Monday, September 25, 2006

Personal Responsibility

What are the limits of our personal responsibility?

Perhaps that's not the best way to pose this particular question... When you make a commitment, even one that's not written in blood or carved in stone (choose your own metaphor) how hard do you work to keep your word?

Let's say you've told someone you're going to be at the Blogger Bash this weekend at Barley's Tap House (remember?) and at the last minute something comes up and you can't go. Do you count that as breaking a commitment or a promise? Probably not, as no one would have actually been depending on your presence one way or the other. However, if you'd mentioned that you'd pick up someone's tab, or give them a ride to or from the event then fail to show up - then yes, you're breaking a commitment. Even if the promise was explicit or implied, your absence has altered the flow of another person's life.

Now, hopefully in most cases the literal setbacks would be minor (in this instance, the other person can surely hitch a ride from someone else) but your status in their eyes and others around would likely be diminished somewhat. Maybe in that case you make it up to them next time, no harm no foul, all's forgiven. Right?

Ok, say the situation is a little more complex or serious. Say you promised to take someone to the airport? If you blew it off, or forgot, that person's life could be significantly altered. Missing a flight can be a costly and situation, not to mention the circumstances involved with missing whatever they were flying for. If someone was scheduled to pick me up at 6am for an 8am flight, and they didn't show up - causing me a good deal of distress and perhaps frantic calls to a cab company - it would be difficult to trust them again anytime soon for something of that magnitude.

You might be thinking, "Well, they were doing you a favor - you didn't want to spring for a cab or long-term parking so how do you feel justified in criticizing someone who was doing you a favor in the first place?" I understand the idea, but the point is not that since they're doing me a favor, they get to dictate the terms and conditions of the task they've agreed to perform - or whether to perform it at all. The point is once you've agreed to take on a job and someone is relying on your to come through, you do that job to the best of your ability regardless of time, place or circumstance. If things come up to force you to alter your agreement, then it's up to you to make arrangements to compensate. Obviously plans change - schedules are altered, people get sick, etc. But once you've agreed, in faith and principle and regardless of whether there's money involved, then you are honor-bound to see it through.

Honor is a nebulous concept, and a lot of people self-define it to fit their own ends. Similarly with different kinds of ethics and morality, people define levels of personal responsibility in different ways. When those different levels intersect, trouble can follow.

I'm very big on a do-what-you-say kind of interaction. If you say you're going to pick me up at 6am (or 3pm, or 9:42pm) then I'd better see your car pulling up at that time. And you can rely on me to do the same. In fact, I'll probably be there early just to make sure. And if I'm going to be late or not there at all, preparations will be made as soon as I realize it.

What are your expected levels of personal responsibility, and how do you respond to others' expectations?

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure people have any sense of personal responsibility any more. All of my problems as a Girl Scout leader are because of parents who don't care about anything beyond personal gratification and they are teaching that to their children. Ask any leader of young people how often the children and teens don't show up for meetings, practices and even pre-paid activities because "something better came up" or they just "felt like sleeping in" instead.