Editor’s Note:  This article was written in September 2010  but its message continues to be relevant today…..

Today we walk a strange twisted path through the land of Chicken Little, Thomas Friedman, American education and politics…leading us to the land of personal responsibility.  Are you game?

Do You Remember Chicken Little?

Here’s the briefest telling of the children’s story – Chicken Little gets hit on the head by an acorn and proclaims the sky is falling.  He sets off to tell the King and along the way meets various other animals who buy into his tale of doom and gloom and join him on his trek.  Along the way they meet a sly fox who leads them to its den.  That’s the end of the story although we can all imagine what happened to Chicken Little and his friends.

Depending upon the variation of the story, its moral can be either we need to investigate things fully and not make assumptions, don’t believe everything you hear, beware of gossip and hysteria or something else along these lines.  After all, if Chicken Little and friends had stopped to use the power of rational thought they would have determined that one acorn falling does not equate to the sky is falling.

For some strange reason I was thinking of the story recently and thought maybe it’s also about taking responsibility.  Chicken Little allowed the events “out there” in life to drive what he thought was true.  His friends allowed the proclamation of Chicken Little to become their truth.  How would the story have changed it Chicken Little and friends had acknowledged these external events but then said “even if this is evidence the sky is falling, I can take responsibility for changing that outcome”?

We’re Number 11?

A few days ago Thomas Friedman wrote an op Ed piece in the New York Times where he talks about Newsweek magazine’s recent ranking of the United States as the 11th best country in the world.  He goes on to point at a column in the Washington Post which Friedman believes gives evidence as to why we might be number 11.  The Post article discusses why we have spent so much money on our educational system and have seemingly so little to show for it.  One reason they suggest (which is seldom listed by politicians and educational leaders) has to do with the lack of student motivation.  The point is we can spend all kinds of effort on the educational system but if parents have not instilled in their children a desire to learn it’s not going to make much difference.

My wife’s a schoolteacher – middle school, bless her heart.  She cares deeply about the education of “her kids”.  To hear her talk about her kids, you know she cares about each and every one.  She works very hard and does a good job, but she and her fellow teachers have their frustrations.  A room full of attentive children eager to learn can be sidetracked by a small minority of children eager to disrupt.  Listening to her stories of how she and the school try to deal with these situations brings home for me the point that the responsibility for a good education lies not only with the schools and teachers but also with the parents and students.

Friedman goes on to see this lack of personal responsibility in our educational system as being a microcosm of a larger issue impacting the country’s current recession.  He says we have had a values breakdown, “a national epidemic of get-rich-quickism and something-for-nothingism”.  Friedman points out that the “Greatest Generation” who fought World War II were not afraid of sacrifice for the greater good but our current baby boomer generation does not share that value.  Hence, our leaders are fearful of asking us to sacrifice in any way – they tell us and we believe that we can have both tax cuts and increased government spending!  Our political debates spend more time seeking blame than focusing on realistic solutions as they might call for us to defer something we want now.  Friedman offers that other countries are passing over America not only because of cheap labor, free markets, technological advances and other external things but because they have maintained internal values that are focused on the future and not simply short-term gratification.  In other words, they are taking responsibility.

Taking Personal Responsibility

We are all Chicken Little and his friends.  Acorns are falling all around us.  Science says that global warming is taking us to an uninhabitable planet if we don’t take action.  The population of the planet continues to rise.  The world continues to be stuck in a recession.  America’s educational system continues to have problems.  Our politicians continue to argue rather than seek trans-partisan solutions.  Our media frequently seeks to divide us on issues rather than focus on our common bonds. Americans appear to be afraid of personal sacrifice now for the greater good later.  Newsweek says America is number 11.

What are we going to do?  If we follow Chicken Little’s example, then we proclaim “the sky is falling” and proceed to tell anyone who will listen about it.  If we follow Chicken Little’s friends’ example, then we will buy into all the proclamations that the sky is falling.  And, we all know what happened to Chicken Little and his friends.

There is another way.  It starts by our acknowledging that these acorns exist.  Yes, we have some challenges facing us but the sky doesn’t have to fall.  Yes, we have some opportunities to take responsibility and rewrite our story.

Can we envision a happy ending?  What would that happy ending look like?  For me, a happy ending is always a new beginning.  I can imagine a world where we solve global warming, create a sustainable population level, create economic conditions that provide for all, enhance our educational system, our politicians work together, our media seeks to unite us, and we all embody personal values that are focused on the greatest good for all over personal self-interest.  America is number one!  Earth is number one!

How do we move to our happy ending – new beginning?  It begins with each one of us.  Just like Chicken Little and his friends, each of us must choose our response to the acorns in our lives.  Whether they are real or imagined, we can turn away from seeing them as evidence of an inescapable negative future.  Rather, we can see them as reminders that there is a better path we can choose.

We can refrain from joining the chorus of naysayers.  We can create our own chorus singing our own song of a positive future.  We don’t look for someone to blame for the acorn.  We don’t look for others to “keep the sky from falling” on us.  Rather each one of us takes responsibility for our own corner of the sky.

Let’s help Chicken Little rewrite the story.

Mark Gilbert

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Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!