In times of great distress and worry, people tend to want help to come from someone and somewhere else. Nations are no different than people in wishing to find support from others as their own burdens are too much for them to bear on their own. When society is in a state like it is today, it is easy to point fingers at everyone else when it comes to cultures of dependency and having obligations that one cannot bear. In one sense, our economic bankruptcy is merely the outward manifestation of our moral bankruptcy.
It is not for nothing that the Bible tells us to forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. It is easy to preach austerity to others, when we do not really care about them anyway, to tell them they need to suffer because of their sins, only to ask for help when such dark times come to ourselves for reasons that we know are beyond our control. We ask for patience, forbearance, and mercy even as we have not been generous with them when we were doing middling to fair while others were struggling mightily under the weight of burdens that were only partly their own fault. If we understand that we will be treated with mercy to the extent that we treat others with mercy, and that we will be judged by the same standard that we judge others, we will be likely to temper our demanding natures with adequate leeway for bungling and error and simple misfortune, knowing our own need for such leeway for ourselves.
Why is it so hard for us to give the benefit of the doubt to others? We seem to judge others as if they have perfect knowledge of our intentions and our efforts, and of our sensitivities, even as we know that our knowledge of others in those areas is woefully incomplete. Perhaps we think that we are more clear, more obvious, more open, more honest, or more easy to understand than others are, and so there is a serious asymmetry between the way in which we are aware of our own inability to read the minds of others and our expectations that others will be able and willing to understand us and to act in accordance with our wishes without demur or delay.
Obviously, this is an unrealistic expectation, but it not only plays havoc in our interpersonal relationships but also in our larger societal problems. Our fears and our longings compel us to act in certain ways in the larger public sphere, and compel others to do so as well. We all have certain biases based on our own backgrounds and personal experience, and if we do not carefully examine our own biases or those of others, we will be immensely harsh to others while demanding extreme sensitivity to ourselves. We ought not to point fingers as that is a problem all of us are guilty of (I know that I struggle to be as understanding of other people as I demand understanding for myself).
Whether we are dealing with the horrors of austerity on the homefront or as a society, or whether we are dealing with quarrels and misunderstandings, a vital question is who is ultimately going to stand up and be willing to take the hit and show an example of self-sacrifice for others. Those who tell others to do without need to be the first ones to go without themselves. Those who preach self-denial to others need to practice that virtue the best. Those who can show the moral courage to admit fault and show good faith and give the benefit of the doubt to others are showing themselves to be principled statesmen in a world where principles are preached but seldom practiced.
One of the more unpleasant realities about responsibility is that we must often become the change we seek, and the leaders we seek. As much as we would want others to take the bullet for us, sometimes we have to do so ourselves because no one is willing or even understands how grave the situation really is. A leader is not necessarily the person with the fanciest title or the most resources but often, especially in difficult times, the one with the courage to take the first painful steps to achieving a better tomorrow in the hope that others will follow. And when the buck finally stops, then we can stop being paralyzed by our difficulties and start the painful and necessary work of solving them as best as we are able.