Friday, March 26, 2010

Time To Make the Donuts

(News-Herald, March 25) We take responsibility, act responsibly, encourage people to act like responsible adults. We have long, energetic discussions about who’s Responsible For This. We wait for people who have behaved badly to take responsibility for their actions. And we can’t really explain exactly what we mean by any of it.
I’ve arrived at the following operational definition of being responsible. You are responsible for something when you decide to make it your business to see that the matter turns out okay.
Responsibility does not whine and say, “Oh, I would work on that issue, but it would be hard.” Responsibility is part of the solution; whining “It’s hard” is part of the problem.
Responsibility never says, “Well, that’s not my problem.” The best customer service workers are those who consider themselves responsible for the customers that they deal with, who don’t just shrug and say, “Well, that’s not my table/department/area.”
“To see that the matter turns out okay” means that responsibility concerns itself with the outcomes. It is not responsible to say, “Look, I did what I was supposed to do. If that didn’t resolve the issue, that’s not my problem.”
The public and private sector are filled with bad managers and workers who do not see things through. They do what they think they’re supposed to do or what they think should solve the problem. If that doesn’t actually solve anything, oh well. “Look, I filled out the forms. What else do you want me to do?” or “The paperwork says everything’s okay and that’s good enough for me” are not responsibility in action.
You can’t be responsible for things over which you have no power. I can’t be responsible for the sorry state of American health care or the ridiculous state of Congress’s “solution” because, as an ordinary citizen, I have no say over any of it.
On the other hand, in areas where you do have power, you must be responsible or irresponsible, and you can’t duck the choice. If I’m behind the wheel of the car, I can’t try to claim that responsibility for steering lies with my passengers in the back seat.
Circumstances in life put us in the path of one set of responsibilities or another. We can face up to those responsibilities or deny them, but there’s no way to make them go away. Far too many young men try to pretend that they are not somehow responsible for the children they father, but they either face up to that responsibility or act like irresponsible boys. There are no other options. It’s the irresponsible who don’t come through, step up or see things through. “I was going to, but [fill in excuse here].”
When people accept responsibility for their misbehavior, they are acknowledging that it is their job, and nobody else’s, to make things as right as they can be.
Sometimes circumstances put completely unexpected opportunities for responsibility in our paths. It’s the Samaritan’s problem—do we stop for the folks who have been mugged by life?
The modern American response is to look at the problem and say, “Oh, that’s awful. Somebody really ought to do something about that.” Surely there is an agency, government program, community organization or some other outfit that will handle it. Asking someone else to see the matter through and walking away is not responsibility, either.
To check your own responsibility quotient, apply the definition that I’ve offered. What in the world are you, today, right now, making it your business to see through to the best possible conclusion. Not hoping it turns out okay, rooting for the people who will make it turn out okay, or trying to make it turn out okay ( “try” is a word used to pre-emptively excuse the failure you plan to have).
People love to complain about the quality of life in Venangoland. That’s another attempt to dodge responsibility. If you life Here (no matter where Here is) you need to accept some responsibility for what life Here is like. If you’re whining, you’re part of the problem.
When I think of responsibility, oddly enough I think of the man in the old donut commercial dragging himself out into the world because it’s “time to make the donuts.” No whining, no excuses, no figuring someone else will take care of it—Fred the Baker would just get up and make the donuts. Responsibility is as simple as that. What donuts are you making today?

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