“Stand in the corner for this; stand in the corner for that. That’s all the teacher says—but it’s not my fault.” At five years old, that’s how I explained my discipline problems at Happy Hearts kindergarten.
It wasn’t my fault that I laughed when Tommy Peek pushed Rhoda Smith: it was funny. Neither was it my fault when I jumped off of the seesaw causing Brooks Wade to crash to the ground: after all, he would have done it to me. Nothing was ever my fault, including the big trouble I got into in junior high school.
Instead of attending the movie as we were supposed to, I and four of my friends convinced a guy to buy us a six-pack of beer and were looking for a place to hide and drink it. We were walking down a dark street when suddenly a police cruiser turned the corner and headed towards us. Reacting instinctively, one of my friends tried to hide behind his back the paper sack containing the beer; that caught the cop’s attention and he was on us like a gator on a poodle.
“What’s in the sack?” was the question. “Nothing.” “Then why did you try to hide it?” At this point we knew we were had, so someone piped up, “A six-pack of beer we found on the side of the road. We were trying to find someone to give it to.” At that point he loaded all five of us in the back of the cruiser and announced that unless we told the truth about where we got the beer we were all going to jail.
Thirteen years old with the possibility of an arrest on our permanent record, we threw the guy who purchased the beer for us under the bus and in return we weren’t jailed. Worse than jail, the police captain in charge took each of us home and told our parents what had taken place.
After the officer left, I explained to my father that it wasn’t my fault; that I had been an innocent bystander; caught up in a plot that was not my making. Shaking his head, my father said, “Son, either you are stupid or you are not telling the truth. I don’t believe you’re stupid, so, rather than two weeks if you had told the truth, you are grounded for the next six.” A stiff punishment, but I still did not learn my lesson.
Several years after I went to work for my dad, a church was flooded when one of our employees failed to seal a roof opening. When I met with the church pastor, the elderly deacon who served as building committee chair and the insurance adjustor, I explained that we weren’t responsible for the river that had flowed through the church; that the plumber should have sealed the opening and that it was a freak storm and occurrence: it wasn’t our fault. When I was through with my explanation of what had taken place, the aging deacon spoke and I learned a valuable lesson.
Quietly he looked at me and said, “Mistakes are going to happen, what determines the worth of someone is how he or she handles those mistakes. Your company messed up: you know it; I know it; all of us here know it. However, it’s going to work out: the insurance will cover the loss and everything will eventually be put back together.” He then continued with words I will never forget, “Your refusal to take responsibility speaks to your character and what we just heard will preclude us from ever again using your company.” At first I was stunned and then anger set in and I turned and left.
My anger lessened as I drove back to my office and I began to reflect upon what the deacon had said. Embarrassment and remorse flooded me as I realized he was right; the accident was the fault of our carelessness. It registered upon me how often “It’s not my fault.” was my response when I made a mistake; I was conscious of my failure to uphold the values that I had been taught: honesty and responsibility.
Like a pimple on the end of your nose on prom night, the failure to take responsibility for your actions stands out for all to see. As the deacon said, “It speaks to your character.”
“Responsibility is not burden, fault, praise, blame, credit, shame or guilt. In responsibility, there is no evaluation of good or bad, right or wrong. There is simply what’s so, and your stand. Being responsible starts with the willingness to deal with a situation from the view of life that you are the generator of what you do, what you have and what you are. That is not the truth. It is a place to stand. No one can make you responsible, nor can you impose responsibility on another. It is a grace you give yourself – an empowering context that leaves you with a say in the matter of life.” – Werner Erhard