The willingness to accept responsibility for our actions, to have the moral courage, the steadfastness of character to step up and acknowledge accountability is exceedingly rare. All too often we get some version of the “the devil made me do it.” Yeah, I did it but I’m not really responsible because (insert the excuse du jour) a. my unhappy childhood, b. my medicine, c. my addiction, d. my OCD / ADD / alcoholic tendencies, e. my genes.
Of course, attempting to dodge responsibility has a long tradition in human history starting in the Garden of Eden. Eve’s excuse for eating the forbidden fruit was to blame the devil. “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” Adam started the blame game by pointing to his wife: “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree.” I would deplore the lack of originality of their excuses but then they were the first ones to use them.
It is pleasant to tell the story of Reggie Shaw of Utah for having the courage to step up and accept responsibility. The story begins on a sad note: Shaw, a 19-year-old college student at the time, was driving to work in northern Utah on a two-lane road. His Chevy Tahoe crossed the center line and clipped a Saturn sedan, spinning it across the highway where it was struck by a pickup towing a trailer filled with tons of equipment. The two occupants of the Saturn were killed.
Shaw’s phone records showed that he had texted his girlfriend 11 times in the previous 30 minutes, the last one a minute before he called 911 to report the crash. Shaw eventually was charged with negligent homicide and trial was set for early 2009. However, at a hearing in late 2008 Shaw looked at the families of the men who had died and decided that he had to be honest, he had to accept responsibility, he had to tell the truth. (The New York Times, August 29, 2009, p. A1, “Not Drunk Driving But Texting? Utah Law Sees Little Difference.”)
Against advice of council, he admitted culpability, he took responsibility, he acknowledged that he had been texting when his Tahoe crossed the center line.
In this day when so many refuse to accept accountability for the foreseeable consequences of their actions, it is an inspiration to hear of someone who is willing to set an example of personal responsibility and bear the price.
“Responsibility: A detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of God, Fate, Fortune, Luck or one’s neighbor.” — Ambrose Bierce, “The Devil’s Dictionary,” 1911
“I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.” — John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
“You are not responsible for the programming you picked up in childhood. However, as an adult, you are one hundred percent responsible for fixing it.” — Ken Keyes, Jr.