Who’s Problem Is It?

Here in Michigan there is a playful ad as part of the State Treasury Department current tax amnesty program that features a man saying “You probably won’t believe this, but my dog ate my W-2’s.”  This classic excuse from our childhood sounds ludicrous and laughable from this man who is clearly behind in his taxes.

A Culture of Non-Responsibility

Part of the power of this ad, besides the humor, is that it touches on the culture of non-responsibility.  Recently I watched an interview with TV personality and creator of West Coast Choppers, Jesse James, about his divorce from Sandra Bullock and the challenges that have followed.  In the interview James departed from his earlier declaration, “There is only one person to blame for this whole situation, and that is me”, now saying, “God or whoever you believe in must have thought I was pretty strong to lump all of that on me.”  His initial desire has been harder to live out and now someone other than himself is the source of the brokenness that stems from his choices.

The Challenge

The challenge for James and all of us is to take responsibility for our actions.  There is such a great temptation to nuance our story so that we are the victim.  Such revisions make allow us to feel better about our selves and make us much more sympathetic characters in the eyes of others.

Victimhood As Lifestyle

Yet I wonder if we, in the end, aren’t victimized by this type of nuance as we slowly create a perception further from reality.  We can’t truly move past our faults and failings without honestly acknowledging them and taking responsibility for the messes that we make.  Forgiveness and reconciliation, both from above as well as from others, begins when we honestly face our fears and failures.  As tempting as it is to gloss over our painful chapters or concoct an alternate narrative, true hope, healing and character are found in taking responsibility for our actions.

What are your thoughts on “owning up”?

Thanks for reading,




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  1. #1 by ericamarcus on June 15, 2011 - 3:27 pm

    Hi Jim – It was great meeting you at the wedding. I love that you and Wayne have started this blog! This post really hit home with me because since I started freelancing a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been having a hard time staying disciplined and getting all the work done that I need to do. I knew I would have this problem! But, yes, I always say to myself “well that little nap will only make me more productive now” or “the dog was all alone downstairs, I had to go hang out with him for a while (and watch TV…)” But I feel guilty when I’m not working super hard…so next time I want to make an excuse to leave my desk, I’ll revisit the post. (Hmmm ironic that I’m not actually doing work right now haha). Thanks guys!

  2. #2 by T Joyce Bogue on June 15, 2011 - 4:04 pm

    I believe, as you have mentioned, that we often don’t want to take responsibility for our actions and certainly not if it caused pain to someone else. How difficult is it to face someone you have hurt and say, “I can’t take it back and I’m sorry I hurt you” the very statement begs for an additional excuse or explanation and usually blame on someone or something else.

    Aren’t there times when we are placed in situations where we are blamed for things even though they are beyond our control? Case in point, if a subordinate fails on a project or doesn’t meet a deadline the supervisor ultimately takes the blame. It is in fact the supervisors responsibility to make sure deadlines are met and work is done correctly, but the true reason is the subordinate did not take responsibility and complete to work as directed. Doesn’t this propogate the notion that it’s always someone elses fault and I don’t have to be accountable?

    Interesting topic guys…how do we teach accountability to adults?

  3. #3 by shrimpwagon on June 15, 2011 - 4:47 pm

    Well, like the old saying, “we reap what we sow.”

    Life would be utterly pointless without responsibilities. We have to own up to our actions no matter what we have done.

  4. #4 by Annette Swanson on June 15, 2011 - 8:45 pm

    Hmm, I was going to throw my 11-year-old under the bus as today’s example of lack of personal accountability (his teacher called today, with only one day of school left, to say he hadn’t been turning in assignments and was flunking math…), but instead I’ll point the finger at myself. Just this week I realized I had unintentionally said something utterly thoughtless to a friend. I briefly entertained the idea of saying nothing and assuming he had given me the benefit of the doubt and wasn’t at all put out. That felt pretty lame and cowardly, so I sent a heartfelt email apology. No response. Which either means he WAS put out, or it means true to character he simply didn’t answer the email. I’ll find out soon enough. Point is, it was important to try to make things right even though I couldn’t predict his reaction, simply because it’s the right thing to do. It’s irrelevant that it made me feel awkward and uncomfortable. As my husband and I tell our children, “You don’t have to LIKE it, you just have to DO it.” :=)

    • #5 by Annette Swanson on June 16, 2011 - 1:03 pm

      As an addendum to my last post…saw my friend, who said he had never given my comment a second thought. Then he smirked and said “except for the crying-myself-to-sleep part.” So, to my previous feelings of “awkward and uncomfortable” add LAUGHED AT. Still, always important to err on the side of owning up to one’s behavior.

  5. #6 by Elaine Kluttz on June 16, 2011 - 10:12 pm

    Today as I was cleaning a clients house she had the news on and they announced that Weiner had resigned. I said good. Then the client said to me “you have to realize, he has a lot to give up”. I replied,” that’s what he should have thought of before he did the things he did”. To me that is what personal responsibility does. It is like our conscience, it keeps us in check so we don’t act on impulses, we don’t want to own up to. When I do things I feel so guilty it’s easier to just take responsibility for it than to live with the guilt. My mother instilled in me at an early age, it doesn’t matter what you do or who knows, because God knows everything you do.

  6. #7 by Monte Visser on June 22, 2011 - 2:15 am

    I fume daily with ‘victimitis’; maybe it is the news organizations filling the 24/7 channels, but everywhere I turn someone is denying their faults and mistakes of blaming on others. Spill coffee on your lap, first thought sue the supplier, pull them through two years of court before you admit you removed the top to allow it to cool. Bad grades, teacher unfair…Late for work, jerk cruising in the left lane.
    I have a friend/colleague who encourages clients to be the victor, not the victim. Will God forgive our faults and mistakes? What if we are chronic and repeat over and over as we reside in ‘Victimville’? I think yes of course He forgives each time we recognize our error. So can we lean on God and stop being a victim, can we show others?

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