Who's Responsible?

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I am always disappointed when parents, teachers, and colleagues make the apology for the behavior. It is almost as though they are dually embarrassed: first for the behavior, and second because the person who committed the offense failed to apologize. We shrug and accept it, because ignorance is commonplace and the behavior does not represent the family or the organization. In my family, my parents would have had us by the collar, making sure we made our own apology.

I have always believed in the adage “a child learns what he lives,”2 but I also believe that, despite our childhood, at some point each of us must stand up and take responsibility for what we have (or haven’t) done. What we learn is which behaviors are acceptable and which are not. We “responsible” adults need to stop making and accepting excuses for bad behavior.

George Washington had 110 rules that guided his behavior, “Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.”3 The focus of the rules is on courtesy and having regard for the benefit of others rather than our own (a trait not so prevalent today). The message is that manners, etiquette, and good taste are the substance of civilization. I think it is time we revisit those rules, and stop using a label of disease. It’s time we stand up, take responsibility for our own behaviors, and become a civil society again.

Alternatively, we can all decide to become irresponsible and use the disease excuse. I know I have not felt inclined to be responsible this week. I must have a disease—incurable Spring Fever. I wonder whether my bosses will buy that. Would yours? Let me know by writing to [email protected].

1. Peele S. Diseasing of America: How We Allowed Recovery Zealots and the Treatment Industry to Convince Us We Are Out of Control. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass; 1995.

2. Nolte DL. Children live what they learn [poem]. Available at: Accessed March 23, 2012.

3. Washington G. Rules of civility & decent behavior in company and conversation. Available at: Accessed March 23, 2012.


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