A Guest Post by John A. Wood
Passing The Buck (Shifting the Burden of Responsibility)
A daydream of mine, destined to be unfulfilled, is to know how my grandfathers saw life – in a sense, what their philosophy for everyday living was. What follows, like the grab-bag of personal musings I’ve penned over the past 15 years, was put to paper primarily for my grandchildren and their offspring. I trust that my descendents will, as I would have, welcome an insight into (if not agree with) one of their ancestors.
This has been troublesome to write. I suspect it may prove difficult to read. Not because it is badly written – it’s passable, but because it confronts the way in which we fail ourselves, each other and the planet by duck shoving issues. It allows no wriggle room. Rewritten several times, I have failed to make it more palatable.
BEING A VICTIM OF OTHERS AND OF CIRCUMSTANCE
I still feel discomfited, even incompetent around the countless times I’ve passed the buck. That is, shifted the burden of responsibility for my mess, mistakes, misadventures… for life unfolding in ways that didn’t suit me. I blamed him, her or THEM! God and the devil were accused. Luck, or its lack, was another. It was beyond my awareness at those points in time to be accountable for my thinking, feelings and actions (and consequently my life). The weather, seasons, Government, the economy, all were held as the source of my discomfort or difficulty at one time or another. Of course, it was the fault of my first, then second wife, children, step children, blood relatives, in-laws, friends and neighbours. And let’s not forget my employees, customers and suppliers. The censure was indiscriminate; just as long as I wasn’t to blame for my awful actions, critical words or pear-shaped endeavours. He, she, they, them or it, caused me to be the way I was, or made me do what I did… but only if the result was poor. Odd that… I always claimed success as mine. And the grand-daddy of all buck-passing (one that has spawned a global burden-shifting industry: psycho-analysis and its derivatives), my parents. They were my real problem. I enshrined them as the genesis for what went wrong with me and my life. Physical and psychological abuse, being an only child, not having the right physical or intellectual genes, my lack of education, opportunity, timing… all or some combination of the above established that I was not responsible for who and how I was and what befell me. Poor me! I was the genuine victim of circumstance.
Get the Picture?
GETTING A FRESH START
Then what changed? How did I unearth the fact that the buck really did end with me? That I was responsible for my life! Nobody else! No circumstance was at fault!
What enabled me to fully understand that I was the author of my experience… that there was nothing outside my mind creating my reality? What shifted within my consciousness to allow me to see that my life truly is an inside-out experience, not the outside-in reality I had always imagined (and still do when lost in self absorption)?
It was October 1992. I was in picturesque Tiburon across the bay from San Francisco attending a five day Philosophy of Everyday Living Seminar (POEL). It was named differently back then. On day three, although I had read and heard the same thing in numerous ways before, this time it was a revelation: what I think is my reality… the only reality I will ever know. I woke to this fact of life: nothing exists for me except through my thinking. Much later, in another place, again in the tick of a clock, I saw that my thinking was more than my brain at work. Thinking was the continuous expression of the Life energy called Thought; the creative force with which we fashion our lives 24/7. Without which we have no life.
Are you wondering where this is leading? What the point is?
It’s this: that split second discovery within my mind, via Thought, freed me from victim-hood. Passing the buck was no longer part of my every day, unless of course I forgot the context of my life. I think my experience, my reality, into being. My experience is not being imposed upon me no matter how it looks and feels to the contrary. My reality is exclusive to me. And it follows that the same holds true for the rest of humanity.
Once awake to the truth that I shifted responsibility as a way of life, I started noticing how common that aspect of human behaviour was in others as well – how pervasive blaming and pointing the finger was in our culture. And more to the point, how that innocently learnt habit, as students of our many teachers, damages or destroys relationships, our health, the environment and (the now topic du jour) the economy. And the biggie: how shifting responsibility frustrates our spiritual relationship with God (or from my reality; Life).
You, like me, may have grown up unaware that a mature human being takes responsibility and is accountable for their thinking, feelings and actions… their entire life. As it has been, is right now, and will be in the future – the cessation of attributing blame to anyone or anything.
PASSING THE BUCK
Let me give you five examples of passing the buck, each making some jarring and/or challenging assertions. And while I acknowledge that there are equally strong views to the contrary in what I am about to express; I ask that you suspend judgment until you have read each one.
Our lives are fabricated by these and many other facets of 21st Century tests of self responsibility. You may think of others.
