The Responsibility Poem
There was a most important job that needed to be done,
And no reason not to do it, there was absolutely none.
But in vital matters such as this, the thing you have to ask
Is who exactly will it be who'll carry out the task?
Anybody could have told you that Everybody knew
That this was something Somebody would surely have to do.
Nobody was unwilling; Anybody had the ability.
But Nobody believed that it was their responsibility.
It seemed to be a job that Anybody could have done,
If Anybody thought he was supposed to be the one.
But since Everybody recognized that Anybody could,
Everybody took for granted that Somebody would.
But Nobody told Anybody that we are aware of,
That he would be in charge of seeing it was taken care of.
And Nobody took it on himself to follow through,
And do what Everybody thought that Somebody would do.
When what Everybody needed so did not get done at all,
Everybody was complaining that Somebody dropped the ball.
Anybody then could see it was an awful crying shame,
And Everybody looked around for Somebody to blame.
Somebody should have done the job
And Everybody should have,
But in the end Nobody did
What Anybody could have.
Charles Osgood, often referred to as CBS News' poet-in-residence, has been anchor of "CBS News Sunday Morning" since 1994. He also anchors and writes "The Osgood File," his daily news commentary broadcast on the CBS Radio Network.
I have color coded the people in the poem to make it easier to break down the meaning. Perhaps answering a series of questions can help solve any comprehension problems you might have as these characters appear multiple times. This exercise may also spark some discussion about theme.
1. Who did Everybody say would "surely" have to do the task?
2. Why didn't Nobody do the task?
3. Who had the "ability" to do the task?
4. Who did Everybody "take for granted" would do the task?
5. Who did Everybody complain was responsible for "dropping the ball"?
6. In the end, what two people should have done the task?
7. In the end, who did the task that Anybody could have done?
Everyone Wants It
Blog author Jonathan Fields writes about the fact he hears everyone say they want change. He gives several good examples. Fields says,
"People want a better economy, but nobody’s willing to share in the financial hit it’ll take to get us back on track.
"People want better schools, but nobody wants to rock the system, the unions, the teachers, the role of parents.
"People want lower health care costs, but nobody wants to endure the changes to medicine, law and bureaucracy it’ll take to get it.
"People want lower insurance, but nobody wants to adopt the changes in lifestyle and behavior that’ll drive it."
(Jonathan Fields, "Everyone Wants Better, No One Wants Change," www.jonathanfields.com, 2012)
In his blog entry, Fields makes two important conclusions:
(1) Everyone wants to own the result, nobody wants to own the process.
(2) A leader is someone who is willing to own not just the result, but the process.
Responsibility is often viewed lightly. Everybody, in good faith, says they want to be responsible for doing the right thing. However, being responsible for the process to complete any necessary task or being responsible for the process to effect needed change requires tremendous personal commitment and dogged determination. Some find they can't take the responsibility for the process because they lack the will required for full commitment; they limit their fulfillment of commitment to the bounds of their own minds and consciences. They love to say, "I'm with you," shake your hand, and part.
In other words, when many people say, "I will be responsible for this," they mouth their pledge to join the bandwagon that supports completion of the act, but they look past the hard work they must personally do in the process of achieving the act, preferring, instead, to share in any rewards of achieving a positive result.
I have seen this occur time and time again in many groups. Everyone agrees a cause is worthy, and the group must commit to action. There is work to be done. Then, in the minds of some individuals in the group, doubt begins to cast long shadows. Some members decide to cheer lead and not process because of the following excuses:
* This problem is just too big to tackle for me, besides someone else in the group will do it.
* I don't have the time right now to do anything about the problem. I'll get to it someday.
* I've thought about this problem more, and I just can't see the harm in letting it go for awhile.
* I'm not really affected by this problem, so why should I bust my tail to help?
To be fully responsible, we must "buy" the process and we must take ownership of the results. We cannot expect good results unless we apply our best efforts while working toward completion. If we work hard and the result isn't good, then we must examine our mistakes, modify our process, and rededicate ourselves to believing in the new process and carrying it out to a better completion.
When someone says, "I want to help," I find myself wondering whether the statement means "want" is the limitation of the conviction or whether "want" and "help" represent personal commitments necessary for full responsibility. Too often people say, "I've been meaning to..." or "I like what you guys are doing" or "I hope things turn out." It is plain to see why more doesn't get accomplished -- we have grown complacent as we pass buck after buck.