I am a twenty-something, child-loving, proud middle school teacher. I teach English to sweet, teenage nincompoops five days a week. But as much as I love subjective pronouns, I love nincompoops more, and my job is so much more than drilling them with academics. Sure, I want my kids to excel in “riting and rithmetic”, but mostly, I want to build them into the best person they can be. They are so moldable, and this shaping starts in the classroom with the little things- the small concepts like respect, determination, and personal responsibility. Personal responsibility is probably one of the most important values I try to instill in my kids. My students know our phrase: “I am responsible for everything I think, say, and do.” After all, we wouldn’t want Jack blaming Diane for not finishing his homework, would we? Or worse, we wouldn’t want Jack blaming Diane for losing his job and skipping the family’s mortgage payment.
Despite these efforts of instilling personal values in my classroom, recently I’ve come to the realization that many millennials (amongst other generations) in America don’t even understand this concept of personal responsibility. As a matter of fact, I was emboldened to write about this issue once I realized that I am equally a victim of this plague. As I began to think about it, I became disturbed by the amount of times I hear grown adults make simple excuses for their slip ups, and I don’t know how or when this became okay.
You might be thinking right now, “Okay, this is true for some people, but I actually consider myself a pretty accountable person”. And you probably are… Mostly. But consider these two hidden instances where you likely didn’t even know you were diverting responsibility, and you and I both do them:
When You Arrive Late Somewhere
We’ve all heard the phrase: “To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, to be late is just unacceptable.” Well, somewhere along the way being late has become acceptable, especially to millennials. Not only has it become acceptable, it’s become a breeding ground for a quarry of ridiculous excuses. Who’s ever heard any one of these excuses when someone arrives late somewhere:
“Sorry I’m late, traffic was ridiculous,” or
“Sorry I’m late, I was blow drying my hair,” or
“Sorry I’m late, I thought the surprise party started at 7:45.” (As you are walking in with the birthday girl.)
Now I’m not saying there is no grace for a genuine mistake. Life happens, I get it. But MY question I’d like to prose is: WHY does the apology always have to be followed with an excuse? Oh you apologized, and then explained why you messed up? Good for you, I’ll look past your poor planning. Not exactly. A true apology is a sincere admittance of fault, and nothing further. If millennials were my students, I’d be telling you to own up to your mistakes and take responsibility for your error. Why can’t the response be simply, “I’m sorry I’m late.” Better yet, “I’m really sorry I’m late, I made you guys wait on me and that is not okay.”
The fact of the matter is, no matter WHAT you were doing prior, your lack of punctuality was still disrespectful of someone else’s time and it was ultimately your fault, either for not planning for traffic appropriately, showering sooner, or confirming time and address. Take it from someone who loves to gather people together often: It will be taken a lot more genuinely when you own it, and you’re not lying to yourself or to your host. All in all, do people a favor and consider changing this small facet of your undercover habits. It’s one hidden aspect of personal responsibility we’re all slowly beginning to lose.
When You Lose Your Cool
A second hidden instance in which you may not have even realized you were copping out of personal responsibility is when you lose your cool. Prime example: A friend snaps at you for something minor, then realizes their mistake by saying, “I’m sorry, I’m just tired.” Can you guess the problem here? That’s right, there’s that hidden excuse again. Regardless of your emotions or your physical well-being at the moment, being “tired” does not warrant the opportunity to blow up on someone, and then simply make the excuse your apology. You are not taking responsibility in that moment for losing your cool when you tack on the defense of not getting enough sleep the night before. Rather, it should go, “I’m sorry I said those things, that wasn’t right of me,” the end. Ladies, I might even like to argue that when it’s that time of the month, it doesn’t warrant us to go she-beast mode on the world. Now again, I’m not saying there isn’t grace in these moments, but let the other party give grace to you rather than conjuring it up yourself.
My grandfather would have turned over in his grave if he’d heard some of the casual excuses we come up with today. He was a man of his word and believed in doing the common-sense thing. I even have a theory that the technologically saturated world we live in today has allowed us a convenient facade to operate behind, and allows us to feed these failures, but that is an article for another day. All in all, I believe we could all benefit from re-learning this elementary lesson again: “I am responsible for everything I think, say, and do.” I’d challenge you to join me in asking yourself these hard questions and analyze where you fall short. The world will thank you.