Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Taking Responsibility

I was driving across the Whitestone Bridge last week, and traffic was slowing to a crawl for a moment thanks to some construction work on the Bridge. As my car is stopping, I suddenly get thrust forward then pulled back by my seatbelt as the car behind me thuds right into me. I breathe for a few seconds, then put the car in park, put on the flashers, and sit for about 30 seconds to assess how hard I was hit before moving - then, after determining I'm fine and that the hit was likely at about 20mph or less, I slowly get out of the car and walk toward the back. At first, seeing the lady behind me just sitting in her car is disconcerting - why isn't she getting out? But about a second or two later, after a sigh, she opens her door and comes over.

As I begin surveying the damage - there's clearly something cracked off on the back, but for the most part the car looks like it wasn't hit too badly - the lady says to me "Hey - I'm sorry. My foot slipped off the brake for a second. It was all my fault." While obviously still not thrilled with having been rear-ended, at least I knew that she wasn't going to deny what happened. After another minute or two of looking at the damage and realizing it wasn't too bad, she offered to pay for any damage. I noted that I'd have to take it to my mechanic, and asked for her number, then to be safe had her call me instead from her phone and give me her full name - all of which she acquiesced to, after a moment's hesitation.

A couple of days later, I texted her that I was at the mechanic, and once I found out the cost, I texted her that as well. At first, she didn't reply. After a few hours of waiting, I began getting nervous (though at least the damage was not extensive or expensive) - but then she texted back, sending she would send out the money shortly via Chase's QuickPay system as I'd requested. Okay, great... but then no money came that day, making me wonder once again. The next morning, though, she texted again apologizing for the delay, and sent the funds over, with the following message:
"Again, thank you so much for being cordial... thanks."
I replied simply that I'd received the funds, and more importantly, "Thanks for taking responsibility."

She then replied,
"No problem... when I'm wrong I'm wrong... just glad you were very nice about the whole situation."
To which I finished simply:
"It's easy when the person accepts responsibility. :) Thanks again!"
So much of our lives are dictated by responsibilities. Those who act responsibly are respected, admired, and appreciated. Those who act irresponsibly are disliked, avoided, and shunned. Those who take responsibility for their mistakes are forgiven; those who shirk responsibility are detested.

Why is it that so many parents and kids, siblings, friends, or spouses fight even after one has apologized? Because that apology doesn't come with full responsibility: "I'm sorry for X, but if you/he/she hadn't done Y/but you do Z/I just couldn't ABC..."

It is difficult to get upset, and certainly hard to remain upset, at someone who has taken responsibility for their actions. While certainly in the moment there might still be what to be frustrated with, and the first reaction might still be harsh and angry or hurt or upset, the most important point to keep in mind is that there is nothing more the person could do to undo their error. They've acknowledged their error, they have apologized sincerely, and they are accepting whatever responsibilities they need to to help remedy their mistake. Sadly, this sense of responsibility does not seem as strong in today's times, but perhaps this is an area that can change as time passes.

May we all take proper responsibility for our actions - good or bad.