What is the value of responsibility and duty?

Today, I was moved by another one of David Brooks’ columns in the New York Times.

He explores the rarely discussed topic that he calls “institutional thinking”. He essentially asks us to consider if our modern obsession with all things individual has actually led to the erosion of some important human values.

He quotes baseball Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg in his acceptance speech in 2005, when he said:

“Respect. A lot of people say this honor validates my career, but I didn’t work hard for validation. I didn’t play the game right because I saw a reward at the end of the tunnel. I played it right because that’s what you’re supposed to do, play it right and with respect … . If this validates anything, it’s that guys who taught me the game … did what they were supposed to do, and I did what I was supposed to do.”

Where have we placed the concept of respect in our society? What do we respect in our culture? How difficult is it to teach responsibility and duty to children, when adults are being sent the consistent message that indulgence in individual pleasure and entertainment are the real end goals of childhood, and maybe even of life in general?

Brooks closes with a brief but thought-provoking observation that while we may mock institutions and the codes of respect that define them, the erosion of respect can lead not only to liberation but to self-destruction.

Institutions do all the things that are supposed to be bad. They impede personal exploration. They enforce conformity.

But they often save us from our weaknesses and give meaning to life.

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