The Perfect Storm
Updated: Jan 19
It was a perfect storm. Throughout the course of the day, the Prime Minister failed to accept that his actions had breached the COVID restrictions in place at the time, issuing what had the appearance of an apology but really wasn’t. Novak Djokovic blamed his assistant for providing misinformation in his Visa application to play in the Australian Open, and then a Judge in America rejected Prince Andrew’s desperate attempt to avoid responsibility for alleged actions in years gone by. The Civil claim against him would proceed to Court.
The convergence of these three stories are a news reporter’s dream, but they raise a question: Why is taking responsibility such an alien concept to people? And if it’s true for ‘people’, then is it possible that we do the same?
I suspect we do. A little closer to home, a certain member of my household – who shall remain nameless – demonstrates the issue perfectly. Any hint of them having done something wrong, or even just not as well as they could have done, and their defences go up, the excuses start and responsibility is nowhere to be seen.
I know, too, if I search my own heart, my instinctive response to any ‘breaking news’ that I’ve got something wrong, I’ve forgotten to do something, I’ve not delivered on what I’d promised, and a seemingly instinctive mental inventory kicks in: Is there any reason at all that I can legitimately get away with this? Is there someone or something else I can blame?
I can’t speak for Boris Johnson, Novak Djokovic or Prince Andrew. I’d be unwise to speak on behalf of the younger Percy regarding their grapple with the issue of responsibility. I can, however, speak for myself.
The unavoidable reality is that none of us like to get things wrong. It’s ironic, given how good we are at it, but we don’t like it. We like the prospect of being found out for having gotten something wrong even less. Most of us like to appear to have it all together and as though we know what’s going on at all times, so the idea of someone seeing a chink in the armour of our perfection can become something to be avoided at all costs.
I wonder if, deep down, there’s a fear of how people would view us if they knew we’d erred. Would people think less of us if they knew that we’d blown it, forgotten something, offended someone, caused hurt in some other way or been in some other way less than perfect? Do we live under a misperception that people around us expect us to be perfect, and so work as hard as we can to make sure that no evidence to the contrary can be found?
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that this goes on. Think back to that history-changing moment when Eve ate the fruit God had forbidden and passed some Adam’s way. Their own response to God’s presence was to cower, in shame (Gen 3:8), desperate to cover over their own mess; to somehow keep it from the all-knowing God. Then note the response to God’s question to them about what had happened. Adam was first in the witness box.
God: “Adam, how did you know you were naked? Did you eat the fruit I’d told you not to?”
Adam: “I did. I was wrong. I defied you and went against what you’d said. I’m sorry.”
That’s not how it went down, is it? When God asked the question, Adam squirmed, uncomfortable. He was bang to rights. But then in a moment of brilliance in the art of responsibility avoidance, he said: “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit…” Buck well and truly passed.
Surely Eve would fare better under scrutiny?
God: “Eve, what have you done?”
Wait for it…
“The serpent deceived me, that’s why I ate it.”
From way back yonder, full and frank responsibility has been missing. Maybe yesterday’s headlines and today’s heart wrangles for me are just the rehearsing of the ripples cast in Eden many generations ago.
The desire to shift blame, avoid full responsibility and minimise the risk of being seen to have made a mistake or wronged someone through my forgetfulness or carelessness is a present battle for me. What about you?
“I was wrong.”
These words stick in the throat for many. We’d rather respond to a hint of imperfection on our part with a ‘yes, but’ than a simple ‘yes, sorry’. We’re drawn almost irresistibly to try and navigate our way out of messy situations with our reputations tarnished as minimally as possible and our public persona intact. It seems to me that this is human nature.
But I wonder what it would it look like if we began to take full and proper responsibility for the things we do – intentional or inadvertent – that negatively impact others. And what if we took a posture of responsibility before God for the wrongs we’ve done? I suspect the difference could be quite profound.
God isn’t interested in our explanation and justification of why we’ve fallen short. What he wants is my recognition that I sinned; that I fell short of His standard. He wants me to own my sin – in its fullest, ugliest form. To confess every known dimension of it: motive, intention, expression. His promise when I do that and bring it before him in repentance and confession? Forgiveness. Full and free (1 Jn 1:9). My slate wiped clean. My sin removed as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). Imagine the liberated feeling of a daily existence characterised by a knowledge of the richness and depth of God’s forgiveness.
If we carry the same attitude into our relationships with others, they too can change beyond our wildest dreams.
Christians are very good at sweeping ‘stuff’ under the carpet. Hurts and grievances caused and taken make for awkward conversations, and we’d rather navigate an awkward ‘we-don’t-talk-about-that’ than actually deal with brokenness caused by our actions . It’s not healthy. If you are aware that your actions have wronged someone, own them. Go to the person you’ve wronged and, with full responsibility, confess them. Don’t seek to justify them. Don’t minimise them. And for goodness’ sake don’t blame the person you’ve wronged! Our confession of sins committed, and their impact upon others, should be a humbling event, but it can lead to health as it generates opportunity for forgiveness to begin to define our community life together.
Responsibility is not easy, and it’s certainly not our default mode. It’s inconvenient and risky, but it’s both right and rewarding. I wonder if you’d join me in committing to taking responsibility in life, and resisting the desire to blame, justify or otherwise avoid culpability.