Friday, October 17, 2008

RESPONSIBILITY - Jennifer Rabold

1. What is your principle on RESPONSIBILITY. And how does that play out in your life? (principle defined as: set of beliefs that guide your actions).

I don’t generally go around quoting Bible verses, but JFK made one very famous which captures the principle of responsibility for me. It’s from Luke 12:48, and it reads, “To whom much is given, much is required.” I’m not wealthy by anyone’s standards, but I have been very blessed in my lifetime. I was born to two parents from stable, loving families, parents who loved each other and loved their children and raised us with values that have brought me and my sisters success and happiness. My parents were well-educated, and they passed that education down to us – truly one of the greatest gifts. And yet the advantages I enjoy are simply an accident of my birth. I do not deserve them, any more than children born into poverty or war or simply lack of love deserve their fate. And even though inheritance is not destiny, and people do manage to rise out of terrible situations, I know that we have to play the cards we are given, and sometimes those cards just really suck. Thus, I believe we have a responsibility to help others who are not as fortunate as we are, to the best of our ability. This is perhaps one of the most important life lessons I wish to teach my children.
2. Where does the principle of responsibility come from? Does it come from religious beliefs? As an offshoot from philosophical principles like “the golden rule? Does it rise out of fear? Is it a requirement of being human?

I believe I learned responsibility from my parents. My father worked very hard all his life, and I started working at age 12, when I woke at 5:30 every morning to deliver newspapers. My parents have always tried very hard to live within their means, even when that meant selling their first home and renting a house because they couldn’t afford the mortgage anymore when the company my father worked for went bankrupt. My father has always been fiercely self-reliant and quite critical of social programs and political philosophies that require us to take care of others (he’s appalled that his daughter leans toward Socialism). And yet, in his private life, he has been taken care of and has taken care of others. In those dark days after the company went bankrupt, people who knew our situation dropped bags of groceries on our front porch, completely anonymously. And even as they were selling their home, my parents anonymously sent $100 to a family they knew was even worse off, so that they could buy Christmas presents for their children. Their impulse toward generosity and responsibility lives in me, but I suppose I’m a bit more cynical about people. I don’t believe that many people live like my parents and take care of each other voluntarily. I believe it must be the responsibility of the community and, on a larger scale, of the country and even the world. We must take care of all the children of the world as if they were our own, and we must take care of the weak, the infirm, the elderly, and those who cannot care for themselves… to the best of our ability. That’s when the hard choices happen. We cannot give so much of our money away that our own children starve. We must be responsible for ourselves. But we can always do more for others. And we need leaders who will ask it of us.
3. What is something you learned from being irresponsible?

I think anyone who is honest will have to admit to being irresponsible about something at one time or another (thank you to Peter for admitting it). I will admit to my share of irresponsible acts, but I believe those moments of irresponsibility have made me more tolerant of others’ weaknesses, less judgmental of others’ bad judgment. Because I realize that I have experienced nothing less than pure luck at several moments in my life when, if things had been different, I could have ended up dead, injured, or infected with some nasty disease. So I have more compassion for people who have not been as lucky, on whom the consequences of their poor choices have fallen hard.
4. What is an example in the world today in which you or someone greater than you needs to take more responsibility?

I saw an advertisement in the subway in Boston encouraging people to use the equity in their homes to add an addition to the home, buy a boat, pay for college, buy a big screen TV, or take a vacation. I was sorely tempted to inscribe some fiscally responsible graffiti, something like “This is the problem with our country!” or “Don’t do it!” I was responsible and refrained.

An acquaintance on Cape Cod sent me this well-written and reflective pledge to be more fiscally responsible in her own home. We've been having the same conversation in our house. I think it starts at home...

Dear friends,

I don't completely understand the bailout and how it's supposed to help this heinous situation. I do understand that like most Americans our government has blown the surplus of funds we had, lived on credit for too long and allowed Wall St. to back some really bad mortgages with little or no regulation. I understand that corporations and financial institutions reward (with outrageous amounts of money) those executives who grow their profit margins, no matter how that money is earned. I understand golden parachutes and how very wrong it is to provide such silken rewards for these bloodsuckers when they've produced such a horror show within our current economy. I know that at least one of the economic strategists has called the bailout a crap sandwich. We are all on tenterhooks waiting for wiser minds to fix this debacle and have no control over the outcome. For the most part we don't know how to fix it - just how we DON'T want to fix it. It's a dire time for all of us and I hope sincerely that Washington can resolve this in the right way.

I also understand that here at my house finances are not in order; our mortgage is too high, our credit card debt is too high and for most of our lives have had inadequate savings to shore us up in the bad times. In seeking the good life we have put ourselves in a situation that is somewhat irresponsible as we have left ourselves cash-strapped like our government.

I also understand that banks have been allowed to write some bad deals for people desperate to buy a home, often beyond their means, with teaser intro rates. I know that in spite of risky credit ratings there is always SOME bank that would give you a mortgage. I know that the mortgage backing industry with the free rein granted by Washington has done a terrible job of policing those banks who allow people to hang themselves with these seductive loans.

I believe in the concept of home ownership; for 98% of us it will be the biggest investment of our lives and will reap the greatest reward. After all, it gives us a place to live and raise our families and hopefully over time will grow in value earning us some nice equity. But I know now that we should not be allowed to borrow that equity to add on a sun room, finance the kids' college tuition or invest in a vacation home. That equity is just a figure on paper - not real money - until you sell the house and the cash is in your hand. There was about 200K in 'equity' on my home at one point; that figure has dwindled to zero in the last year or two. It will go up again eventually if I live that long and can keep up the payments. Perhaps a better way to look at that growth in value is as a way to supplement your retirement and only if you're willing to sell the house, buy smaller, cheaper housing for cash and bank or invest the rest for the future. As for tuition, if we were a nation of savers we might have what we need to help the kids when the time comes. And that sun room or second home ... again those things should come from saved funds.

I realize how idealistic this is but perhaps that's what is needed here - ideals. If we as citizens would exercise enough control to delay the gratification of a big screen television until we can afford to pay for it instead of flashing a card on impulse one Saturday when we've decided the 'old' TV doesn't have quite the features we desire it would set an example to our government to spend only what is affordable for those things we want or need for our country. Maybe if we saved consistently and with vigor it would inspire our leaders to work toward having a surplus of funds in America once again.

I believe that my effort, although miniscule by itself, will help this country get back on track. Therefore I am now taking a vow along with my hubby that we will save more by modestly increasing the small deductions now going from checking to savings each month. We will pay down debt more vigorously even if we can't go out to eat or replace our aging cars. We'll shop more judiciously and stretch our food dollars with more 'from scratch' cooking. It's healthier anyway. We'll think twice before wasting gas to drive where we can walk and will combine errands when possible - perhaps use the bus now and again. The thermostats are at 65 degrees tops and at 60 while we sleep. We have fuzzy slippers and thick sweatshirts and will certainly not freeze! We'll follow all the energy saving tips offered us by the utility companies. And we will never borrow against the equity in this house again should regrowth occur.

I would like to reach people who agree to take the same pledge - all or in part. I know from talking with many of you that you're already doing a lot of these things to conserve. But let's start our own grassroots movement of revival to this sick economy and to our own financial health. Ignore the nay-sayers and economics majors who think it doesn't matter what John Q does. I've heard enough negativity and fear-mongering rages and you have, too. If you would, please send this to your friends and family members. If you want to influence one of your lawmakers, feel free to include them on your list!

5. Is everyone in the world “responsible” for everyone else in the world? Is a country responsible for something greater than their country?

See my answer to number 3 above.

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