There is a pervasive narrative that minorities in America have little or no chance of success. The system is rigged against them, everything is racist, and many doors are closed. However, people of all backgrounds do succeed, and they all have one secret superpower in common: They know the liberating power of personal responsibility.
Psychologists have studied the effect of belief systems on behavior for a long time, and they have found a strange pattern: People who do not believe in free will tend to behave less free. They give up more quickly and have less success because they won’t even try.
Child psychologists have found that children who were told that they could not succeed did worse than children who were told the opposite. In general, children who internalize futility tend to chain themselves inside a mental prison that has detrimental effects throughout their lives.
The process is analogous to what horse trainers do when they “break” horses. Horses start as wild and individualistic creatures and will resist any attempts to ride them. One traditional method of taming them is to give them a sense of futility, the notion that resistance is pointless. Once horses internalize their master, they are far easier to control.
Sticks v Carrots
Unfortunate souls are told they live in a mental prison with impenetrable walls of systemic racism and general inequality on all sides.
Psychologists teach us that behavior induced by only fear and negativity is unsustainable. It is far easier to achieve behavioral change through rewards and positivity. That is why the free market tends to work so well, and central planning fails. People work for personal gain in the free market, while in a command economy, people are often coerced to obey.
When Dr. Jordan Peterson arrived on the scene in 2017, the radical left immediately demonized him as a far-right extremist. Why would it be dangerous to teach young people to “clean their room”? Could it possibly be because he was effectively teaching people how to break out of their mental prisons?
Peterson rarely uses the stick in favor of the carrot. On the contrary, he empathizes with their hardships and teaches them that life is hard for everyone. However, he articulates the positive message that even if you live in an oppressive situation with walls on all sides, you are still the most influential power in your life.
You cannot change the world, but you have a significant influence in changing yourself. It may not seem like much, but improvements often stack. For example, if you can make positive changes that better your life by only 1% every week, your situation could improve dramatically in just a couple of years.
Personal responsibility is not primarily about being blamed or punished but being empowered and seizing control over one’s destiny. It’s not easy, but it is a lot less hard than many people think.
Conservatives could more effectively communicate the superpower of personal responsibility by focusing on its liberating effects.
Read more from Caroline Adana.
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