On Personal Responsibility

I have often wondered what the personal responsibility of a writer, musician, newscaster, or even blogger is when the information they communicate is interpreted in a way they did not intend.

Free speech certainly entitles someone to say what they want (within the constraints that The Supreme Court defines), but personal responsibility doesn’t end with what the justices say is appropiate or not. What i’m referring to is a higher responsibility, a spiritual responsibility that goes beyond the laws defined by our society.

Too often people say things and think that because they are entitled by free speech, they have no responsibility for how things they put forth are interpreted. Free speech, they reason, gives them the right to express themselves as they wish, and if someone in the audience interprets it and goes out and does some calamitous or self-destructive act, only that person committing the act is responsible. How simple life would be if that were really true.

We are all responsible for how we conduct our lives. We are also responsible for how we effect other people, both positively and negatively. But it is easier to quantify our effect when it is on people we know or people who are in our immediate sphere of influence.

What about the people we don’t see? Those who, because of mass media, are so affected by what we say, that it prompts them to act in ways that we may or may not intend. What is our responsibility then? Just because they are not people who are in our immediate lives, does that mean we are less responsible for what they do if what we say so affects their behavior that it influences them to do things we may think inappropriate or bad?

I first asked this question a number of years ago when I saw the newscasts of an airplane that crashed off of Long Island. Newscasters of all channels kept playing the same scene over and over again day and night, ad nauseum. For me it was overkill. I knew all the important details, all the events related to the crash, all the investigations that were being conducted. But what about all those young kids who were watching TV, who were seeing the crash site replayed? How were they interpreting what they were seeing?

Children up to a certain age do not have the perceptual capacity to discriminate that one event continually repeated, is the same event. To them, seeing the same thing over and over again is like seeing a different event happen. Children were in fact being traumatized over and over again by one event, while thinking that each time they saw it, it was a different crash that was occurring.

Although the media industry at large claims that studies don’t definitively show that violence in TV or Movies causes acts of violence in real life, because, they claim it hasn’t been quantified according to the precise scientific method, they act as if they are “off the hook” until there is a study that proves undeniably that violence in the media affects behavior negatively.

What is the responsibility not only of the individual who promotes ideas that may adversely affect others, but who works for an organization that promotes ideas that have the same adverse effect? Is it the same level of responsibility as the individual writer, or is it different?

I offer no answers; I am just asking questions I think should be asked by anyone who has or may have some kind of influence on others that may or may not be in their immediate sphere of influence.

Earthly justice allows us a lot of leeway to do things that a higher justice may look upon quite differently. Each person has a responsibility to think and reason this issue on their own and find the best way to conduct themselves whether they believe in a higher justice or not.

To say that there is no higher justice is the same as saying we have no personal responsibility beyond what the courts say we have; we have no accountability in our actions beyond what the laws define and we can do pretty much what we want without any real consequences other than those defined by our laws. This is a totally irresponsible position and not worthy of an ethical society that claims civility. We must all look beyond our immediate circumstances and use ethical guidelines in conducting our behavior on each level. This is the responsibility of both a civilized society and the individual as we evolve.