How often have we heard or said one or more of the following?
- “It is her or his fault that…”
- “He (she) just doesn’t like me.”
- “It’s the bank’s fault (or car dealer, or store or some other business)”
- “They (he or she) wouldn’t listen to me”
- “It’s not my job.”
My all-time favorite statement is from the late comedian Flip Wilson, “The devil made me do it.”
Granted there are things beyond our control – the weather, the economy, the price of gas, company policies, etc. But there are many situations in which we can and should stand up and accept accountability for our actions and the consequences of those actions.
However, we are accountable for our actions and choices, how we spend our time; how we communicate with others; our attitudes and thoughts; our behavior; and the things we do or don’t to take care of ourselves, our homes, families, and finances. In addition, being accountable makes life easier. It is much easier to say, “Yes, I screwed up and here is what I will do about it” than it is to come up with and remember reasons. Plus, owning our actions defuses tense situations. According to author Dan Zadra,” True freedom begins and ends with personal responsibility.”
History Lesson: 1945 – 1953 President Harry S. Truman & The Buck Stops Here
Sign on President Harry S. Truman’s Desk
The sign, The buck stops here sat on the desk of Harry S. Truman throughout his presidency. The phrase has its origin in the game of poker. In the 1800s, a marker was used to identify the dealer in a poker game. In 1800s America, marker was usually a knife with a buckhorn handle. If a player did not want to deal, he would pass the responsibility by passing the “buck” to the next player.
In his farewell speech to the American people, President Truman discussed the sign: “The leader – whoever he (or she) is – has to decide. Other people can pass the buck to him. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. That is his job.”
Practical Life Application
Accepting responsibility for our actions and decisions is another way of saying: The buck stops here. It means that we accept the circumstance that we create for ourselves and for those around us. It includes accepting both the good and the bad results rather than taking credit for the good and classifying the bad as an accident or the fault of others.
Personal accountability is not circumstantial nor is it selective. If we truly own a situation we can see and accept both sides of the story – both the positive and the negative. For example, when faced with a difficult situation, do we think about the following before we speak or act:
- What facts about this situation am I choosing to ignore?
- Have there been warning signs leading up to this point and what were they?
- What similar experiences have I had that might apply in this situation?
- How are my behaviors and attitudes contributing to the situation?
At a press conference on April 17, 1952, President Truman said:
“I…tried my best to give the Nation everything I had in me. There are a great many people – I expect a million in the country – who could have done the job better than I did it. But, I had the job, and I had to do it. And I always quote one epitaph which is on a tombstone in the cemetery at Tombstone, Ariz[ona]. It says, ‘Here lies Jack Williams, he done his damndest.’ I think that is the greatest epitaph that a man can have. When he gives everything that is in him to the job that he has before him, that’s all you can ask of him. And that’s what I have tried to do. “
When all is said and done will our family and the people knew say of us. She did her damnedest; he did his damndest? Accountability is an integral part of doing my damndest.
Harry S. Truman Library and Museum Truman Speaks, http://www.trumanlibrary.org/speaks.htm
Connors, R. Smith, T & Hickman C. The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Organizational and Individual Accountability, 2010
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