When Queen Victoria was a child, she didn't know she was in line for the throne of
England. Her instructors, trying to prepare her for the future, were frustrated because
they couldn't motivate her. She just didn't take her studies seriously. Finally, her
teachers decided to tell her that one day she would become the queen of England. Upon
hearing this, Victoria quietly said, "Then I will be good." The realization that
she had inherited this high calling gave her a sense of responsibility that profoundly
affected her conduct from then on.
Consider this story told by Bernard L. Brown, Jr., president of the Kennestone Regional
Health Care System in the state of Georgia.
Brown once worked in a hospital where a patient knocked over a cup of water, which
spilled on the floor beside the patient's bed. The patient was afraid he might slip on the
water if he got out of the bed, so he asked a nurse's aide to mop it up. The patient
didn't know it, but the hospital policy said that small spills were the responsibility of
the nurse's aides while large spills were to be mopped up by the hospital's housekeeping
The nurse's aide decided the spill was a large one and she called the housekeeping
department. A housekeeper arrived and declared the spill a small one. An argument
"It's not my responsibility," said the nurse's aide, "because it's a
large puddle." The housekeeper did not agree. "Well, it's not mine," she
said, "the puddle is too small."
The exasperated patient listened for a time, then took a pitcher of water from his
night table and poured the whole thing on the floor. "Is that a big enough puddle now
for you two to decide?" he asked. It was, and that was the end of the argument.
& Pieces, September 16, 1993, p. 22-24.
What a sharp contrast with a scene that occurred on a New York street nearly two decades before. Kitty Genovese was slowly
and brutally stabbed to death. At least thirty-eight of her neighbors witnessed the attack and heard her screams.
In the course of the 90-minute episode, her attacker was actually frightened away, then he returned to finish her off.
Yet not once during that period did any neighbor assist her, or even telephone the police.
The implications of this tragic event shocked America, and it stimulated two young psychologists, Darly and
Latane, to study the conditions under which people are or are not willing to help others in an emergency. In essence, they concluded that
responsibility is diffused. The more people present in an emergency situation, the
less likely it is that any one of them will offer help. This is popularly called the "bystander effect."
(In the actual experiment, when one bystander was present, 85 percent offered help. When two were present, 62
percent offered help. When five were present, then it decreased to 31 percent.)
Lawrence S. Wrightsman, Social Psychology in the Seventies (Monterey, Calif.: Brooks/Coal Publishing Company,
1972), pp. 33-34. quoted in Courage - You Can Stand Strong in the Face of
Fear, Jon Johnston, 1990, SP Publications, p. 37.
James Alexander Thom, on the fear of responsibility: Have you ever had to paint some roof trim, high up? You
get halfway up that 36-foot extension ladder and you start wondering about the ladder, its footing and your body weight.
You stop and hug the ladder, looking neither up nor down. Your left leg begins a ridiculous but uncontrollable shuddering.
At length you conquer that particular rung and inch your way to the next, then the next. Finally you're at the top,
clinging for your life. How can you take one hand off the ladder to use the paintbrush? But you do. Tight as a fiddle you begin.
The sky is clear. The sun is nice. The thirsty wood soaks up the paint. You whistle and think positive thoughts and do a good
job and forget about the height.
You've learned an important lesson of life from this. No matter what higher responsibility you take on, its scary, very
scary, until you start working.
In 1 Samuel 17 we have the thrilling story of David, the modest shepherd boy who slew Goliath, the arrogant giant of
Gath. The drama of that event so occupies our attention that the spiritual lessons contained in the more minute details may escape
our notice. Today, therefore, I'd like to consider the importance of the expression "five smooth stones."
Why more than one stone? Wasn't David a man of faith? Did he doubt that God would give him perfect timing and aim as he
used his trusty sling to take on the enemy of the Lord? (Certainly he needed only a single small pebble to accomplish his
mission. But wait, there were at least four other giants (see 2 Sam. 21:15-22). They might rally to Goliath's defense if
something went wrong. Perhaps David had prepared for them. Trusting the Lord implicitly, he chose one stone for the champion
of the Philistines and just enough to be ready for any others if they attacked.
