"Responsibilty' (excerpt) The Road Less Traveled

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We cannot solve life's problems except by solving them. This statement may seem idiotically tautological or self-evident, yet it is seemingly beyond the comprehension of much of the human race. This is because we must accept responsibility for a problem before we can solve it. We cannot solve a problem by saying "It's not my problem." We cannot solve a problem by hoping that someone else will solve it for us. I can solve a problem only when I say "This is my problem and it's up to me to solve it." But many, so many, seek to avoid the pain of their problems by saying to themselves: "This problem was caused me by other people, or by social circumstances beyond my control, and therefore it is up to other people or society to solve this problem for me. It is not really my personal problem."

The extent to which people will go psychologically to avoid assuming responsibility for personal problems, while always sad, is sometimes almost ludicrous. A career sergeant in the army, stationed in Okinawa and in serious trouble because of his excessive drinking, was referred for psychiatric evaluation and, if possible, assistance. He denied that he was an alcoholic, or even that his use of alcohol was a personal problem, saying, "There's nothing else to do in the evenings in Okinawa except drink."


"Do you like to read?" I asked.
"Oh yes, I like to read, sure."

"Then why don't you read in the evening instead of drink-ing?

"It's too noisy to read in the barracks."
"Well, then, why don't you go to the library?"
"The library is too far away."
"Is the library farther away than the bar you go to?"

"Well, I'm not much of a reader. That's not where my interests lie."

"Do you like to fish?" I then inquired.
"Sure, I love to fish."
"Why not go fishing instead of drinking?"
"Because I have to work all day long."
"Can't you go fishing at night?"
"No, there isn't any night fishing in Okinawa."

"But there is," I said. "I know several organizations that fish at night here. Would you like me to put you in touch with them?"

"Well, I really don't like to fish."

"What I hear you saying," I clarified, "is that there are other things to do in Okinawa except drink, but the thing you like to do most in Okinawa is drink."

"Yeah, I guess so."

"But your drinking is getting you in trouble, so you're faced with a real problem, aren't you?"

"This damn island would drive anyone to drink."
I kept trying for a while, but the sergeant was not the least bit interested in seeing his drinking as a personal problem which he could solve either with or without help, and I regretfully told his commander that he was not amenable to assistance. His drinking continued, and he was separated from the service in mid-career.
A young wife, also in Okinawa, cut her wrist lightly with a razor blade and was brought to the emergency room, where I saw her. I asked her why she had done this to herself.
"To kill myself, of course."
"Why do you want to kill yourself?"
"Because I can't stand it on this dumb island. You have to send me back to the States. I'm going to kill myself if I have to stay here any longer."
"What is it about living in Okinawa that's so painful for you?" I asked.
She began to cry in a whining sort of way. "I don't have any friends here, and I'm alone all the time."
"That's too bad. How come you haven't been able to make any friends?"
"Because I have to live in a stupid Okinawan housing area, and none of my neighbors speak English."
"Why don't you drive over to the American housing area or to the wives' club during the day so you can make some friends?"
"Because my husband has to drive the car to work."
"Can't you drive him to work, since you're alone and bored all day?" I asked.
"No. It's a stick-shift car, and I don't know how to drive a stick-shift car, only an automatic."
"Why don't you learn how to drive a stick-shift car?"
She glared at me. "On these roads? You must be crazy."

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