Personal Responsibility

Why do we routinely blame others for problems we’re responsible for?

For example, I often think if everyone drove like me, not too fast, in control, no cell phone, maximizing distance, there would be no accidents and road rage would be something social scientists once studied. One problem, my self-congratulatory description of my driving isn’t objective. Truth be told, sometimes I am part of the “driving stupid” problem. My car has a large blind spot and I have to swing forwards and backwards in my seat to make sure the coast is clear whenever merging onto the freeway or changing lanes. I do that without problem about 499 times out of 500. All it takes is one time though to understandably anger another driver.

Worse than that, I know big semis inch forward from one freeway exchange I take home to another so it’s easy to swing left, pass 40-50 cars and merge back into the correct lane in the 50 yards of cushion that the semis usually create. Usually. One night a few weeks ago the cushion was half it’s normal size and I made an idiotic snap decision to shoot through it anyways. My car was probably 15 yards from the truck’s front bumper, but I was going too fast and I admit, if our positions had been reversed, I would have been livid. To get on the second highway I had to loop back under the slow moving truck. I looked up to see someone in the passenger’s seat waving at me with just one finger.¬†Totally deserved.

I’m not special, I’m complicit.

Fast forward to Walmart’s recent decision to sell the top ten most highly anticipated hard backs (Steven King’s among them, retail $35) for $10. Last week Amazon decided to match it so Walmart lowered their price to $9 and said they’d go “as low as necessary”. Amazon went to $9 and now Walmart is sitting at $8.99. Some people complain about big box stores and everyone waxes nostalgic about small independent retailers, but they’re rapidly disappearing because people focus exclusively on finding the lowest prices for the goods they purchase without giving much if any thought to the ripple effect.

We’ve created the monster that is Walmart and we’re upset it’s destroying small independent businesses. Does that make any sense? What most amazed me about last week’s story is the unabashed bluntness of the company. “We’ll go as low as necessary to become the one stop place for book purchases.” May as well have added, “Your local independent book store be damned.”

But Walmart is not inherently evil. Walmart’s customers focus exclusively on the lowest prices, ignorning the negative impact on small businesses in the immediate area. Take me for instance. Recently I saved about $20-$25 on a Timex watch I bought at the behemoth. By doing so I added a tiny drop into the gigantic bucket that is Walmart sales, a bucket they will now use to extinguish the Fireside Bookstore in downtown Olympia where my friend works. If the Fireside Bookstore closes, Olympia will be worse off and I’ll only have myself to blame.

Or take outsourcing and all the empty rhetoric around keeping jobs in the U.S. A few years ago, before the housing correction, a study was done of people taking out home equity loans. They were given two choices: 1) have it processed abroad and receive the money in two to three days or 2) have it processed domestically and receive the money in five to six days. I don’t recall why the foreign companies were twice as fast, but something like 85% of the people chose the quicker/outsourced option. I’m guessing 100% of that 85% nod approvingly whenever they hear a politician bemoan outsourcing.

Finally, there’s the Fort Collins, Colarado “balloon boy” bullshit. We criticize the media, but don’t recognize we are the media in the sense that our collective viewing habits shape the “news”. How can we watch CNN’s balloon boy coverage, talk to friends about it, buy People magazine and read about it, and then criticize the media for covering it? I didn’t watch any of the television coverage, and only skimmed the headlines on-line, but now that I’m blogging about it, I suppose I’m complicit.

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