“It’s not my responsibility”

(image courtesy of clipart kid.com)

A conversation with a friend last night and an episode of a TV crime drama I recently watched served to crystallize this line in my mind: “It’s not my responsibility.”

Naturally I thought about “It’s not my responsibility” and responses like it in the context of my bailiwicks: Workplaces, law and policy, and the community. But before I share some thoughts on that, let’s get a definition. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines responsibility as “the quality or state of being responsible,” such as a “moral, legal, or mental accountability.”

Okay, sometimes “It’s not my responsibility” is simply a truthful, accurate statement of circumstances and limitations. At work we may have defined responsibilities, and exceeding them or stepping over those of others could lead to chaos and disruption. The law establishes responsibilities and obligations, too, and exceeding those boundaries could lead to unwanted consequences. Family ties may mandate responsibilities legally and morally, especially based on closeness of relations.

Beyond that, however, there’s a huge realm of discretion where we can choose to accept or undertake responsibility or not. This may occur in the context of taking a stand, helping or protecting someone, or contributing financial support. When we exercise our discretion to take responsibility, we are making a commitment notwithstanding the lack of external obligation to do so. That commitment should be every bit as strong as an institutionally imposed mandate.

Despite religious chest-thumping by some, I have to say that we are in an age where serving as each other’s keepers does not appear to be in style. Whether in our workplaces or other communities and relationships, I hope that will change.

3 responses

  1. For all of us who have experienced a very visible termination with no warning, regardless of your feelings toward Comey, it is a stark reminder of cruel methodology. This speaks to the personality of the “executioner.”

  2. This reminds me of organizational citizenship – the things in an organization that we don’t *have* to do, but that we choose to do because we want to work in a cooperative, supportive workplace. There is some fascinating research on what encourages or discourages organizational citizenship behaviour, and of the impacts of gender, age and organizational status on whether someone is expected to demonstrate this supposedly voluntary behaviour.

    • Fiona, having witnessed the good and bad of academic workplaces and how that state of affairs impacts individual discretionary effort….oh….don’t get me started!

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