Fault vs Responsibility

Just because something is not your fault, does not mean it is not your responsibility.

This is one of my favorite sayings in leadership. I think it is hard to find a singular statement that helps explain the fundamental responsibilities that define being a human. A good human –at least.

I have been pretty conflicted over the viral news story of the weekend. So conflicted that I am compelled to write on something that is political – something I try desperately to avoid for several reasons. But anyway, here goes . . .

So, this brings me to this viral picture.

This picture makes me so uncomfortable in a number of ways. My first reaction, when I look at the group of young people surrounding Nathan Phillips is simple – my lizard brain kicks in. I have a visceral reaction to this. Once that dose of adrenaline leaves, I instantly remember something. The people causing my reaction the picture are kids.

Then I read through countless tweets and reaction articles. What I found in of them is that everyone was looking for someone to blame. The list was long, but often included:

  • The kid(s) involved
  • The kid’s parents
  • The chaperones on the trip
  • The school
  • Republicans
  • The radicalized discourse between supporters of both parties
  • The President

I think that this is list is in nowhere near comprehensive. The whole situation is so much more nuanced than any of us could actually recognize. Anyone that works in schools can simply tell you trying to psychoanalyze the brain of a teenager to assign a causal relation to a horrible decision is more often than not a fruitless exercise without tons of time and training. Yet – that is exactly what everyone seems to be doing right now. Everyone simply wants to assign blame.

My take is different. The event has occurred. As unfortunate as it is, not a single one of us can do anything to make the event go away. So where does that leave us. It leaves US – the collective we – with a level of responsibility.

Clearly, nobody in this situation has more responsibility to take than the kid involved, but undoubtedly we all have responsibility. We have responsibility in how we carry ourselves, what we believe, and how we engage each other in complex discourse. We have responsibility in our ability to forgive. We have responsibility in our ability to teach.

The point is that I believe in kids. I also believe in our ability to teach and forgive. So, I do not care who is precisely at fault in this situation. I do care that we find ourselves responsible to attempt to impact and lead a clearly misguided youth.

I know some of you are probably reading this and thinking that this teen does not deserve a second chance. I know others are thinking of the kids who have done far less and will be punished far more. I warn us all against using comparative empathy. Simply because society or the system has done wrong by some, does not preclude us from being the best version of ourselves. Our best versions take responsibility even when it is not our fault and try to push the conversation forward. And we remember we are talking about kids.