By Don C. Brunell
If the Hollywood writers strike continues, maybe the television networks will get around to airing “Leave it to Beaver” re-runs. It would give us a good refresher in taking responsibility for our actions.
For those too young to remember the 1960s show, Beaver Cleaver was an elementary school student who had a knack for getting into one scrape after another. His angelic freckled face, baseball cap and muddy shirt made him the typical all-American kid growing up in the ’50s.
Beaver was an average student who hung out with some fast friends who could goad him into doing almost anything to remain part of the club. The counter balance in Beaver’s life was his older brother, Wally, and parents June and Ward Cleaver.
For example, if he knocked a baseball through the neighbor’s window, they didn’t accept the excuse that the house and window moved into the ball’s landing zone. The consequences for playing ball where Beaver and his gang weren’t supposed to was digging into his piggy bank and paying to replace the broken glass, even if his friends didn’t chip in.
If he came home from school with a note from the teacher reprimanding him for not doing his homework, his father marched him back to school to face the teacher and turn in his assignment plus any extra work as a consequence. No “dog ate my homework excuse” got past Ward Cleaver.
If Beaver flunked a test, June didn’t blame the teacher or the test. She or Wally sat with him until he learned his subjects. What was most important to the Cleavers was that Beaver learn the information and skills he’d need to succeed as an adult.
I often wonder how all the controversy over the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning) would play in the Cleaver household today. I bet they wouldn’t want the Legislature to delay implementation of the WASL, they’d make sure Beaver and Wally passed the tests.
That’s the way it was around our household. Testing was a precursor to what we would face in life, and my parents made sure we knew our stuff, even if it meant staying home all weekend to drill it into our heads. And if they didn’t know how to teach us, they’d find an aunt, uncle, cousin, neighbor or friend to help.
I realize this family sitcom was filmed in the early days of network programming; in the days when kids sat with their families in living rooms watching the black and white television. However, the messages sent then are even more valuable today: Take responsibility for your actions no matter how difficult the consequences are.
Today, families are different. Parents are busier with activities outside the home, and they compete with video games for children’s attention. When the Cleavers and Ozzie and Harriet Nelson raised their two boys before millions of viewers, there were no reset buttons on the Play Station to clear away miscues. Now, there is less parenting around the dinner table or in the living room so many of the life’s important lessons are lost.
So when you hear adults trying to split hairs over their bad behavior, it is their way of saying, “I don’t take responsibility for my actions even if I deceive my family, friends and others. Who cares as long as I get off the hook?”
When you see people suing everyone and their neighbor for actions they were either partly or totally responsible for, it is their way of saying, “I don’t take responsibility for my actions, and I can actually make a buck off someone else richer than me.”
Or, when you hear students and parents blaming teachers for failing in school or making excuses for being disruptive, it is their way of saying, “I don’t take responsibility for my actions, and, as long as I can get away with it, it is okay and to heck with everyone else.”
Some might say that today’s world is too different and too complicated for the simple principles of the Cleaver household. Not true. However complicated or fast-paced a society may be, principles of hard work, honesty and responsibility always apply. In fact, those principles are more important now than ever.
• Don C. Brunell is the president of the Association of Washington Business.