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Blame and Accountability

Updated: Dec 7, 2021

On a bike ride recently, I found myself thinking about how easy it is to blame other people - how momentarily good it might feel, and how blaming others can be a wake up call to reflect on my own accountability. A little more context: I was riding on a paved, multi-use path and saw a person walking ahead of me. Proper etiquette in this situation is to call, "on your left, please" (I usually add the "please" part) to alert the person being passed. As I called out, I noticed that this guy had AirPods in his ears and assumed he likely wasn't going to hear me.

My first thought as I approached and passed was, "If he gets hurt, it's his fault for wearing AirPods." I even had a moment of rationalizing that anyone who chooses to obstruct their hearing is opting out of notifications. Quickly, I felt guilty for allowing my thinking to go this far. I wondered what my responsibility is in such a situation and why I would be so quick to blame someone else instead of holding myself more accountable.

The lesson to me was clear: one time in one way isn't sufficient. There were a multitude of options that I overlooked too quickly. For instance, I could have:

- called again to the walker

- called louder

- slowed down...considerably

- stopped to have a conversation with the guy and express my fears for his safety

As I rode on, my thoughts turned to the workplace. I reflected on the apparent ease with which people absolve themselves of responsibility for fractured relationships, missed deadlines, and unhappy customers. In any of these situations, a person might think or say, "not my job" or "I've done my part" or "there's nothing else I can do". Then, when bad things happen, we hear the all-too-common "I told you so".

It's true that outcomes sometimes are beyond our immediate control, but what of accountability? Or integrity?

I heard a story the other day about a CEO who described the company's bankruptcy as having happened little by little and then very suddenly. Is it possible that, as a society, we shouldn't be shocked by the massive erosion of personal accountability that we're witnessing? Might we have overlooked so many of the small things, the "little by little” things that we don't comprehend the "very suddenly” thing?

I am enrolled currently in a coaching course on 3 Vital Questions (3VQ). One concept that underpins this work is that we're always "at choice". Rather than allow myself to play the part of a victim (e.g., “there’s nothing else I can do”), I can choose to think creatively and accept responsibility for the choices that I make.

I'm grateful for this reminder that, whether at work or at play, I always have the freedom to choose. I strive to remember, as well, that I am accountable to myself and that my actions always have consequences.

What are your thoughts? I'd invite you to share them with me by sending an email to

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