Thursday, February 27, 2014


I'm ostensibly, big on taking personal responsibility. Avoid writing in the passive tense. Take ownership, apologise all that shit. One of the things that made it luxuriously easy for me to do, was that I've generally avoided being responsible for anything. Thus it was only on occasion I'd have to take responsibility for screwing up something with some friend.

Now though, I manage a band and so taking responsibility has finally become confronting for me, for the first time I feel the temptation to dodge responsibility where I can. See I wrote to the band members this:

first I'm going to put myself on the hook for how you can expect me to react to issues though.

I have been taught (and taught to recognize) that there are 4 ways people avoid responsibility:

1. Denial - The simplest and most common 'No that's not a problem'
2. Excuses - The next most common 'Yeah that problem has to be that way though and this is why...'
3. Blaming - Also quite common 'Yeah that's a problem, but it's Matt's fault.'
4. Changing the subject/Telling a Story - Least common and requires a degree of artistry that most people don't have 'Yes, I see, that reminds me of the first Gulf War, not the most recent which is fascinating because...' 

The only acceptable way to respond to somebody raising an issue is to say 'What can I do?' 

I probably need to print it out and put it somewhere I will notice it until it becomes a habit - the habit being to respond to issues raised with 'what can I do?', not the habits of denying problems exist, making excuses, blaming or changing the subject.

In my job I'm in the privileged position to observe the 4 ways of avoiding responsibility take place all the time. Because I'm cold calling, you wouldn't believe how rare it is for somebody to just say 'I don't want to do the survey' or 'not interested' both these responses take responsibility. Over time it becomes far more insulting (and not to mention time wasting) to hear 'I'm busy' or 'But I don't travel' or 'I'm just heading out' or 'I have guests' or 'I'll tell you what I think of the government'.

Perhaps worst of all is 'I'll let you call somebody else' literally 'please become somebody else's problem' it's one thing to not take responsibility for not doing an understandably boring and tedious and time consuming survey, it's another thing to wish that boredom and tedium on somebody else.

What becomes perplexing is why the skill of taking responsibility isn't innate. Or if it is innate, how we got trained out of it.

I guess we can look to our political 'leaders' whom generally make statements containing no information, and take credit for nothing.

Also perhaps is the society wide Japan-style demerit system we adopt, most visable on bullshit shows like the apprentice where one only gets punished for failure, rather than a merit system where people are rewarded for successes, and failure becomes inconsequential.

Of course, life is a mix some failure is so catastrophic in consequence I can hardly blame people for wanting to wriggle off the hook. There are few noble captains willing to go down with the ship. Such responsibility taking may be admirable but it's also terminal. The person who learns from their mistakes has no future in which to apply such learnings.

But much failure is ultimately inconsequential, IF you take responsibility for it.

The point of the legitimate response 'what can I do?' is that when told what you can do, you presumably will follow up with action - some kind of action, people coming to you with a problem may not be rational, nor propose legitimate solutions, the aim though through good will is to achieve a reasonable discourse.

Apologies are also meaningless unless followed up by action (or rather ceasing whatever action necessitated the apology).

Talk is cheap. Even the acknowledgement that you were in the wrong needs to be acknowledged in action.

I believe in taking responsibility because the payoffs are there. I'm a consequentialist, not a Kantian categorical imperitive type dude. I think people respect and appreciate you taking responsibility - it builds trust and attachment.

I think our aversion to responsibility may at core be similar to our attraction to fast food. The immediate short term impact of taking responsibility is that it requires effort of us. But problems and issues get resolved, relationships get lastingly easier.

But we are suckers for short term gains, our aversion to taking responsibility need not come from some deep dark sinister place, it's generally just good old fashioned laziness.

So like everything worth doing, I advocate asking 'what can I do?' because the gains generally outweigh the costs.

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