Things go wrong all the time. It is the way of the world. Doing things right takes time, effort, commitment, luck, and more.
And when things go wrong, there are few things more frustrating than having someone furiously deny that they couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with it.
As a parent, as a professional, as a volunteer, as a coach, actually in just about every kind of situation I find myself in, I am confronted all the time with vivid examples of when things go wrong and there’s an immediate rush to abdicate any and all responsibility for the failure or dysfunction. People are so scared that it might be their fault that they sprint to excuse-making without any self-reflection.
Listen, I’m sure I’m guilty of it, too, but I always try very hard to listen and reflect when something gets screwed up. And as I remind my children, my colleagues, and my friends, at the end of the day, when something goes wrong and I’m in charge, the responsibility can only fall onto one person -me- and the process of owning that, and saying that, is exceptionally powerful.
What’s enlightening is that it actually isn’t hard to acknowledge that the buck stops with you, but it’s amazing how many people refuse to own their responsibility when things don’t go their way. From kids I coach, to people who I work with, to friends who get frustrated with life’s situations, there is so often an immediate instinct to find the quickest excuse at hand to explain why something didn’t happen the way it was supposed to.
Beyond my own life, though, it’s laughable how in areas like professional sports, the level of excuse-making and degree to which players and teams do not take responsibility for their actions or lack of performance has gotten absolutely out of hand.
Lose to Patriots? Blame the rules. Blame the formations. Blame the game balls. Blame the headsets. Blame everyone except yourself. It is getting borderline hysterical. Actually, it’s beyond that. It’s now approaching paranoia and delusion. But I’m preaching to the choir here.
Don’t pitch well? Blame the umpires. Lament the handful of pitches that you didn’t execute and got hit 450 feet to deep center. Eat fried chicken and beer and then shrug off your historic collapse. Whatever you do, don’t accept an iota of responsibility.
Luckily, if you’re one of those people who are interested in taking responsibility, it’s your time of year- the High Holidays are coming and we are about to embark on a 10-day tour through repentance, owning our mistakes, and holding ourselves accountable for our actions. As we get ready for the Ten Days of Awe, the scaffolding for the introspection, forgiveness-seeking, and soul-baring is supremely helpful in getting all of us to move past our defensive tendencies and self-preservation tactics and towards a place where we acknowledge, publicly and loudly, a litany of our shortcomings and failures. It is at once a process that is humbling and affirming, risky and inspiring, but the beauty of it is that if you really buy into it, it is invigorating and cleansing.
As we make our final preparations for the upcoming holidays, I encourage everyone to dig deep, own your shortcomings, embrace your strengths, and find comfort with your community. At the same time, celebrate the fact that in a world gone mad, Jews continue to remind ourselves every year how at the end of the day, perhaps the most important thing we can do is take responsibility.
It’s something that a lot of people could learn from.
Including the Steelers. And Colts. And Ravens.
(#sorrynotsorry, I’ll atone for that one in a few days.)