Responsibility and Blame

Blame, the word itself evokes less than pleasant childhood memories.   And blame can still send many adults running for cover.  Perhaps the only thing worse than blame, is the awful feeling of not accepting blame when it belongs square on your shoulders.

We used to call people like this (the kind that would throw you under the bus or train) a “rat” or a “fink.”  I remember when I was about 14 years old, my buddies and I were hanging out when one my friends said, “Hey, Jimmy Martin told me how to unhitch a train car, let’s go to the train yard and see if it works.”  Great idea for a group of dimwitted boys, so with that, Jeff, Terry, Paul and I, who were pretty much inseparable, headed up the road about one mile and began climbing around on the rail cars.

There were trinkets that littered the rail yard that caught our attention; we tossed a few rocks at the box cars, and then finally, the main attraction.  Jeff said, “Guys come over here…this is what Jimmy told me to do.”  And in about three well-executed moves, Jeff had done just as Jimmy Martin told him and the box car was released from the twenty or so other cars that made up the train.  The four of us stood there, eyes wide and mouths hanging open – watching the single box car, at first slowly, but then with a little more speed, roll down the tracks as the slope of the tracks carried the car directly south.

When we all finally looked at each other I said, “I’m gettin’ the heck out of here man.”  Slowly, Terry and Paul followed me, but Jeff stayed to watch.  What none of us knew was the Police were already on their way to investigate four mischievous boys in the train yard.  And when they arrived, Jeff was still there observing his handy work, he was picked up immediately.  Terry and Paul were only a short distance away and were easily commandeered.

I, on the other hand, was well over a block away and when the police car slowly pulled up beside me.  I did my best to ignore them until the officer rolled down his window and said, “Were you down at the train yard with these boys?”  In the back seat I saw Jeff and Terry with a scared rabbit look on their face and Paul in tears.  I looked at them, looked back at the officer paused for a moment, took a deep breath and said, “Yea, I guess so,” and I climbed in the back seat to join my friends.

While the ride home in the back of a police cruiser was humiliating (I slid way down in the back seat  so no one would see me), that wouldn’t have compared to the humiliation of letting my buddies take the rap for something that I was equally to blame.  Like I said, I’m no rat or fink!

Blame can send the most courageous people (regardless of position in life) cowering or it can define their character to their colleagues and clients.  We can show those around us that they can count on us in thick and thin – we can show them we have true character!

Certainly making mistakes is not something we outgrow, I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my career and there are, no doubt, many more that lie ahead.  I hope I can remain true to my 14-year old self and accept blame when it is deserved, and never be known as a rat or a fink…

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