As children, we were taught that actions lead to consequences. I know I was. And when I behaved badly, those consequences were immediate and unavoidable. There was simply no way to escape their causal relationship.
Looking back, I’m still not a fan of how strict a disciplinarian my father was, but I have to admit, his methods were effective.
Since the importance of doing the right thing was drummed into me at such a young and impressionable age, I rarely deviated from the straight and narrow path, despite countless opportunities to do so. I may not be a saint and I’ve certainly made mistakes, but not when it counted.
While personal responsibility may begin at home, it never ends there. We may take that lesson with us wherever we go, but it’s always subject to new influences and experiences. It can be reinforced or challenged. And it can be unraveled.
Today, we live in a time when personal accountability is being challenged at every level, in every segment of life. As a result, that aspect of our culture – the quality most critical to our prosperity and way of life – appears to be unraveling at a steady pace.
Back in the day, our home life was relatively self-contained. Granted, we had some outside influences – friends, teachers, a few TV channels – but our parents and their teachings dominated our lives. Even growing up in a tough, inner-city neighborhood was no match for the will of the Greatest Generation.
That’s no longer the case. The boundaries and disciplinary structure of family life is slowly but surely disintegrating. Meanwhile, kids are constantly bombarded with information, communication, and entertainment that challenge the principle that actions lead to consequences.
Our schools have become bastions of political correctness and mediocrity. In an effort to level the playing field for all, academic excellence has been diluted and the notion of individual achievement devalued.
Inner city children are subject to frequent chaos and violence. Meanwhile, their suburban counterparts lead antiseptic, overprotected lives that no longer include the valuable lessons learned by playing, exploring, and testing the boundaries of the real world.
Instead, they spend their days immersed in example after example of bad behavior where nobody is held accountable for their actions via the 24/7 news cycle, reality TV, video games, and social media sites. And they see extremely wealthy entertainers behave like entitled brats.
They see CEOs get enormous exit packages they don’t deserve and powerful, greedy business leaders commit fraud. And instead of hearing the truth about these relatively rare events, they see capitalism demonized and the virtuous climb up the corporate ladder painted with a broad, tainted brush.
They see selfish and self-dealing politicians – from local bureaucrats all the way up to the highest levels of our federal government – lie through their teeth and handily escape one scandal after another under the veil of cronyism, divisive partisan rhetoric, and stonewalled investigations.
They see how we treat our wounded veterans who fought for our way of life in war after war only to be abandoned, forgotten, and left to languish and die on a secret VA hospital waiting list.
And if they somehow manage to escape childhood with any sense of personal accountability left intact, they’re bound to be greeted on the other side by an oppressive government apparatus seeking to tax, regulate, and control whatever entrepreneurial spirit remains of their American Dreams.
The ironic twist is that we’re always hearing about how entitled, distracted, and disrespectful kids are these days – from the generation of parents and leaders who created the world we live in and made them that way. When our actions no longer lead to consequences, what did we expect?
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive and author of "Real Leaders Don't Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur." Learn more, contact Tobak or follow his new blog at stevetobak.com. Any opinions expressed are those of the columnist.