Moral Obligations in Society

A dear friend and I were having an interesting discussion today about personal accountability, excuse making and societal responsibilities. She and I share a common idea that most people making excuses about their lives do have the wherewithal to make a better choice for themselves and take responsibility for their health, finances, personal relationships, etc. I believe we agree there are some who, through the mistreatment of others, have a more difficult time making positive life changes but even then they should make the changes they are able in order to improve their life.

I made a comment like, "As a libertarian, if people want to piss away their life then that is their right to do so, but I object when their life choices begin to become a burden to others."

My friend disagreed with this, stating that people must do more with their lives than piss them away (these were our literal work choices) and that we have a moral obligation to the world to do more than just be a leech.

I agreed that we do have a moral obligation but that I don't believe we can really legislate morality. Those who try (prime example being the prohibition) usually results in an increase in underhanded behavior to achieve a personal end. Murder and theft, of course, are moral laws but they are also laws that protect the rights of others. The only laws I am in favor of are those that protect the rights of others.

But it left me thinking then, as people and as leaders, what do we do to rouse people to want to do better and more? How do we convince people to be contributors?

I take taxation as a model here. Some people feel we must be taxed in order to provide a safety net for those who are less fortunate. However you choose to view that, it cannot be viewed as charitability. Charity comes from the heart. You can take my money by law and give it to someone in need (and I argue that the government does the worst possible job of allocating resources so why would we ever trust them?), but that does not make me charitable. It makes me law abiding at best.

However, I also donate an average of 15% of my income to charity - namely because I don't trust the government to use what they take from my taxes to wisely and appropriately help those in need. I do this because I believe as stewards of this earth and children of God we are compelled by His love, and not by law or duty, to take care of other people and His creation. I give joyfully, and without a single hesitation about it, because I am so richly blessed with freedom and a way to make a living that I want to help others. And as what I believe counts as spiritual law put into action, the more I give the more blessed I seem to be.

But if my neighbor is a miser and never wants to give or help, what can I do? I oppose legislating this person to give, to help, to donate time or money or other resources to a cause to better the world. I can live my example day to day and he can choose to ignore it even still.

This is where I believe the power of leadership is most important. We need it in organizations, but we need it in our communities, our cities, in our extracurricular groups and in our nation. We need people with vision that inspire us to donate our time, help others, give generously and express kindness.

And I was about to state we don't have enough of this, but I realize I have had tons of positive influences in my life. My parents were both leaders to me at a young age. My dad was an extremely generous giver to charity, and my mom is as well as well as a volunteer of her time. My sister is a regular volunteer for several charities, and both my sisters sponsor children in poverty through Compassion International.

I have had teachers, pastors, and friends who inspire me every single day. There is one woman in my life who I happened to meet through my sister who, with her husband, has actually started her own nonprofit to help the homeless in Fort Worth and is an absolute role model as an individual who uses what she has to make a major positive impact on the world. When I think sometimes that "people are the worst" in terms of their behavior, if I think of her I realize how much hope there is in humanity.

And that is what we need. Because I will never believe we can legislate "goodness" or force morality. But I can point my finger at myself and say, "What am I doing? What can I do better? Where can I do more? And is what I am doing inspiring others to do more and better?"