The price of greatness is responsibility (said Winston Churchill). These words may sound like a trivial cliché, yet there is a lot of truth in them. Since every action of ours leads to certain effects, a strong sense of responsibility simply cannot be ignored. However, just as is stated in the quote above, most really great things do not come easily and definitely do not come without responsibility. Therefore, an ability to handle a burden in life, and deal with events, decisions and their effects is quite useful. Frankly speaking, it is one of those abilities which are on the list of “must dos”, and the earlier you develop this skill, the better it will be for your wellbeing, your productivity, and your life in general.
Nevertheless, a deep dive into this concept will make it crystal clear that most people spend a significant part of their lives looking for ways to avoid responsibility and blame others for their misfortunes or mistakes. They simply do not want to be responsible for their negative outcomes, as indeed no one does. However, some people tend to be the first in the queue for taking credit for achievements and successes. What are the reasons for the all-to-common unwillingness to take responsibility in all cases? What is so scary about being responsible, and how should we deal with the “representatives” of this phenomenon?
Basically, there are a few main reasons why most people avoid responsibility. Among them are such issues as not being much involved in the process, fear of failure, lack of confidence, etc., all of which lead to one effect. However, prior to revealing the result, let us have a closer look at the causes.
As stated before, one of the reasons for avoiding responsibility (in any field) is not being confident in one’s own capacity/knowledge/or other personal features or being afraid of the possibly of a bad outcome. According to David Rock, when there is a cultural milieu that punishes mistakes (namely, when there is a risk of failure or when being responsible in a certain situation is too risky) people will try to avoid the stick more than they will move towards the carrot. This is quite logical and obvious, taking into consideration the statement that no one wants to be responsible for failure. Yet, some people still accept accountability despite the “scary” environment, but only because they feel confident within themselves that whatever happens, they will deal with it.
Another reason, the one I want to draw attention to the most, is the unwillingness to take responsibility on the basis of knowing that someone else is already responsible for a certain task or action. This is commonly observed in team situations when there is a so-called task force (usually in the person of one or just a few team members) and a larger mass which is either blindly following instructions or remaining passive during the whole process. In these conditions, a phenomenon which is called diffusion of responsibility takes place.
To make a long story short, diffusion of responsibility occurs when a person who needs to take action or make an important decision waits for someone else to act instead. It makes the person who is “under pressure to take action” feel less stressed since he believes that someone else will take care of everything. Therefore, diffusion of responsibility keeps a person from paying attention to his own conscience and, consequently, decreases the possibility of feeling responsible for any mistakes.
As experience shows, the more people are involved, the more likely it is that each member will make no effort, believing that someone else from the group will take care of things. This has been proven by important experiments carried out by the psychologists John Darley and Bibb Latané. The objective of their experiments was to investigate how many people would respond to a hoax emergency call declaring that a person nearby has suffered an injury. The results were more than demonstrative. In each case that subjects heard the call for help and thought they were the only ones who heard it, 85% of them helped. However, if the subjects thought there was another person who heard the call too, only 62% helped. Eventually, when the subjects thought that four other people had heard the call, too, just 31% took action. This experiment illustrates that the more we believe that there are other people who may take responsibility, the more irresponsible we become. Consequently, when we don’t feel responsible for a situation, we feel less guilty when we do nothing to help or simply to act.
Decision making in complex situations is not materially different from decision making on a daily basis. Once a person knows that someone else can deal with a problem, figuring out every point of it and eventually solving it, there is little motivation or stimulus to act on one’s own. Moreover, a pleasant bonus to all of this is that in cases in which the result could be a negative one, it will be a fault of another person and not one’s own. This is a sort of comforting feeling. However, to be truthful, such people are not able to act on their own because once they face a problem it seems to be an apocalypse for them.
But life is full of surprises, sudden changes, challenges and problems, and just as was mentioned at the very beginning, the faster you learn how to deal with life on your own, taking responsibility for each and every step, the better it will be for you.
Therefore, the only way to make people independent or to become an independent person on your own is to have a chance to face responsibility directly, given the understanding that we are all mortals and each of us has the right to make a few mistakes. This is, after all, the way we learn; and while a few people need only one try to succeed, others may fail again and again before getting things right. This is completely fine because taking action indicates a readiness to take responsibility. And that, as the saying goes, is the price of and, I believe, the way to greatness.