Why did he choose "smooth stones"? Well, you can shoot much more accurately with the proper ammunition. He had faith,
but he also used sanctified common sense. He didn't foolishly say, "The Lord is going to do it anyway, so I'll just pick up any
old jagged rocks." No, he recognized human responsibility as well as Divine providence and selected shiny, round stones that
would speed straight to the mark.
Our Daily Bread.
David Rice Atchison -- Forget what the history books say. The 12th president of the United States was David Rice Atchison,
a man so obscure that Chester A. Arthur seems a household word by comparison.
At exactly 12 noon on March 4, 1849, Zachary Taylor was scheduled to succeed James Polk as chief executive. But March 4
was a Sunday and Taylor, a devout old general, refused to take the oath of office on the Sabbath. Thus, under the Succession
Act of 1792, Missouri Senator Atchison, as President ProTempore of the Senate, automatically became president.
Atchison was said to have taken the responsibilities of his office very much in stride. Tongue in cheek, he appointed a
number of his cronies to high cabinet positions, then had a few drinks, and went to bed to sleep out the remainder of his brief
administration. On Monday at noon Taylor took over the reins, but the nation can look back fondly on the Atchison presidency as
a peaceful one, untainted by even a hint of corruption.
Campus Life, February, 1980, p. 40.
A pastor once made an investment in a large piece of ranch real estate which he hoped to enjoy during his years of
retirement. While he was still an active pastor, he would take one day off each week to go out to his land and work. But what a
job! What he had bought, he soon realized, was several acres of weeds, gopher holes, and rundown buildings. It was anything but
attractive, but the pastor knew it had potential and he stuck with it.
Every week he'd go to his ranch, crank up his small tractor, and plow through the weeds with a vengeance. Then he'd
spend time doing repairs on the buildings. He'd mix cement, cut lumber, replace broken windows, and work on the plumbing. It was
hard work, but after several months the place began to take shape. And every time the pastor put his hand to some task, he
would swell with pride. He knew his labor was finally paying off.
When the project was completed, the pastor received a neighborly visit from a farmer who lived a few miles down the
road. Farmer Brown took a long look at the preacher and cast a longer eye over the revitalized property. Then he nodded his
approval and said, "Well, preacher, it looks like you and God really did some work here."
The pastor, wiping the sweat from his face, answered, "It's interesting you should say that, Mr. Brown. But I've got
to tell you -- you should have seen this place when God had it all to Himself!"
Ted W. Engstrom, The Pursuit of Excellence,
1982, Zondervan Corporation, pp. 23-25.
Toomey's Rule: It is easy to make decisions on matters for which you have no responsibility.
Be thankful for bad luck. Without it, you'd have to blame yourself.
Franklin P. Jones in The Wall Street Journal.
Consider Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who wrote in 1762 the classic treatise on freedom, The Social Contract, with its
familiar opening line: "Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains."
But the liberty Rousseau envisioned wasn't freedom from state tyranny; it was freedom from personal obligations. In his
mind, the threat of tyranny came from smaller social groupings --family, church, workplace, and the like. We can escape the
claims made by these groups, Rousseau said, by transferring complete loyalty to the state.
In his words, each citizen can become "perfectly independent of all his fellow citizens" through becoming
"excessively dependent on the republic." This idea smacks so obviously of totalitarianism that one
wonders by what twisted path of logic Rousseau came up with it. Why did he paint the state as the great liberator?
Historian Paul Johnson, in his book Intellectuals, offers an intriguing hypothesis. At the time Rousseau was writing The
Social Contract, Johnson explains, he was struggling with a great personal dilemma.
An inveterate bohemian, Rousseau had drifted from job to job, from mistress to mistress. Eventually, he began living with
a simple servant girl named Therese. When Therese presented him with a baby, Rousseau was, in his own words, "Thrown into the
greatest embarrassment." His burning desire was to be received into Parisian high society, and an illegitimate child was an
Friends whispered that unwanted offspring were customarily sent to a "foundling asylum." A few days later, a
tiny, blanketed bundle was left on the steps of the local orphanage. Four more children were born to Therese and Jean-
Jacques; each one ended up on the orphanage steps. Records show that most of the babies in the institution
died; a few who survived became beggars. Rousseau knew that, and several of his books and letters reveal vigorous attempts to
justify his action.
