The Death and Rebirth of Responsibility

As a kid I screwed up in many ways, but none of those ways excluded a central lesson good parents start teaching as soon as kids are capable of conversation: responsibility. The word always sounds reproachful and corrective to a kid, but it matters. It says you can be depended upon to do what is expected of you — and a bit more. Civilization itself depends on that.

The Responsibility Lesson comes to mind as I read this post by Candy Beauchamp. The stand-out section:

Many of you may know that Tom just got his degree from the University of Phoenix. He went there for 3 years and finished his last class in late April. He ended up with 3.67 GPA in Business Marketing. Not too shabby. We are very proud of him and have been eagerly awaiting actually receiving his degree….

Apparently, there’s a problem. From what we can piece together, Wells Fargo – as part of the bail out – sold his student loan to the Department of Education. This means they basically stopped his loan, but didn’t tell him or anyone else. This means that the school is looking at Tom wanting him to pay them, they are basically holding his degree for ransom.

This is inexcusible.

The story goes on, and the lessons Candy and Tom take from the experience are all good ones. What’s remains screwed up, and in need of deeper understanding, is the institutionalization of responsibility-shifting, with hardly any tracks left in the sand. This is what happened in with what Kevin Phillips calls the “financialization” of the economy. When you’re one shell in a giant shell game, it’s not hard to see what’s going on; but it’s easy to ignore the whole thing, because the system is all about moving problems, long after it stops being about moving opportunities. We’re still in the problem-moving stage of This Thing, this financial mess. That’s what Wells Fargo reportedly did in this case. Others too.

Responsibility isn’t about who’s to blame. It’s about who can act, and what they can do.

My optimistic take is that we’ll wake up and smell more than blame cooking. We’ll smell the need to take responsibility for the debts and assets that we’ve taken on. And not just in the financial sector.

Or so it seems to me on a Saturday in New York. Beautiful outside. See ya later.

7 comments

  1. Pauly’s avatar

    I couldn’t agree more. The irresponsibility of problem shifting is a cultural one that extends from the most wealthy and powerful organizations to the poorest individuals. While the macroeconomic (and resulting politico-cultural) adversity resulting from this behavioral antipattern are perhaps more magnified when performed by the biggest actors in commerce and government, the sheer number of smaller players who have willingly accepted significant debt (when compared to their current and potential assets) makes them equally culpable in my mind too.

    Beautiful in Chicago right now too. Love this time of year…

  2. Mike Warot’s avatar

    There are so many layers of deception built into the system by now it’s mind-boggling. The Dollar has nothing backing it, since Nixon took us off the gold standard in 1971 “To Protect the Working Man”.

    The coin of the realm has been debased since 1964 because of “inflation”.

    Now the Fed is buying debt from the Treasury…. let the printing presses fly.

    Yet everyone expects a recovery and life to get back to almost “normal”.

    Oil is peaking… cheap oil drives a lot of things, including enabling commuting across continents, or driving 50+ miles to work every day.

    The suburbs can’t be sustained as bedroom communities any more. We’re going to have to move the jobs out the the burbs if they are to survive.

    Everyone should consider growing at least some of their own food, if just to be aware of how much management actually goes into it.

  3. Russell Nelson’s avatar

    I was in NYC on Saturday. We could have done dinner, or something or whatever. Do you use Dopplr? Maybe you should?

    I just got home today. Was in Times Square soon after they shut down Broadway. Really kewl. Party atmosphere.

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    I’d used to use Dopplr. Too much duplicate data entry. Might reconsider if it were easier for both myself and my wife. We coordinate calendars that include much more than travel.

    We walked through Times Square as it was being shut down.

    Was a family weekend. Me, wife & kid going to museums and shows. Next time…

  5. gadgets’s avatar

    i agree with pauly as he said ”

    I couldn’t agree more. The irresponsibility of problem shifting is a cultural one that extends from the most wealthy and powerful organizations to the poorest individuals. While the macroeconomic (and resulting politico-cultural) adversity resulting from this behavioral antipattern are perhaps more magnified when performed by the biggest actors in commerce and government, the sheer number of smaller players who have willingly accepted significant debt (when compared to their current and potential assets) makes them equally culpable in my mind too.

    Beautiful in Chicago right now too. Love this time of year” is true..

  6. Ben’s avatar

    I very much hope you’re right. Americans desperately need to learn the skills of contentment and responsibility. Stories like the one you quoted are just ridiculous. I hate the diffusion of responsibility. Things may get worse though before they get better :(

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