In all things, let’s strive to act responsibly

Those who hold power need to do whatever they can to improve the lives of people who are suffering.

by Alia Jeraj

Last week in my biology lab — the last liberal education requirement standing between me and my diploma — I was part of what ended up being a fascinating interaction between two lab groups. 
My group had left our table to do lab work in another part of the room. We returned to find another lab group sitting at our table. Rather than confront them, we decided to just stand around the table as we finished filling in our lab questions. 
After a few minutes, the other group noticed. “Maybe we should move,” one of the students said. 
“Nah,” replied another. “If they haven’t complained yet, it’s their problem.”
My initial reaction was amusement. I thought it was refreshing to see someone refusing to accept classic Minnesotan passive aggression. It wasn’t until after reflecting on the class later that day that I realized how damaging those students’ attitudes can be. 
The students sitting at my table clearly recognized that their actions were rude and unfair — albeit in a very minor way. However, rather than using that recognition to take initiative and move, they decided to put the burden of initiating change on the lab group they were inconveniencing.
Obviously, in this scenario, the students sitting at my table put my lab group in no danger or harm. At the very worst, we were slightly annoyed. However, in higher-risk situations, the type of attitude these students displayed can have devastating effects. 
Take, for example, the water crisis in Flint, Mich. Michigan officials have been aware of elevated levels of lead in Flint’s water since at least the spring of 2015. Yet until residents’ protests circulated widely and people across the country became aware of what was happening, those in power did nothing to amend the situation. This has had disastrous health effects on the residents of Flint.
It may seem simplistic and obvious to state that people have the responsibility to do what is in their power to correct unjust situations. Sadly, it’s a reminder many of us seem to need.
If those with the power to provide safe, clean water to the residents of Flint had done so when they first learned of the high amount of lead the city’s water contained, they could have spared thousands of residents the devastating effects of heavy metal poisoning. 
I’m sure there are more layers and complexities to the current water crisis in Flint. However, I do feel that at least one of the forces at the crisis’s heart is a lack of personal responsibility among the powerful. 
I saw that lack of personal responsibility in my biology lab last week, and it’s scary to think of how easily that attitude can translate to situations that affect people on a much larger scale.
If we each commit to correcting our own behaviors and to taking responsibility for actions that may hurt others, perhaps we could begin to see similar principles reflected in the greater leadership powers throughout the country. 
And if we find ourselves sitting at someone’s table, instead of waiting for them to complain, let’s commit to taking the initiative to move. 
Alia Jeraj welcomes comments at [email protected].