There is a massive political, social, and psychological trend going on these days with regard to accountability. It sounds like this, “I’m not responsible for the choices others make, or what happens to them, because of what I do.” It also sounds a bit like this, “I do this for myself. If others suffer, or if others can’t control their reactions, that’s not my fault.” The variations of this statement are endless. I can’t list them all. But, the general underlying doctrine is, “I’m not responsible for the thoughts, feelings, and decisions others make.”
Is this true? Yes, in a manner of speaking. But it also contains an unwritten, implied lie. It omits saying who we are responsible for…and that’s us.
The Hidden Lie
God has been very clear about accountability. If we are basically rational and sane, we are responsible for our own thoughts, words, and deeds (Moroni 8:10; Helaman 14:30). We are responsible for our own desires, and the actions we take that our desires inspire (Doctrine and Covenants 137:9).
So, “I’m not responsible for what other people do,” is a nicely crafted phrase that carefully hides a sneaky lie. It is, as near as I can tell, a half-truth. Sure, we cannot control others. We can threaten and try to bribe or torture people to do what we want them to do. But, ultimately, the choice is theirs. They can choose to comply with our desires or hold to their own with dignity and self-sacrifice. It is their choice. If they didn’t have a choice, we wouldn’t try to manipulate them.
However, the lie in this statement is that it gives the impression that we are not responsible for anything. Or that our choices only matter inasmuch as we can control others. That if someone can prove that our actions made someone else sin, then that is the measure of whether or not it matters at all. This (which you can see by simply reading it) is irrefutably not the case.
So, what are we responsible for? Ourselves.
I would like to reword the full measure of what the initial phrase actually should say in order to be completely true and accurate. Because it is in what is omitted that the false doctrine breeds from. It should say, “I’m not responsible for the thoughts, feelings, and decisions others make, but I am responsible for the purposeful, deliberate action I take to ignore their thoughts, feelings, and potential decisions.”
Sure, we can’t control the thoughts of others. We can’t make a person have sinful thoughts. But, we can purposefully and knowingly influence them. We can talk about certain things, dress in certain ways, and act in certain ways as a selfish, prideful challenge, “I dare you not to have sinful thoughts or desires based upon what I’m doing.” “I dare you to blame me for your bad thoughts and actions.” “I want you to think a certain way about me, let’s see how long you can withstand me.” “I dare you to blame me for your poor financial circumstances…” and on and on.
What kind of person does that make us if it is our goal to say what we want to say, do what we want to do, and wear what we want to wear determined not to care in the slightest bit how it impacts others? What kind of Christian does that make us?
Sure, we can’t make people overeat. But, what kind of person would we be if we stood outside a diet, or weight loss clinic, with a trolley tray full of donuts, sweets, and fried foods and we held it up tantalizingly as people, trying very hard to lose weight, walked by? What kind of person are we if our mindset is, “I dare the management to come out and shoo me away. This is my livelihood and if I choose to take advantage of these people’s struggle with food to support my family…how can they blame me for wanting to take care of my family?”
What kind of business are we if we purvey products and services meant to make money off the potential, or actual, addict? We may not be responsible if they choose to buy, or consume our services. But we are responsible for being weak individuals with insufficient integrity that we use their weaknesses to raise ourselves up. What we are saying is, “I know this is bad for you but I need to make money to live and support my family and I can only doing it by working for a business (or owning a business) that extorts your weaknesses.”
Yet another lie? Yes, it’s the word “only.” There is never only one way for us to do something. Satan has done a very good job of making many people believe that integrity is idealistic and non-rewarding; and that extorting others for our own benefits is noble, or minimally necessary at times and thus acceptable. Which, as hard as it is to swallow, is untrue.
God has promised peace and blessings based upon keeping His commandments with integrity. To bypass the Christlike traits of selflessness, of faith, of self-sacrifice, and of integrity with the excuse that, “The only way I can survive—or get what I need emotionally, psychologically, physically, or materially—is to abandon these traits and extort others,” is a sad, wicked, thing.
If we will embrace these Christlike traits above our own selfish needs and designs God will bless us. He is bound to do so (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10). And, I challenge anyone who believes otherwise to commit to living these Christlike traits—sincerely and genuinely—and thereafter testify that God didn’t bless them for so doing. God will bless them. They will know it. And they will know that God knows it, and that to say otherwise would be extremely unwise (Joseph Smith History 1:25).
What kind of Christian are we if we put our own image before Christ’s image in our lives? What kind of Christian are we if we say or do things to satisfy our own weaknesses and issues at the expense of others? Have we taken the name of Christ upon us, or haven’t we? Have we covenanted to bring others to Christ, to “feed His sheep,” or haven’t we?
We are Responsible for Us
We cannot control others. But we can put stumbling blocks in their path—on purpose. And, that, my dear friends, is what we are responsible for. We are responsible for us.
