It’s your own dumb fault” line. But I did talk about certain things being a self-inflicted wound and how we often have no one to blame but ourselves. I would recount the time I saw a poster in a printer’s shop that read: “A Lack of Planning on Your Part Does Not Create an Emergency on My Part.” I explained that we sometimes drop the ball and are in a jam, but that never excuses us from putting the pressure on the other person to bail us out.
They learned to be gracious with themselves when they fell short, but especially gracious toward others when things went wrong. They discovered that people will often go out of their way to help you when you take your share of responsibility onto yourself.
Even today when something happens due to my own actions, I can still hear the rebuke of my elders, “It’s your own dumb fault” as a little reminder not to shift the blame to others — no matter how tempting that is. Perhaps we can train our children with the same principle in a kinder package. Personal responsibility is a very important principle that is too easily forgotten in our victimhood culture today.
May God grant us wisdom for ourselves and for our children, Christopher