President’s Message: Finding the power and purpose of personal responsibility

It’s a simple idea, really. One we express a number of different ways: “Pull yourself up by the bootstraps.” “Take your medicine.” “Own up to it.”

The concept of responsibility also gets entangled in much of our cultural mythos. Images like the rugged individualist, the Western cowboy and even old Uncle Sam all have at their core a healthy dose of this notion we call personal responsibility.

It often seems, though, that the idea of taking responsibility for our choices or actions has an air of punishment about it. And, it can be scary to take responsibility for decisions that didn’t have the outcome we’d hoped. In those situations, avoiding responsibility provides an easy escape: “It’s his fault.” “She just had it out for me.” “The devil made me do it.”

As momentarily comforting as it can be to have someone or something else to blame for our problems, it’s also very sad, because constantly avoiding responsibility for our choices, our very lives, keeps us focused on our problems — looking down, assuming an attitude of failure and complete lack of control.

Taking ownership of our past, present and future, on the other hand, can be a very empowering thing!

Responsibility is an important facet of everyone’s daily life, one that helps spur boys and girls, men and women on to journeys of personal growth and something that prepares us to take on new adventures. This points to an important distinction: We can — and rightfully should — be accountable only for whatever is truly within our control.

Many children come to Boys Ranch feeling somehow that they are to blame for the impact upon their lives of hurtful choices made by others. Let me be clear: They aren’t — ever.

What they can be responsible for, though, is how they choose to respond to the actions or circumstances visited upon them.

A child who grew up around drugs may choose to spend his life helping others overcome addiction — so another child might never know the pain he endured. A child who chose mischief or crime might grow up to share the hope of the gospel, giving hope to those mired in the same darkness she once saw in the mirror. Or, the abused child may spend his adulthood counseling families in more positive, healthy ways to react to conflict and stress.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard a young man or woman who grew up at Boys Ranch come back and share of the freedom and confidence they gained from turning past pain into present purpose.

One prominent alumnus once put it this way: “Turn your pain into your power,” he said, reminding a group of our youth about the scourging and mockery Christ endured before overcoming death. “Never be ashamed of your scars — because Jesus wasn’t ashamed of His.”

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