Personal Responsibility: It’s a Class-y Situation

Personal Responsibility: It’s a Class-y Situation


In my last year of middle school and the few years of high school, I attended private preparatory school in Santa Barbara. My high school was like the Ivy League of high schools—every student was rich and privileged, which was exciting for me. Everyone seemed to have a story of how they were wealthy or famous and thus how they were qualified to be there. I did not have such a story, but I held my own by having top grades, being on varsity sports teams, and being in all the theatre productions. At school, I was at the very least equal to all my other classmates regardless of their impressive background. My home life was a different story. It wasn’t apparent at the time, but as each high school year went by, my parents’ financial situation deteriorated and eventually the assumption that everything would be provided for me until I finished college – the assumption that is a birth right to my former classmates – started to fall through.

With my whiplashing realization that I would have to take care of myself, a quote truly resonates with me: “One often hears about the need for individuals to take responsibility for their own lives. However, the conditions in which people find themselves have been largely established long before people become aware of them. Thus, the concept of personal responsibility is much more complicated and unrealistic than is often assumed.” Basically, I believe a person’s predetermined condition is a result of the socioeconomic class that they are born into and that affects a person’s level of personal responsibility. The education system may successfully blur these lines for a time, but learned behaviors from the family overcome any other factors that predetermine a person’s level of personal responsibility. In other words, blood is thicker than water.

Socioeconomic class may be the most visible factor to society in predetermining a person’s level of personal responsibility. Take a low socioeconomic status in comparison to a high socioeconomic class. With so little money, what can one possibly be responsible for? With so little money, how can one transport oneself to work or school to better their future? This is why so many gangs manifest. Without the hope of being able to transcend class, there’s no need for virtually any personal responsibility.

Then again, compared to those in the upper class, the lower class could be considered more personally responsible. It is a common belief that those in the upper class are personally responsible. This is a misapprehension since they have always had the groundwork laid out for them. Yes, they have obtained or are working on their upper education and are financially stable, but most barriers are nonexistent due to wealthy parents and network connections. Their privilege makes them unaccountable. Therefore, those in the upper class who would be labeled personally responsible are, in fact, not.

Even though there are indefinite differences in the socioeconomic classes and their relationship to personal responsibility, they seem to all go away in the classroom. The classroom environment allows for a space in which all students have the same goal and are given the same instruction to reach that goal. Aspirations of careers are nurtured in this environment, and everyone feels like they can do anything with their lives. This all adds to the illusion that no matter your background, you are capable of the same thing, which is anything. Because of this, there is no acknowledgement of “the real world.” The real world is where one actually needs to be responsible, and if schools keep their students ignorant of the varying factors that contribute to personal responsibility, then the whole country is breeding unprepared citizens.

It is understandable why schools do not acknowledge this idea and its involvement in the real world. I am personally grateful to have had an ignorant four years in high school. However, it is an important point that our level of personal responsibility comes primarily from our parents, and it shouldn’t be the responsibility of schools to teach future generations how to be responsible. We learn many of our behaviors from our parents, and those behaviors will help shape how disciplined we are especially when it comes to personal responsibility. Our parents may tell you not to depend on anyone, but what are they doing themselves? Those behaviors are more likely to be absorbed by children.

In sum, the message can be sent to someone to be responsible, but there are more powerful forces at work that predetermine a person’s level of personal responsibility including social class and learned behaviors, but those factors are still not definite. The idea is not black and white. Every case is unique and complex. Ultimately, it is an unattainable goal to expect every person in the world to have personal responsibility when it isn’t even addressed until adulthood. Because of this, I think that no one should be expected to be personally responsible, but I do know how unrealistic this notion is to be applied to society as it would probably bring about the end of times.

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