On personal accountability and responsibility…

So I’m sitting back in a dentist’s chair, while a good-natured and well-meaning dental hygienist scrapes at my teeth with an assortment of sharp and pointed instruments that send brilliant explosions of painful irritation up my spine through the neural network that was created to instinctively warn me of immediate danger.

As each interminable minute passes, I begin to gradually despise the woman. Internally a great stream of cursing invective rages behind my calm facial expression. Though my mouth remains quite open throughout, I respond to her inquiries with only one-word or brief responses.

“So, do you floss regularly?” she asks, though I suspect the answer is all too apparent to her.

“Yes,” I respond, defining “regularly” as “every time I remember to” or “whenever I eat something that gets stuck in my teeth.”

Of course, if she defines “regularly” as daily (which is how the American Dental Association defines it), then no… I most certainly do not floss regularly.

While I take my oral hygiene seriously enough to brush my teeth every morning and evening, I admit my flossing is woefully inadequate.

However, I begin to realize just how inadequate when the smiling dental technician begins methodically scraping and gouging my enamel with a cruel but effective precision.

Even as my annoyance with this process has reached its zenith (and I have fully resolved to remove my dentist from my Christmas card list), this more puerile side of my conscience is suddenly shoved aside. It seems my sleeping “Reason” and his good friend “Self-Responsibility” have had enough with this inner monologue of petulance and blame-exchanging.

You see, I know full well who’s responsible for the tartar hidden within the deep recesses in the far corners of my mouth… and it’s not the nice lady saddled with the burden of trying to salvage the mess I’ve made of my mouth in the many months since my last professional cleaning.

One of the biggest problems I observe with many of my peers is a certainly obnoxious tendency to shift the blame for the various burdens we encounter. Not only those of my generation, but our forebears and descendants. Verily, it is an all too human trait that spans time and place.

We love to ascribe the fault for the things we suffer to others… to pretend that we are hapless victims of a fickle and universe that is indifferent to our actions, that we are each left wholly vulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and made to exist far removed from the direct consequence of our own actions. However, this is simply not the case. This is only a warm blanket in a tempest, easily rent asunder.

Our lives are the sum substance of action and consequence, both for good as for ill.

The neglect and irresponsibility demonstrated with regard to my own oral hygiene precipitated a rather unpleasant visit to the dentist yesterday. The hard barnacles of tartar and plaque that were scraped away were not brought about by anyone other than myself.

Rather than blame the specialist who spent the better part of an hour having to mend the damage I’ve caused, I should blame the lazy rascal who flosses only every other fortnight.

It was a painful lesson and, unfortunately, one I’ve had to learn over and over again… moreover, I fear this will not be the last such lesson


About Matthew

Backwoods philosopher, itinerant journalist, and poet laureate of the pine curtain... my old writings can be found at A Place to Stand, but if you look for me again, I can be found under your boot-soles.
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