This I Believe

Ronald - Hudson, Ohio
Entered on December 9, 2006

I believe in taking personal responsibility for one’s words and actions.

I’ve come to understand that this is not only a critical life lesson, but one that is very difficult to teach. I learned the importance of responsibility from my Father and the difficulty of teaching it from a recent experience with my seven year old son. Perhaps it’s this difficulty that’s at the root of so many of my recent observations.

I observe that it’s become commonplace among our leaders to hold press conferences, specifically to announce that they are “taking personal responsibility” for one thing or another. It’s often a thing that some subordinate is really responsible for, but it’s so compelling to follow in Harry Truman’s footsteps and declare, “The buck stops here.” More to the point, we allow ourselves to be placated by the mere assertion that someone has taken responsibility.

Today marks the 27th anniversary of the day my Father stopped drinking. While most people think it’s amazing to call a blessing, it was through watching him work a 12-step program – I mean really work it right – that I came to understand how personal responsibility is so closely tied to character. And he was a great character, in every sense of the word. “The program” requires that you must reconcile the baggage of your past by making personal amends to people you’ve hurt … even if they don’t think or know that you’ve hurt them. Think about that for a second: apologies to people you’ve cheated out of a job, spouses you’ve lied about in a nasty divorce, children who don’t remember that you mistreated or neglected them. This is really taking responsibility … because it’s required to shape your character.

Recently, I’ve been keenly aware of my role in shaping my son’s character. When an incident occurred in which he sought to blame someone else for leading him into bad behavior, I reminded him that only he is responsible for his actions. It’s pretty typical parenting stuff. Then the rubber met the road when he replied, “Okay Dad, I’ll take responsibility.” Now I had to make that mean something. He would have to clean up the mess and pay for what was broken. He would have to actually take responsibility, all the way. He couldn’t just claim responsibility.

To me, the most gratifying moment in my children’s lives will be when I hear about something they’re struggling with, the consequence of taking responsibility for something that perhaps no one would have ever known about.

I can only pray that my guidance early in their lives will be enough to shape their character. I only wish they could have watched their grandfather in action … and that there were more examples in our society for them to see.