Balaam was a very famous prophet, of sorts, in the Old Testament. He was hired by the King of Moab to curse the Israelites (who were going through the promised land—on God’s orders—conquering and destroying everyone). Balaam was offered so much money and honor from the King of Moab, that though in the end he refused to curse them publically. He covertly, on the side, told the King of Moab that if he would get the Israelites to sin, they would eventually be undone. Balaam, despite all his goodness, was eventually “bought.” And, the Israelites did indeed have a few struggles because of Balaam’s expertly placed stumbling block. But, they did repent and conquered Moab, and Balaam died in the struggle. So, in the end, Balaam didn’t succeed in doing anything to Israel, nor was he accountable that they chose to sin. He certainly slowed them down a bit. However, he did succeed in losing his own integrity and his own salvation (Jude 1:11; Revelation 2:14). And, his good works (a lifetime of them) were all overshadowed by his final choice to purposefully place a stumbling block in front of Israel in exchange for worldly honor and compensation. That final, selfish decision undid all his others and defined his long-lived negative reputation. He attempted to get what he wanted by hurting others and ended up only hurting (long-term and eternally) himself.
Throwing Others Under the Bus
We all run around these days yelling in so many ways and in so many different versions, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9) And you know who said that common phrase? Cain. A person (sadly the first of many) who was able to slay his own brother for personal gain. He killed his brother to get his possessions and to prove that he didn’t have to do things God’s way. And, what, we want to be like Cain? We want to offer up our version of what God asks because Satan asks us to do it that way?
This sounds quite harsh. But there is no gray area here. Either we serve God or we serve Satan. When we become selfish and entitled and believe we are serving ourselves, we are actually serving Satan. Satan was the master of selfish action. Satan threw us all “under the bus” by pitching the idea that we didn’t need free will (Moses 4:1-4). Taking way our free will would take away our ability to choose to become godly. Taking away our free will would ensure that he, Satan, could rule and have all the power. If none of us could choose to become like God, then no one but Satan could have that power. Or, at least that was his plan and idea. A plan which God, who desires to share His power with all of us, would never condone.
For his selfishness, Satan lost any chance he ever had to have the power he wanted. And, likewise, as we extort others for selfish reasons, as we place stumbling blocks in exchange for perceived attention, glory, power, money, self-satisfaction, image, independence, etc., we too will find that we end up with far less of what we want. We will find that others, who act in consideration of their fellow men, always end up with the confidence, power, peace, and joy that seems to forever escape us no matter what worldly heights we reach. Wickedness never was [permanent or lasting] happiness (Alma 41:10).
The Cain Effect
It’s all over social media, the news, TV shows, etc. People emotionally, psychologically, and materially “slaying” their fellow man for their own gain (of whatever sort it may be). They bribe, extort, manipulate, abuse, threaten, and secretly act in ways that they feel establish their identity, make them feel good about who they are, get them the attention or popularity they want, etc. all at the expense of others. Little do they know the philosophy they have adopted is the “gospel of Cain,” or the “gospel of Balaam.” Neither of which are examples that, if they read the story and understood it, they’d want to follow.
I like to call it the “Cain Effect.” Cain thought he was a great mastermind. He thought it some great secret to extort (even to murder) another in order to “get gain.” But, it never was and it never has been a great secret. Gangs, secret combinations (i.e. groups that bribe, extort, threaten, and manipulate to gain or maintain power of many sorts), political factions, false religions, and conspiring men use the same secret. It is all based on the idea of turning others into a means to end—to “get gain.” And it is done so slyly that it often is made to look noble and acceptable, or indeed even an “only way” to get what we want.
I Would Be My Brother’s Keeper
There is an LDS hymn that talks a little bit about the true doctrine of accountability for our fellow men. It’s not about being responsible for others choices. It’s about being responsible for us. It’s about following Christ. It’s about loving God and in consequence of that love, loving our fellow men. It’s about selflessly considering others the way Christ selflessly gave His life for us. It’s about denying ourselves some of the things we think we want and need that we might love God, and follow His example in loving our fellow men.
Lord, I Would Follow Thee
Savior, may I learn to love Thee, walk the path that Thou hast shown
Pause to help and lift another, finding strength beyond my own
Savior, may I learn to love Thee. Lord, I would follow Thee.
Who am I to judge another, when I walk imperfectly?
In the quiet heart is hidden, sorrow that the eye can’t see.
Who am I to judge another? Lord, I would follow Thee.
I would be my brother’s keeper; I would learn the healer’s art
To the wounded and the weary I would show a gentle heart.
I would be my brother’s keeper. Lord, I would follow Thee.
Savior, may I love my brother, as I know Thou lovest me
Find in Thee my strength, my beacon, for Thy servant I would be
Savior, may I love my brother. Lord, I would follow Thee.
My challenge to anyone who reads this blog post is to examine your lives. Is the Cain Effect present anywhere in your life? Has the false doctrine of Balaam seeped in somewhere? Is there anywhere in your actions where you selfishly “throw others under the bus” so that you can get what you want with some perceived noble intention? Do you engender selfishness and entitlement in areas that cause you to extort, manipulate, or objectify your fellow man? Are you feeding God’s lambs as He has asked, or are you maiming them so that there’s no competition for your personal ambitions?
We are our brother’s keeper. We do not ever hold accountability, ultimately, for what others choose. But we are responsible for us. For what we do and why we do it. And God has commanded us to “keep” and “care for” our fellow men, and to “love one another as He has loved us.” Our heart, our intent, our actions…we are responsible for those things, and for who we become as a result of them.