A Reevaluation of Social Responsibility

There are many facets to social responsibility, and it appears to me that many people confuse the social aspects and the responsibility aspects. Merely advocating for social programs without applying a sense of responsibility is dangerous to society however well-intentioned the program might be. After reading other’s thoughts on social responsibility, I find that my views have not changed much, if at all.

American society is guided by rights and responsibilities as enumerated in the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights with the Declaration of independence setting the foundation. As we approach domestic national policies, we should always refer to these documents to guide our actions. In addition, when thinking or acting globally, we should also consider the rights and responsibilities that we enjoy as American citizens and apply them graciously to those abroad.

Domestically, race relations seems to be a continual problem (Banton, 2002). If the approach to this problem simply referred to the founding documents, we would not have furthered the social inequalities by introducing civil rights and affirmative action:

  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967;
  • Air Carriers Access Act of 1989;
  • Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990;
  • Architectural Barriers Act of 1968;
  • Civil Rights Act of 1866;
  • Civil Rights Act of 1964;
  • Civil Rights Act of 1991;
  • Equal Pay Act of 1963;
  • Exec. Order No. 11246, 1965;
  • Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988;
  • Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

It has been argued, according to Fullinwider (1980), that adoption of affirmative action through the legislation of civil rights creates reverse discrimination, or a propensity to overcompensate discriminating against one subset of people by discriminating against another – usually the subset that was perceived to have benefit from the original discrimination. I do admit that the legislation, the public opinion and practices, and the judicial review do not aim to promote inequalities, but as a mere accident, they do. The solution should have been very simple: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 1776). By incorporating the virtues that this country was founded upon, there is only one reasonable and responsible expectation of the people within society, and that is to treat all people with respect and dignity. This is my view of how to be socially responsible. Walters (2002) echoes my position and writes:

What is personal social responsibility? Someone who is socially responsible, more often than not, recognizes that his behavior affects others, and holds himself accountable for his actions. The opposite may be someone who automatically blames an external source for his or her troubles, or whose behavior might consistently be perceived by others to be inconsiderate or rude. In a best-case scenario, a socially responsible person endeavors to have a positive effect on others, and enriches her environs. Such a person has the intention and takes action to ensure that his or her behavior makes a positive contribution, or at least is neutral and doesn’t “pollute” others or the social (or actual) atmosphere. (para. 2)

Additionally, there has been much discussion about our society’s role on the global level. What responsibilities do Americans have towards their global partners? No matter if we are discussing local issues, statewide or national issues, or international issues, my response remains the same: so long as you do not infringe on the rights of others, do as you will. This concept is what I believe to be the only logical conclusion when considering the sum of American societal values and responsibilities.

As mentioned, social responsibility can describe both active or passive roles. Civic engagement, on the other hand, is simply being socially active, though not necessarily responsible. Civic engagement, according to Michael Carpini (2010) of the Pew Charitable Trusts, is defined as “individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern” (para. 2). These actions, typically honorable and ethical, may cause what I refer to as collateral damage. A good example of this is going green. Many of us appreciate the planet and want no harm to come to our environment, so some have advocated outlawing the use of Edison-type incandescent light bulbs, favoring compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). In fact, as of 2014, all incandescent light bulbs will be outlawed in the United States (Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007). According to the EnergyStar website (“LightBulbs,” n.d.):

If every American home replaced just one light with a light that’s earned the ENERGY STAR[, or compact fluorescent light bulb], we would save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year, save about $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year, equivalent to those from about 800,000 cars. (para. 1)

Sounds great, but what of the mercury? CFLs rely on a mercury vapor (in addition to argon) within the fluorescent tube, so if the bulb were to break, which they often do, mercury would leak into our environment. Mercury is not poisonous, right? Wrong! The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (2001) recommends an 8-hour time-weighted limit of exposure maximum of 0.025 mg/m3 (or, 25,000 ng/m3). According to a study by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (2008):

Mercury concentration in the study room air often exceeds the Maine Ambient Air Guideline (MAAG) of 300 nanograms per cubic meter (ng/m3) for some period of time, with short excursions over 25,000 ng/m3, sometimes over 50,000 ng/m3, and possibly over 100,000 ng/m3 from the breakage of a single compact fluorescent lamp. (p. 7)

Many lighting fixtures, including chandeliers, can hold three, four, or more of these bulbs at a time, multiplying the mercury vapor concentration for each bulb broken. This legislation creates a hazardous situation that needlessly endangers lives and restricts our freedom to choose.

In conclusion, we as a society must understand that there are consequences to our actions, and we must take responsibility for our actions. We can certainly have disdain for the status quo as well as envision a Utopian civilization where there is no bad and only good. Unfortunately, we are bound by our physicality and our geography. So long as we must obey the laws of physics, we must understand that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. What, then, are the consequences of civic engagement? Honestly, there may be no negative consequence of activism so long as the activist remains socially responsible. The socially responsible person will ensure that the positive of action will outweigh the negative of inaction so long as the negative of action does not contribute to the negative of inaction. More simply stated, if it will hurt society more to change, then change is not the answer.


Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (West 1968)

Air Carriers Access Act of 1989, 49 U.S.C. § 1374 (c) (West 1986).

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C.A. § 12101 et seq. (West 1993).

Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. §§ 4151 et seq. (West 1968).

Banton, M. (2002). Race relations. In D. T. Goldberg & J. Solomos (Eds.), A companion to racial and ethnic studies (pp. 90-96). Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Carpini, M. D. (2010). Civic engagement. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/education/ undergrad/civic-engagement.aspx

Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1982 (a) (West 1998).

Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000 (a) et seq. (West 1998).

Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a) (b) (3) (West Supp. 1992).

Declaration of Independence. (1776).

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. (2001). Documentation of the threshold limit values and biological exposure indices (7th ed.). Cincinnati, OH: Author.

Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, P.L. 110–140 § 321 (2007, December 19).

Equal Pay Act of 1963, 29 U.S.C. § 206 (West 2000).

Exec. Order No. 11246, 3 C.F.R. 339 (1964-1965), reprinted in 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e app. at 28-31 (1982).

Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-3619 (West Supp. 1989).

Fullinwider, R. K. (1980). The reverse discrimination controversy. A moral and legal analysis. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/contentdelivery/servlet/ERICServlet?accno=ED292213

Light bulbs (CFLs) for Consumers. (n.d.). Retrieved from the EnergyStar website: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=find_a_product.showProductGroup& pgw_code=LB

Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (West 1998).

Walters, J. (2002, August). Taking social responsibility personally – Be the change you wish to see in the world. Retrieved from http://www.learningplaceonline.com/workplace/ethics/ personally.htm