This is important and everyone needs to understand it. This doctor also presents it very clearly, rationally, scientifically, and well. Please take 15 minutes of you day to watch this presentation, and then consider the following:
It is vitally important that everyone understand the physiological changes caused by trauma (at any age, though this talk focuses on children). It is especially important for those who identify as rationals or libertarians or objectivists or any other consequence based advocate of personal responsibility and freedom of choice to understand that those abilities are physically limited and damaged by trauma, trauma that is almost always the fault and choice of another who was also damaged by trauma. Tracing back the ultimate fault to find out where in the chain of perpetrators the trauma began is nigh impossible. However, because this is verifiable scientifically, if you really believe in personal responsibility, then you have to start forcing people who damage other people to take it. This includes rapists, abusers, and yeah, police brutality. (By the way, the same tramua based physiological changes are often the root cause of police brutality. The job creates the very hypervigilance that keeps the fight or flight response at the forefront constantly. Another link here, longer research study.)
Everything is so much more complicated than “well, you made bad choices and now you have to take personal responsibility for them because you can’t expect others to fix your problems for you. Nobody owes you anything.”
Except we, as a society, owe these individuals a lot, because it is our social structures, social structures that we ourselves tacitly condone every day, that allows all of this trauma to go on unchecked and untreated. It is our conflation of mental illness with character defect that keeps us from looking at this and believing it and caring.
More and more mental illness is being linked to actual physiological changes and problems. You wouldn’t feel very good about telling a kid whose parents broke every single one of his limbs and gave him brain damage to take personal responsibility for his difficulties getting ahead in life. And yet we’re all perfectly ready to tell substance abusers and depressed or adhd people that they need to stop making excuses and take personal responsiblity for their choices.
We desperately need to change everything about this. We need to address childhood trauma and abuse with across the board, well funded, family education, rehabilitation, and support, including financial support like increasing the minimum wage to a living wage. Solving the pragmatic problems of poverty and the working poor has been shown, repeatedly, to decrease problems like abuse and substance dependence. So much so that helping families get basic needs met is the first stage of almost all evidence backed early intervention strategies. This, in turn, reduces the incidence of childhood abuse and increases childhood achievement across the board. It’s a multifaceted problem to which personal responsibility arguments might be the worst possible response.
Damaged people damage people. If your response to that is that it isn’t your problem and people need to be allowed to fail and take personal responsibility for their failures regardless of their circumstance, then you are very short sighted. Do you want to live in a world full of damaged people that could damage anyone, even innocent people who have made all the right choices? How do you take personal responsibility for being raped, and the damage that trauma does to your college or professional career? How do you take personal responsibility for police brutality or being a victim of a racist system that brands you a hardened criminal and sends you to prison for the same minor crimes white teens get a slap on the wrist for, things like smoking weed and shoplifting? How do you take personal responsibility for falling in love with a person who begins to abuse you? Maybe you made all the right choices in life, but damaged people can still damage you, and suddenly you may find yourself making a series of irrational and desperate choices because your new damage makes it impossible, physically, physiologically, impossible, to think clearly enough to make all the best choices.
Damaged people damage people. It is in the best interest of us all to prioritize cutting this off at the source, and it is everyone’s responsibility to contribute and care. Much like public schools and roads, making this an issue of public health will benefit us all just as much as any other public health issue we fund the CDC for. We can make progress on this just like we’ve made progress on other diseases that cause physiological damage.
But we cannot do it if people keep waving their hands and hiding behind “personal responsibility.” Increasingly I have come to believe that personal responsibility, which used to be an empowering way of realizing that we do have some control over the course of our lives, has instead become code for “not my problem.”
So let’s get real: The problems of others DO effect you. Your kids go to school with kids from poverty stricken homes or homes with abusive parents. You have a coworker who has difficult flaws related to childhood abuse and adult substance disorder. You have a friend that had to drop out of college or lost her job because she was raped and her reaction to that trauma made it impossible for her to succeed academically or professionally; she has never been quite right since then and requires a lot of support from her friends. At some point, the trauma of others will touch us all.
We have the power and ability to stop this. And since it effects you that makes it your problem, and since it’s your problem you can take personal responsibility for fixing it. If you choose not to, then you are merely perpetuating the problem, which makes you part of the problem, which means I get to judge you for not taking the personal responsibility you are so fond of judging others for not taking.
You don’t even have to do anything difficult like giving anyone money or advocating for political change. All you have to do is learn to see these problems as what they are: public health problems. An actual medical epidemic. Stop responding to them as character defects that people have control over. Nobody but the most disciplined of yogis can control the physiological reactions that have been honed by millions of years of evolution. It’s not reasonable to expect damaged people to know how to do that. It is reasonable to recognize this as a medical problem and address it as one. Once you have addressed this change of perspective in your own mind, you will find yourself better able to perceive the flaws in ways advocates of personal responsibility address (or totally fail to address) problems of poverty and abuse.
You owe it to yourself to choose the rational path. It’s your personal responsibility.