Rebuilding a Culture of Responsibility


In a recent article on the sale of the Venture Centre in Pasadena, my main point related to the lack of democratic decision making and the resultant diminishment of good governance.  There has been much speculation on the reason for the sale. One suggestion is that council felt that it wasn’t operating as it should, the blame of which was attested to the voluntary board and its staff.  If this is the case, thought should have been given to responsibility, of all involved, including the council.   The centre has been operating in its current mode for at least 17 years, without change.  Although no action was taken, it is simpler to now affix blame, and eliminate the problem by selling the centre and disbanding the board.   A more thoughtful look at responsibility, or its lack, might have suggested another solution more beneficial to all. 

The dilemma:

The fear of blame has become so onerous that it has swamped the concept of responsibility.  It appears that the “one or ones” to blame must be identified, so that punishment can be metred out.  There appears little thought, of those responsible being accountable, so that mistakes can be rectified, changes enacted and systems adjusted.  .  No longer, it seems, is there anyone willing to take responsibility, nor can blame be properly apportioned, in order to make rational and positive decisions.

As global finance teetered, financial organizations collapsed and global business shrunk there appeared no one to blame.  Those who were sacrificed did so with huge payouts and benefits, without accepting any responsibility.  So adverse was anyone to apportion or accept blame that huge amounts of government money was allotted and vast sums of private money quietly destroyed in an attempt to disguise the disaster.  The roots of this dilemma can not only found in the global, the national and regional, it emanates right down to the local; as in the case of Pasadena.

Blame and responsibility are both sides of the same coin, as such, neither should be considered negative.  We have a flawed system that no longer tolerates mistakes, nor clearly identifies responsibility. Decision making processes, in both businesses and governments are now so centralized that decisions only come from the top.

There are many examples. There is the fiasco at Eastern Health Care where everyone appears to be at fault and blame abounds, but no one, not even the Minister is responsible.  This blaming only disguises the real and fundamental inequities and flaws in health care and its delivery in Newfoundland.  The solution is to hire an outsider at a huge salary, as if one person can fix such a flawed system.  Perhaps though, it is thought that the next time, we will have someone to blame.

In Ottawa the recent escapade with the Minister of Resources resulted in a junior advisor being blamed and sacrificed, while on an earlier occasion, it was deemed necessary to lay blame on another minister to remove him.  Whatever happened to Ministerial responsibility, a foundation of parliamentary democracy or is blame a tool used to eliminate, but only when necessary.

The abuse of expenses by all and sundry parliamentarians caused a crisis in the British parliament and threatened to topple the government.  In this case, it seems that everyone was to blame, but apparently, no one was responsible to ensure that adequate ethical reporting procedures were in place.

The public sectors are not alone in being broken.  This malaise is evident in the private sector.  The most visual examples currently include finance, banking and the motor industry.  People have been blamed and dismissed with abandon while the flawed systems continue, with the support of large sums of taxpayer’s cash.

The Challenge:

The dilemma relates to the mono culture that has evolved whereby money has become god, consumerism our church and arrogance our gospel.  Responsibility, tolerance and humility no longer have value.  Civility itself appears assigned to the dustbin of history; even history itself is in question.  The modus operandi suggests that attack, blame and character assassination are prevalent management tools in business and government circles.  The credo that the strongest should survive appears to be the basis of our new social order.  It is no wonder people fear blame.

The focus on blame is at the core of most of today’s crisis and responsibility appears nowhere in evidence.  What has become of debating different political policy issues?  What has happened to fair play, honour and mutual respect, once the foundation of parliamentary systems and business alike?  Where have the societal and civic values, which made these countries democratic models for much of the world, been mislaid?

This brings me back to my point about blame and responsibility being both sides of the same coin.  It is so much easier to attack and diminish through blame, than to debate and discuss real issues.  It is so much less onerous to find human inequities, than properly deal with human and systemic errors.  It is so much quicker to destroy a human reputation, than to build a useful functioning system that is fair and just for all. The real challenge is to rebuild a culture of responsibility, where apportioned blame is seen as a tool for adjustment and renewal and all those responsible are genuinely accountable.

Written by Bill Pardy

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