One metaphor I have often used to delineate the stark difference between conservative world view and progressive thought is the freeway analogy. In it one compares conservatives and progressives with drivers on a freeway. Conservatives champion individual responsibility and this is a good thing , make no mistake about it. But a world full of people practicing individual responsibility implies that responsibility is tied to individual self-interest. Humans naturally feel responsible for taking care of themselves and a focus on individual responsibility is only as valuable as the individual’s interests allow.
If someone’s self-interest goals are to make lots of money they will take the responsibility upon themselves to make that happen. If a person’s goals are to assure his family is safe their responsibility may take the form of buying a gun and learning how to use it. This, in and of itself is not a bad thing. It is when individual’s needs intersect with other’s needs that volatile situations can be created when self-interest goals clash.
It is for this reason that I have always felt that the progressive value of mutual responsibility is a more evolved form of commitment than simple individual responsibility. In mutual responsibility the individual tempers his own self-interest by considering the needs of others as well. They not only take responsibility for caring for their own family but recognizes that the needs of others also have value. After all they would hope that those others would be cognizant of their needs.
Most religions and great cultures have in their creed some form of the Golden Rule. We teach it to our kids and expect that society will run smoothly largely because of it. But a philosophy of individual responsibility can circumvent the Golden Rule in certain instances by narrowing ones focus onto their own interests and ignoring others. This is often not by choice but evolves out of the nature of single-mindedness that is essential to achieving goals. In order for society to function properly there must be some give and take between people with conflicting goals. Individual responsibility can exacerbate this conflict while mutual responsibility can temper it.
The freeway analogy is simple. While driving on a busy rush hour freeway who would one wish to be driving the other cars, persons practicing individual responsibility or ones using mutual responsibility? If you think about it for a minute those practicing individual responsibility might be thinking, “I have to get home as fast as possible because I was late getting out of the office and I have to take Tommy to soccer practice”. They may dart in and out of traffic, dangerously, in an effort to shave several seconds of their commute time. They may be hungry and eating a sandwich. They may have a big client on their cell phone. In each instance these people are doing normal things but they are self driven. They make no considerations for other drivers and therefore become dangers to everyone on the road.
The driver surrounded by people practicing mutual responsibility is aware that they also have things to do for themselves but they recognize that erratic driving is dangerous to others. They resign themselves to the fact that Tommy might have to be late for practice. This use of mutual responsibility principles also works to make the individual safer on the freeway. Tommy will never get to practice if dad is in an accident on the freeway. So we see that mutual responsibility serves individual responsibility too, just not always in the way the individual imagines it will. This also models the basic Christian principle that God’s plan for us is greater than any plan we can come up with.
The next time you are on a busy freeway try to model mutually responsible behavior. Remember the old slogan, “Drive carefully, the life you save may be your own”. And remember that when you do you are living out a progressive value.