What it means to be responsible

Being responsible means not being obedient.  Establishments such as Red Robin are obedient to customers, giving them what they want, whether it be bottomless fries or coke.  Who cares if the customer is diabetic, this is America, it’s what he wants. So give it to him!  Such businesses aim to hire friendly and agreeable servers who don’t ask questions and simply get their jobs done and bills paid.

As explained in another post — How Schools Train Students to Not Be Responsible — one of the reasons why businesses aim to hire obedient staff level employees is because most people have been taught to be that way in school and likely at home. It’s too  difficult to find responsible employees. Those who are responsible often become so out of necessity — maybe they become parents, or their parents cut them off early in life — rarely from training at home or at school.

An applicant chose “I work hard because I have a lot of responsibilities” on our questionnaire.  I asked her what she’s responsible for.  Her response mentioned school, some other mumbo jumbo.  I asked her if she has children.  Nope.  Mortgage?  Nope. Ailing parents in need of income and care? Nope.  A dog, any pets?  Nope.  I hope she’s an outlier, not representative of most in her age group.  If she is representative, we’ve raised a generation of people, who, after being praised for tying their shoes, counting to nine, winning third place (out of three competitors), getting a B, getting up in the morning — for breathing — may be incapable of ever becoming responsible.  It’s too much work, the strain of thinking about the wants and needs of others would break them.  It’s easier to follow the rules, or at least pretend to follow the rules.  Smile, be friendly and agreeable enough so nobody eats me is how they will survive in this dog-eat-dog world.

I really believe that children are naturally responsible and resilient.  Watch 5 year olds.  Most enjoy responsibility and are constantly asking for more.  These kids at age 10 will, after years of schooling and propaganda about “proper” and “ideal” childhood, become obedient, or, more frequently, bad at faking obedience.  They’ve lost their natural state, their resilience and sense of responsibility.  They’ve been taught that work sucks, that it’s distinct from leisure, that education only happens in school, and they should “enjoy” their childhood by being as idle and free of responsibility as they can because adulthood and being responsible is going to suck. No wonder so many people grow up to hate work.  No wonder so many young adults are unprepared for work.  They’ve never been trained to be responsible, nor do they find responsibility enjoyable.

Certainly, they’ve been told that being responsible is a virtue, just as they have been repeatedly told to “work hard,” “be confident,” “think positive,” “work hard,” “be friendly,” “be responsible,” “do your best,” “work hard,” “be polite,” and so forth.  Telling someone to do this and be that isn’t enough.  They most likely will understand whatever you’re telling them in the abstract, and experience “working hard” or “doing your best” solely as a subjective feeling (I feel that I’m working hard therefore I am working hard), never measured against objective reality (I must not work hard because everyone around me works much longer hours). They don’t have anything to measure their experience against.

Here’s a story I tell my employees.  A boy announced to his mother that he had received a 100 percent on his test.  Insecure and immature, his motivation was to receive praise from his mother, who would only praise him if received a perfect store, anything less was unacceptable.  This time, he didn’t receive praise.  His mother asked “why didn’t you get a 110?”

“There’s no extra credit on this test,” replied the boy.

“Stop making excuses and blaming other people,” snapped the mother.  “Grow up and take responsibility for your failures.”

“But there’s no extra credit on this test,” the boy shot back. “You’re asking me to do the impossible!”  This is crazy.

“You’re the one who is crazy.  And lazy, stupid, immature, irresponsible.  Figure out how to get 110.  FIGURE IT OUT!” demanded the mother.

The boy went to his room, frustrated and confused, nearly in tears.

The next test didn’t have any extra credit questions either.  So he wrote his own extra credit question, which he answered correctly.  Being lazy, he didn’t put much thought into the question. And the teacher ignored his attempt to improve his score, probably thinking he’s another annoying grade grubber.

He continued to write extra credit questions.  Finally, after several tries, the teacher gave him an extra 5 points because he asked a well thought out question, a question so good she presented to the class to discuss.

He never did get the 110 his mother demanded from him.  But this 105 score boosted his confidence far more than any praise he’d ever received from his mother.  The experience also taught him that anything is possible, that making excuses and blaming other people for one’s failures is what limits creative thinking.

This experience didn’t make him responsible.  He continued to make excuses and blame others for his failures.  But the experience served as a reminder of what’s possible in life when one is responsible.

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