How can we build a culture of responsibility?

In the days right after the BP oil spill, the CEO of BP blamed the builders of the well.  In fact, it’s taken nearly a month for the company to announce anything even resembling a taking of responsibility.  In the meantime, the image of the company—which had undergone a massive “green” rebranding just a few years ago—suffered irreparable damages.  Most notable is the parody Twitter account BPGlobalPR, which has hijacked the #bpcares hashtag and cut the company down to size.

Public discourse—rather than focusing on generating new ideas on how we can end our dependency on energy sources that have negative environmental impacts, seems more caught up in trying to figure out whose fault it was.  I hear more partisan debate about whether or not Obama is getting angry enough about the situation or about how this is part of the Bush anti-environmental, pro-corporate legacy, than I do about how we plan to cut down our oil use as a society.  I mean, isn’t this situation all kind of collectively our fault?  How much oil has to be spilled into the gulf before people start pledging to use dramatically less plastic, drive their cars less, and to demand a serious commitment be made to clean energy technologies.

It’s really not surprising, though, because the blame game seems to be an integral part of our culture.  It’s a rarity when someone actually admits guilt—and does so right off the bat.  It was so surprising, for example, to hear baseball umpire Jim Joyce admit that he made a mistake when he cost a Tigers pitcher a perfect game with a blown ninth inning call at first base.  Everyone expected him to tout the party line and defend is actions—so much so that when he copped to it, it was disarming.  His admission immediately delayed the public lynchmob, garnering more of a “nobody’s perfect” response and a thoughtful conversation about instant replay. 

It’s easy to blame other people, though.  It’s easy to blame the fact that your kids are fat on the food companies that put extra sugar in their soda—instead of perhaps not letting your six year old drink a liter of Coke every morning for breakfast.  Blame Facebook for confusing privacy settings that exposed that picture of you drunk and falling out of your clothes with your girlfriend’s sister—totally Facebook’s fault.  Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t pressuring you to do that last shot, too, was he?  What about healthcare?  Whose fault is rising costs in the system?  Democrats?  Republicans?  Big bad drug companies?  You could ponder that on your nightly 30 minute brisk walk, but if you’re an American, that would probably be your exercise for the month—and you’d have to miss your favorite reality show to squeeze that in.  Easier to just sit back on the couch, tune in (out) and complain that your cholesterol medicine is getting too pricey over another bucket of fried mayonnaise balls. 

I’m really concerned about the world our kids are going to grow up in, because there’s a severe lack of personal responsibility—and it both paralyzes us and divides us.  You’re called insensitive when you argue that someone’s lot in life is largely a function of their own actions, but to me, that’s the most hopeful and empowering outlook.  It would be terrible if who you became was the sole result of the randomness of where you grew up, how much money had or what color your skin was.  Call me idealistic, but I like to think that, for the most part, people can lead their own lives to positive, healthy places—and that society doesn’t have to accept what it has been given.  It’s not a judgment on people who wind up in rough spots.  In fact, too often, our blame culture is disempowering and stifling to people that have had a rough time—reinforcing ideas that the world is working against them in some way .  The idea that your life and problems are because of someone else makes people either a) not try or b) find enemies—two things that don’t move us forward as a people.

So what can we do?  How can we create a culture where actually taking responsibility is the norm—and where everyone wants the buck to stop with them.  How do we create communities of problem solvers—of people who believe that no one, no company, and no government entity can get in the way of their pursuit of happiness?  Are we perfect?  No… but can we avoid the long drawn out sagas of Roger Clemens and Mark McGuire trying to maintain their innocence to the point of ridiculousness.  Is OJ still on the hunt for Nicole’s killer? 

I think we’ll all be a lot better off if we here a lot more of “I did it and I’ll fix it.”