At first he was defensive, saying he could not work in ahouse "filled with domestic cares and the noise of children."
Later his stance became self-righteous. He insisted he was only following the teachings of Plato: hadn't Plato said the state is
better equipped than parents to raise good citizens? Later, when Rousseau turned to political theory, these
ideas seem to reappear in the form of general policy recommendations. For example, he said responsibility for
educating children should be taken away from parents and given to the state. And his ideal state is one where impersonal
institutions liberate citizens from all personal obligations.
Now, here was a man who himself had turned to a state institution for relief from personal obligations. Was his own
experience transmuted into political theory? Is there a connection between the man and the political theorist?
It is risky business to try to read personal motives. But we do know that to the end of his life Rousseau struggled
with guilt. In his last book, he grieved that he had lacked, in the words of historian Will Durant, "the simple courage to bring
up a family."
Charles Colson, Christianity Today, "Better a Socialist Monk than
a Free-market Rogue?, p. 104.
The divine "scheme of things," as Christianity understands it, is at once extremely elastic and extremely rigid.
It is elastic, in that it includes a large measure of liberty for the creature; it is rigid in that it includes the proviso that,
however created beings choose to behave, they must accept responsibility of their own actions and endure the consequences.
Dorothy L. Sayer, Dorothy L. Sayer: A Rage for Life.
Responsibility for others is one of the chief causes of tension in executives. To prove this idea, an experiment was conducted
some time ago with two monkeys. Scientists devised a method of giving one of the monkeys
"executive" training under carefully controlled laboratory conditions.
The monkey chosen for executive training was strapped in a chair with his feet on a plate capable of giving him a minor
electric shock. Then they put a light over the desk and turned the light on 20 seconds before each shock. A lever was placed by
the monkey's chair. If he pulled the lever after the light came on, the light would go out and there would be no shock. The
executive monkey learned to avoid the shock very quickly. The scientists then placed another monkey across the room
with the same setup, except that the second monkey's lever didn't work. However, the monkeys soon learned that the first monkey's
lever would work for both, turning off the second monkey's light and protecting him from shock as well. This made the first
monkey an executive, since he was now responsible for preventing shock for the second one.
The first monkey was intelligent. He quickly took over, protecting both himself and his colleague from shock, responding
to both lights or either light without difficulty.
There was no outward change in either monkey as the experiment continued, but after awhile the executive monkey,
responding to the stress of responsibility for another, developed stomach ulcers. The second monkey's health remained unchanged.
The price of greatness is responsibility.
Connie Mack was one of the greatest managers in the history of baseball. One of the secrets of his success was that he knew how
to lead and inspire men. He knew that people were individuals. Once, when his team had clinched the pennant well before the
season ended, he gave his two best pitchers the last ten days off so that they could rest up for the World Series. One pitcher
spent his ten days off at the ball park; the other went fishing. Both performed brilliantly in the World Series. Mack never
critcized a player in front of anyone else. He learned to wait 24 hours before discussing mistakes with players. Otherwise, he
said, he dealt with goofs too emotionally.
In the first three years as a major league baseball manager, Connie Mack's teams
finished sixth, seventh, and eighth. He took the blame and demoted himself to the minor leagues to give himself time to
learn how to handle men. When he came back to the major leagues again, he handled his players so successfully that he developed
the best teams the world had ever known up to that time.
Mack had another secret of good management: he didn't worry. "I discovered," he explained, "that worry was threatening to wreck
my career as a baseball manager. I saw how foolish it was and I forced myself to get so busy preparing to win games that I had no
time left to worry over the ones that were already lost. You can't grind grain with water that has already gone down the
Bits and Pieces, December 13, 1990.
Some years ago a former American astronaut took over as head of a major airline, determined to make the airline's service the
best in the industry. One day, as the new president walked through a particular department, he saw an employee resting his
feet on a desk while the telephone on the desk rang incessantly.
"Aren't you going to answer that phone?" the boss demanded.
"This isn't my department," answered the employee nonchalantly, apparently not recognizing his new boss. " I work in
"Not anymore you don't!" snapped the president.
Today in the Word, MBI, December, 1989, p. 35.