Whatever Happened to Responsibility and Accountability? (Galatians 6:5)
“Whatever happened to responsibility and accountability? All I see and hear anymore is people pointing the finger of blame at anyone but themselves. Nobody seems willing to take responsibility for their actions anymore.” This is how our conversation started. My friend went on to complain that his students in college skip class, don’t do their assignments, fail tests, and then blame him for their poor grades. He said, “liberals blame conservatives, conservatives blame liberals, children blame adults, adults blame children, women blame men, men blame women, the poor blame the rich, and the rich blame the poor. We even have criminals blaming the police for the crimes they, the criminals, commit. Hasn’t anyone read Galatians 6:5?”
My friend asked a good question and quoted an applicable verse from Scripture. Galatians 6:5 states, “For each will have to bear his own load.” This verse leaves little room for misinterpretation or quibbling over intent when it comes to the issue of responsibility. We bear our own load by taking responsibility for our actions and expecting to be held accountable for them. As a youngster, I was required by a teacher to memorize this verse when I tried to blame another student for something I had done. I didn’t appreciate it then, but now consider it one of the most important lessons I have ever learned.
Responsibility means having the authority to pursue a given outcome and being accountable for that outcome. When you are the responsible party who is accountable for a given outcome, you are the one who gets blamed or who is seen to let others down when things don’t go well. This is why many people shy away from accepting responsibility, much less seeking it. Responsibility and the accompanying accountability can weigh heavily on you. However, good order in society, the performance of organizations, and the quality of relationships all break down when people refuse to accept responsibility for their actions.
President Harry Truman had a sign on his desk in the Oval Office of the White House that read “The Buck Stops Here.” Passing the buck is a slang phrase for blaming someone else when things go wrong. Truman’s sign meant that when you are the responsible party in any situation, accept responsibility; don’t try to blame others. President Truman was noted for being plain-spoken. The sign on his desk was just a plain-spoken restatement of Galatians 6:5.
Taking responsibility is important for everyone; adults and children. When you are responsible for something you are accountable for the outcome. Regardless of whether things go well or poorly, you are still responsible. Taking credit when things go well, but pointing the finger of blame when they don’t is unacceptable. Such actions are at odds with the message in Galatians 6:5. Unfortunately, though, this has become common practice in today’s responsibility-averse culture.
Responsibility and accountability have always been important subjects but with the rise of what is being called the “me-generation,” these two concepts are more important than ever. The me-generation consists of young adults who were raised by helicopter parents; parents who doted on them, hovering close by throughout their formative years giving them everything they could possibly need except what they needed most: responsibility and accountability. Ironically, many helicopter parents are moms and dads from humble beginnings who worked hard to build better lives for themselves and their families. They want their children to have it better than they did. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that having endured and overcome hardships, these helicopter parents want to spare their children from similar trials. As a result, they give their children things they themselves had to work hard to obtain. Worse yet, they shield their children from responsibility and accountability. This is why so many twenty-something members of the me-generation return home to live with their parents. These so-called “boomerang” children, faced with the realities of life on their own, find responsibility hard to take because they have never had any. Thus, they return to the protective cocoons of their parents’ homes.
I have heard horror stories from police officers, pastors, teachers, counselors, coaches, and professors about helicopter parents who swoop in to protect their children from the consequences of their irresponsible behavior. One police officer told me, “You get more of what you reward and less of what you punish. When parents reward irresponsible behavior, we see more irresponsible behavior from their kids.” This officer was right. Young people who are able to avoid responsibility and accountability for their actions soon develop an aversion to both. When this happens, they eventually suffer as a result. But that’s not the worst of it. We all suffer because of their aversion to responsibility and accountability.
Responsibility is an important aspect of our daily walk with the Lord. God expects his children to take responsibility for everything we think, do, and say as well as for living lives that accord with the teachings of Scripture. But that is only part of what He expects. God also expects us to set an example of responsibility and accountability for others. He wants you and me to show those who have an aversion to responsibility and accountability what these things look like in practical terms and why they are important.
Children raised by helicopter parents often have an aversion to responsibility and accountability, not because they are bad people but because they had a bad upbringing. They are not necessarily lost causes. Irresponsible people can learn to be responsible and accountable if they are exposed to the right kind of example. You can provide that kind of example by taking responsibility for your actions, words, and behavior and by accepting accountability for the consequences of them.
To set the kind of example God expects of you concerning responsibility and accountability, make a point of doing what responsible people do. Here are just a few examples of what you can do to personify the concept of responsibility:
Consider the consequences of your actions before proceeding
Consider the consequences of your words before saying them
Refuse to blame others when things go wrong
Admit mistakes, correct them, and learn from the experience
Keep your promises (do what you say you will do)
Be dependable (be on time, pull your own weight, get the job done right)
When responsible for the performance of a group or team, take the blame and share the credit
When challenges arise, focus on solutions not problems
Be honest with people, even when the truth hurts
Treat others with respect even when they don’t respond in kind
Have the courage to do the right thing in all situations, even when you don’t benefit from doing so
SCRIPTURE IN ACTION: AN EXAMPLE
Throughout his formative years, Greg’s parents catered to his every whim, made sure he never wanted for anything, took his side in clashes with authority figures, and protected him from the consequences of his childhood indiscretions. Growing up in this kind of environment, Greg never learned how to take responsibility for his words and actions; nor did he learn to be accountable for the consequences of them. What he did learn was how to make excuses and blame others for his shortcomings, failures, and bad behavior.
