Monday, February 24, 2014

Commas Save Lives

By Christina  Carson

Recently I saw a t-shirt advertised in one of those catchall catalogs that come in the mail. Across the top of the shirt it said: Commas save lives. It was followed by two short sentences to prove the point:
Let’s eat Grandmother.
Let’s eat, Grandmother.

 Rules have been around for seeming forever whether they refer to grammar or etiquette, social mores or legality. Almost anyone can make a case for rules. They give us a sense of order and continuity in our day to day lives….to a point. Beyond that, their impact becomes repressive.

Carl Sagan, cosmologist and astronomer, once said, “We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.”

Here then is a two-fold question that begs a serious look: When do rules begin to diminish society and what is the nature of that deterioration? 

Here’s what I've seen over my lifetime. I've noticed a proliferation of rules at every level of society and a waning, almost to the point of extinction, of our willingness or interest in assuming responsibility for our lives as a whole. Do I see those two things as interrelated? I do. We've been willing to trade that sense of freedom and vitality that remains alive in those who take responsibility for their choices and actions for the seeming safety of being taken care of.

I remember a night when Bert and I at a Wednesday night study class at a church in our community raised the question of taking responsibility for one’s life. It practically threw the ranks into rebellion. People were more afraid of that notion than the plague. What pained me was knowing all we forego when we are more focused on assigning and casting blame than on resolving the inherent problem, which is possible when all involved take responsibility for themselves. With commitment to personal responsibility comes the most powerful means of bringing people together and healing the pain of errors that naturally occur. We are safer in the company of people of their word than when we are among rule followers. Yet we didn't get any takers that night. One rarely does.

If you think I’m making an issue out of nothing, here is one more question for you to consider: When was the last time you heard someone, anyone choose to stand before his or her boss, mate or child and take responsibility for their actions rather than assess blame?  We might need the rules of grammar to protect Grandmother, but what’s to become of us as a people if our developmental progress favors being taken care of as opposed to the self-determination, optimism and creativity that accrue to those committed to personal responsibility in their lives.

Apologies to my email community. I believe the multiple copy problem is fixed. 


  1. 1) I believe that rules were made to be bent.
    2) My high school footbal coach(U.S. Marine) taught us to admit our mistakes, offer no excuse, and pledge to eliminate repeating the same mistake(s).

    While reading your blog, I was reminded of an inspirational classic, "The Letter to Garcia." I need more friends and associates that can deliver that letter.

    Not surprised that you had few takers at church.

    1. Tell me about it. You were fortunate to have a coach like that. I have worked with young people today who find it impossible to get anything going because you can't create a new result unless you'll take responsibility for the present error, and you won't be willing to examine that error if you are afraid to own that it is yours. It is the ultimate Catch 22 - a sorry legacy to give and support in one's child. And as for friends, there is no more beautiful gift one can give than your all to another. 'The Letter to Garcia" has had such monumental response over the years because it touches what we all know in our hearts - someone who is honest and you can count on is a treasure.