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Respond-Sybil-Itty
by Luke Setzer

When I worked as a university intern with NASA in 1987, a fellow intern shared a humorous story from his high school days.  It seems a classmate of his faced detention for consistently arriving late to school.  The principal who issued the injunction demanded that this student not only stay after school, but that he also complete a page from top to bottom defining the word "responsibility."

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the key term responsible means "able to make moral or rational decisions on one's own and therefore [make oneself] answerable for one's behavior."  Meanwhile, responsibility means "the state, quality, or fact of being responsible."  However, the accused student had a different definition in mind.

The student complied with the principal's edict exactly as spoken.  He wrote his own definition of "responsibility" by filling the page from top to bottom.  He started from the top of the page and spelled the words vertically down the page to the bottom, where he then returned to the top for another vertical line of words.  His essay said, in effect:

I will here break the word responsibility into three basic pieces, each with its own meaning:
  • respond, which the principal asked me to do to his demand that I stay for detention;
  • Sybil, the name of that famous crazy lady with sixteen personalities -- very much like the girl with whom I must ride to school every day who always comes late and who ended up getting me into this trouble;
  • itty, the size of the whole offense in question, i.e. itty-bitty.
The boy got three days of suspension from school for being a "smart-aleck."

A substantial number of influencers like to spout the term "responsibility" in order to usurp power over both shiftless masses and productive individuals.  The word "responsibility" likely ranks as one of the most abused words in social and political language.  To counter that perversion, I will now use the aforementioned phonic breakdown that the so-called "smart-aleck" so amusingly originated earlier.

Political "leaders" tell us we have a "respond-Sybil-itty" to "The State" regardless of our personal thoughts on the issue.  John F. Kennedy's famous quote, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" sends cold chills of fear down my back every time I hear it.  Why did Kennedy not say, "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for yourself"?  Simply answered, any politician who advises self-responsibility undermines his own authority.  Since electoral politics tends to attract people who like to impose their way onto others, few politicians will likely feel inclined to make any statement to erode that power, even if it means lying to stay in power.  As Plato wrote in The Republic, "The rulers of the state are the only ones who should have the privilege of lying, either at home or abroad; they may be allowed to lie for the good of the state."  If you consider "equivocation of key terms" a form of lying, then certainly today's state leaders practice Plato's theory with great zeal.

Religious "leaders" tell us we have a "respond-Sybil-itty" to "God" and "The Church" without adequately justifying their claims.  The most fundamentalist of Christians fill minds young and old with confining notions of "Biblical inerrancy," and condemn with threats of eternal hellfire anyone who does not follow its often indecipherable code.  These powerful, emotionally charged ideas serve as useful mind-control tools for the most entrapping of religious cults, who can then advance their own definitions of "responsibility" in order to extract unearned money and service from their flocks.

Social "leaders" tell us we have a "respond-Sybil-itty" to "The Community" while undermining the value of self-responsibility.  The world-famous Rotary Club motto, "Service above Self," sums up this idea nicely, though disturbingly.  That organization, composed of business owners from all over the globe, advocates a core belief totally at odds with the business concept.  By definition, a business organizes resources designed to offer a product or service to a market with the intent of making a profit.  Adam Smith identified in The Wealth of Nations that self-interest serves as the "invisible hand" driving business people to make their ventures profitable.  Unbelievably, the Rotary Club promotes a maxim designed to disintegrate the very driving force of business.  Little difference exists between this philosophy and that of Karl Marx, who contended that the government should redistribute wealth "from each according to his ability to each according to his need."  Dedicated business people should dispense with this bogus motto altogether and replace it with the phrase "Service for Self," all without apology.

Language abuse serves as a powerful tool for master manipulators to gain unearned wealth and authority.  In many ways, words can serve as more potent weapons than guns and fists for obtaining otherwise inaccessible commodities.  The story of the "smart-aleck" high school student offers hope that some people can decipher at a young age the true meanings of words as used by certain "authorities."  Hopefully, articles like this one will not only entertain readers, but also help them to distinguish self-responsibility from social "respond-Sybil-itty."
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