In spite of his aversion to responsibility and accountability, Greg was able to complete his college degree. In fact, his professors and tutors were even more protective of his feelings and self-esteem than Greg’s parents, if that’s possible. Consequently, Greg took his aversion to responsibility, propensity for blaming others, and expectation of being protected from the consequences of his bad behavior into the workplace with him. This is where Greg’s attitude toward responsibility and accountability finally caught up with him.
At work, Greg’s colleagues gave him a nickname consisting of three letters: DBM. The letters stood for “don’t blame me.” He quickly developed a reputation for avoiding responsibility and accountability. This is why after a few years on the job when a supervisory position opened up the only person surprised by Greg’s failure to get the job was Greg. His application wasn’t even given serious consideration.
Shocked to be turned down, Greg protested he had seniority and deserved the promotion. In response, his boss minced no words. “Greg, the most important aspect of being a supervisor is accepting responsibility. In fact, it’s not enough to just accept responsibility; the best supervisors seek it. Greg, I have never met anyone who is more averse to responsibility or more adept at pointing the finger of blame than you.” Greg was so accustomed to avoiding responsibility and accountability it never dawned on him that others might view his aversion as a negative. Frustrated and disappointed, Greg scheduled an appointment with his pastor to discuss the situation.
Pastor Uri, who knew well Greg’s aversion to responsibility, listened as his friend blamed everything but the weather for his failure to win the promotion. Once Greg had exhausted his excuses, Pastor Uri told him frankly, “I suspect your boss is right, Greg. You have avoided responsibility for so long you don’t even realize you do it. I have tried for years to convince you to step up and help out with various church projects and programs, but you always have an excuse for turning me down. Then, after turning me down numerous times, you complained when we didn’t appoint you to serve as a Deacon. Greg, if you want to win a promotion at work, play a leadership role in this church, or get ahead in life there are some things you are going to have to do.”
Pastor Uri listed four things Greg needed to do. Number one was to understand that he is responsible, first and foremost, to God for his thoughts, words, and deeds, as well as for the example he sets for others—good or bad. Pastor Uri read 2 Corinthians 5:10 to Greg. Then he told him, “You and I will eventually stand before the judgment seat. On that day, Christ is going to accept no excuses. Avoiding responsibility is the act of a child. The message in 1 Corinthians 13:11 is that when we become adults, we are to put away our childish ways. Blaming others and making excuses is childishness unworthy of an adult. It’s what precipitated the fall in the Garden of Eden described in Genesis 3:23.”
Finally, Pastor Uri told Greg that God expects him to carry his own load (Galatians 6:5). “You can choose responsibility or avoidance, finger-pointing or accountability. The choice is yours. If you want to change the trajectory of your life, Greg, start carrying your own load and help others carry theirs. Choose responsibility and accountability.”
It took Greg some time to accept what Pastor Uri told him. Avoidance was a lifelong habit with him, and habits are hard to break. But little by little, Greg began to accept responsibility. At first his colleagues refused to accept that Greg had changed. They had worked with him too long to believe Greg would really take responsibility for doing his job and agree to be accountable for his performance. But over time it began to sink in that Greg had turned over a new leaf. Greg no longer blamed others when he made mistakes. Instead, he admitted his errors forthrightly and did what was necessary to correct them. But what really changed their thinking about Greg was when he offered to take responsibility for an important project that had a short fuse; a project nobody else wanted.
What scared Greg’s colleagues about the project were the late fees that would be assessed for every day it went past the deadline. The project was viewed as a career killer. But Greg said he would take it on. He did, and in spite of many difficulties, false starts, and setbacks, Greg made no excuses. He simply kept plugging away, coming in early and staying late; often working on weekends. Finally, the day before the project was due Greg submitted it to his boss completed and ready to turn over to the customer. Not only had Greg learned to be responsible and accountable, he had shown his coworkers what the concepts look like in practical terms. After taking on and completing a couple more difficult projects, Greg was finally promoted to supervisor.
LESSONS FROM SCRIPTURE FOR YOUR DAILY WALK
To enhance your daily walk with the Lord, learn from Greg’s example and the advice he received from Pastor Uri. There are important lessons in Greg’s story. The first is that you and I are responsible to God for everything we think, do, and say and that we will stand before the judgment seat one day (2 Corinthians 5:10). Therefore, we cannot avoid responsibility and accountability no matter how hard we try. God knows what we do and what we don’t do, what we say and what we don’t say, what we think and what we don’t think. There is no escaping His judgment, and we will be judged in part on our willingness to accept responsibility and accountability as set forth in his Word.
The second lesson Greg had to learn is that God expects him to behave like a responsible adult (1 Corinthians 13:11). The third lesson he had to learn was that part of being an adult is giving up childish ways, including avoiding responsibility and accountability. As adult believers, we are to think, speak, and reason like adults who want to honor God. Part of behaving like an adult is refusing to make excuses when things go wrong, and accepting responsibility for your actions. Excuse making and finger-pointing started in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:13).
Eve blamed the serpent for her indiscretion. Hardly the hero, Adam blamed Eve. Thus, mankind got off to a rocky start when it comes to accepting responsibility and accountability. If your propensity is for making excuses and blaming others rather than accepting responsibility and accountability, think about what happened to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Because they disobeyed God and then made excuses for doing so, both were condemned to lives of pain and toil when they could have lived happily ever after in paradise. Don’t follow the example of Adam and Eve. Improve your life and the lives of others by taking responsibility for your words and actions while accepting accountability for the consequences of both.
The final lesson Greg had to learn was that God expects him to carry his own load (Galatians 6:5). This expectation leaves no room for excuses, finger-pointing, or avoidance. When we don’t take responsibility for ourselves—carry our own loads—somebody else has to. You aren’t the only one hurt when you shy away from responsibility and accountability. The others who have to pick up your slack are hurt too because you have added to their loads.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com