Take Responsibility, Asshole

There are a number of things that irk me in this world. You've already read about 30 of them or so, so I won't recount them here for you. Please, hold your applause. One of the things that really gets me is people who are so selfish they put their own inabilities off as other people's stupidity.

This is a rather vague topic, so let me begin with a specific example. Recently I was walking to work, and someone coming the other way forced me to angle slightly to the right. I did, and took another couple steps, and I felt someone step on the outside of my rear foot. I reflexively looked behind to see who it was, as you do, and the guy looked me straight in the shoulder and said "Watch where you're going."

Watch where I'm going, eh? I was watching where I was going. This dude was behind me, so I wasn't watching for him. And that's exactly what I told him when I said "You're behind me, buddy." His brilliant retort? "You walked right in front of me, ass."

Now, I could have stopped in front of him and pointed out that since he's behind me, I have no way to check for him when I'm watching where I'm going, which is in front of me, right where he's supposed to be looking, and had he actually been doing that he would have seen me and been able to avoid me like most people would have done. I could have done that, but then he would have thrown his coffee at me and I would have had to break him. Plus I like my shirt.

More to the point, I have better things to do with my time than stop and argue someone who refuses to acknowledge when they've made a mistake. I am not responsible for your inability to navigate, asshole. And that leads in to the larger point of this article: people who blame others for their own incompetence.

The problem with this issue is that most people who do it aren't even aware they're doing it at all. The guy I had my interaction with was probably walking along thinking about something, got distracted, encountered me, and assumed I was the asshole for stepping in front of him. Thus it's my fault for not watching where I was going, because if I had been watching I would have known he was going to be there and avoided him.

Truthfully, I handled this situation wrong. What I should have said is "I was. Were you?" The major difference between what I said and what I should have said is that in one case I'm accusing him of responsibility, and in the other I'm asking him to take a moment and think about what he was actually doing. If he says he was, my reply is "Then why didn't you see me in your way and navigate around me?" Then I slap his coffee out of his hand, stick my tongue out at him, and walk away.

Have you noticed the big difference in the two conversations? When someone is responsible but is trying to pin it on you, the correct way to talk to them is not to accuse them and point out their wrong-doing, but to ask them questions and make them realize it themselves. Then mock them. When you accuse someone, you are immediately confrontational, and they instinctually get defensive and refuse to learn anything. When you ask them leading questions, you force them to realize what actually happened, and with that realization change is possible. Whether it's likely is another story entirely.

Now, that's just a petty example. Two people collided while walking, and had an argument; yippee. How about a real world example? Suppose your company has a project, and you are the person responsible for communicating with the client: a company of five people, one of whom is your main contact. One day, another employee from the client comes to you and requests a castrated monkey be added to the project. So you go ahead and castrate a monkey, and finish the project. You then present it to the client, and your main contact says "What's with the castrated monkey? We didn't ask for that. Are you incompetent?"

This seems like the kind of thing that is too stupid to happen, but it's happened to me personally more than once. One time actually involved castrating a monkey, but it wasn't for the client; it just felt like the thing to do. I've even had the change request made by the main contact, who then forgot they made it. When something like this happens, your only recourse is to say "Well, on this date, this other person told me to castrate a monkey." The main contact's inevitable reply is "You should have cleared it with me first."

That argument is bullshit, and here's why: As the company doing the work, you are forced to assume that any request coming from the client is cleared for action and may be done, be it monkey or ostrich. It is not your responsibility to check every request against everyone else's opinions of disfiguring mammals, it is your responsibility to brandish the knife. Clearing the request is the job of the person making it, not the person it's being requested of.

The underlying theme here is not monkey mutilation, but everyone's inability to recognize when they are the one at fault. The problem is that everyone is biased toward themselves, and thus the mistake must have come from outside. So next time something goes wrong, ask questions instead of laying blame. If those questions lead to the source of the problem being you, then step up and take responsibility for your actions. It's the first step toward being worth knowing.

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