Our Irresponsibility Becomes Someone Else’s Responsibility

I have three little kids. One of the most difficult tasks as a parent is to train them to pick up their toys.

It sounds like a simple thing, especially to non-parents and to parents who have the predisposition of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket (I won’t directly link to a clip because I still have nightmares from this movie).


Photo from Morguefile, Anda2007

The simple truth is that it’s so much easier to do it ourselves.

  • We’re quicker.
  • We do it right the first time.
  • While we’re easily distracted (thanks smart phones), we’re not nearly as easily distracted as 4 and 5 year olds.
  • We don’t talk back and give endless reasons why we shouldn’t be picking up our own toys… that we brought out in the first place.

But as much as it’s irresponsible for our children to not pick up their toys, it’s even more irresponsible for us as parents to not force the issue.

If I do not teach responsibility in my children, then someday their irresponsibility will become someone else’s responsibility.

My Irresponsibility Becomes Your Responsibility

We all know this is true, but it didn’t become clear to me until I heard this particular talk by pastor and leadership speaker Andy Stanley. It was called “Let the Blames Begin” from the series ‘Taking Responsibility for Your Life.”

If you go to minute 8:00 and following, you’ll get to the meat of this idea: If I am irresponsible, I’m asking someone, somewhere else to shoulder the burden of my irresponsibility. In essence, I’m asking them to be responsible for the things that I was too selfish or lazy or ‘fill-in-the-blank’ to do.

As managers of human service nonprofits you see daily how someone’s irresponsibility can become someone else’s responsibility. You see the devastation of drugs, homelessness, poor parenting, bad decisions, and selfishness.

Sometimes your clients or consumers are the perpetrators. Sometimes your clients are the victims of someone else’s irresponsibility. Either way, you, now, are assuming the responsibility of those irresponsible actions.

Messes have to be cleaned up… by somebody.

From Insurance to a Thank You

I originally started writing this piece as an illustration of how insurance works. Insurance will sometimes take responsibility when irresponsible choices are made.

If you text and drive and cause a wreck, your auto insurance will help pay for your claim.

If you fail to get a background check on an employee who has a history of theft and that person steals from you, some insurance policies might help get your money back.

But as I wrote the post, I realized that maybe a ‘Thank you’ was in order.

You who work with addicts or victims, abusers and abused and other disadvantaged people who are in their situations due to their own poor choices or someone else’s choices somewhere. You deserve our gratitude. You are coming through a massive spill on Aisle Life with a big huge mop to clean up someone else’s mess.

Even more, you are taking the role of a parent or teacher or mentor. You are filling in for someone who should have parented better or taught better or simply made better decisions. You are teaching responsibility when there were no teachers before. You are banging your head against the wall with someone who refuses to learn. But you do it. Day in and day out.

So thank you. Thanks for taking responsibility when someone else (or a few someone elses) failed to do so.


  1. brentmkelly says:

    Great point that can’t be stressed enough. Thanks for sharing Brett.

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