THE PLACE WHERE THE HABIT BEGINS: CHILDHOOD – WHERE WE LEARN TO (AND EVENTUALLY EXCEL IN) PASS THE BUCK
Nowhere is duck-shoving more evident, and more invisible to us, than in our personal relationships. And it’s in childhood where we become predominantly responsible or irresponsible (in my view, mostly the latter). Very early on we adopt as our own, not what we are told by our parents and significant others but what we observe; the way we see and hear them live their lives day in, day out. Indelibly imprinted lessons, modeled day after day from our life teachers (some useful and some not so) ‘steering’ us through life. Once the die is cast it is difficult to transform: from routinely shifting the burden, to an assumption of responsibility for one’s thinking, feelings and actions. Passing the buck, learned as a youngster, shows up in how we think, feel and behave for the rest of our lives, and is illustrated in the following (that is, unless we experience a new beginning and see life from a clearer vantage point):
- Mother chastises her child: “Daddy will be furious when he finds out.” Or: “Wait till Daddy gets home and finds out what a bad boy you have been.” The mother here innocently passes the buck to the father, for whatever reason, rather than being accountable for instilling discipline herself. This particular shifting of responsibility (in various forms) shows up later in life; particularly in organisations…
- A supervisor, rather than taking responsibility for something he needs to achieve, will hide behind an authority figure (who may or may not have been involved in what is to be said and done). He will say something like: “The Boss was very upset…” or “The Directors want you to…” or “The CEO has changed his mind and…” Each time we shift the burden of responsibility by passing the buck upwards, we become weaker as a leader.
- Father, not wanting to speak with a phone caller, foists responsibility onto his child: “Tell the man Daddy is not home.” Here we have a double whammy… passing responsibility to the child to deal with the caller and importantly, teaching the child that it is ok to lie. This early lesson shows up in all sorts of avoidance in later life. We habitually get others to do our dirty work rather than face it ourselves. It also manifests in the so-called white lies we live so comfortably with… duck shoving to a lie rather than dealing with the truth. (The latest research shows that 98% of us lie. Is it any wonder?)
- Children learn quickly to flick past responsibility. When confronted over some misdemeanour, for the most part, kids will say that “he, she, they made me do it.” Parents, grandparents, assorted ‘rellies’ and friends all buy into this classic piece of duck shoving – the rationale being that ‘children are by definition not mature enough to be responsible’ for their actions. After years of collusion you will hear the chorus: “Johnny was such a good boy. It’s a pity he fell in with the wrong crowd. Look how they have led him astray.”
Increasingly, parents (particularly protective mums) find it hard to free their children to take on responsibility for their actions. Instead, they join with their offspring in the buck passing. That irresponsible thinking is so prevalent in Western Society that a myth of giant proportions has developed around the notion that peer pressure is the cause of counterproductive or even illegal behaviour. In fact, many so-called experts support the idea. Psychologist, psychiatrists, sociologists, social workers and a host of other well intentioned individuals perpetuate this myth, aided and abetted by the media.
Rather than coaching our kids in responsibility, we give in to their demands on the one hand or create a protective ‘nanny’ culture around them on the other. We give in to them when we fail to hold them accountable. We create a nanny culture when we support Government prohibitions rather than educating our child in being responsible. Early unchallenged experiences of buck passing are a primary cause of our inability to accept responsibility. The remaining examples demonstrate the end result.
WISHFUL, WASTEFUL THINKING AROUND GOD
Way back when, I bought into an idea often expressed as: “The Universe will provide”. The theme was: “Have faith, relax, and wait until the Universe delivers what I need or want” (no need for me to strive and work hard). Another was: “If it is meant to be it will work out; if it isn’t it wasn’t meant to be.” Again, in this mindset I am a victim who thinks that a divine being is pulling the strings that determine what will and won’t work out for me. No blood, sweat and tears with this philosophy.
Less new age, more traditional was this one: “I will pray to God for what I want.” Health, wealth, love, employment: a spouse, a new bike, a promotion, car, home or cure; all were available on direct request. Here, we pass the buck to an all powerful God to be the provider rather than take the necessary action to earn, seek out, or be worthy of what it is we want or need. Indeed, I held the idea that God was a mystical entity calling the shots over my life and the lives of others. No probleemo! Leave it to God. This of course was a neat abdication of responsibility for my state of health, general welfare or circumstance. Responsibility lay outside me and ultimate responsibility was in the hands of God, the Universe or fate… que sera sera. How juvenile was that?
Today I believe in God… but as Life. I am grateful to and for Life. I don’t say that my viewpoint is the truth… the truth remains a mystery to me, a mystery I am at peace with. I seek not from God but give thanks to Life for what I have – Life; to which I give as wholeheartedly and as energetically as I can. As to the Universe, I am in awe! And I know that I had better get off my backside and take action for what I seek. There are no free lunches.
OUR HEALTH – ‘AS YE SOW SO SHALL YE REAP’
Past actions testify that I thought I could sustain myself with whatever I wanted to eat and drink, lead a sedentary life, stress myself and assume that my body could handle the self inflicted abuse. I passed the buck to my body to deal with the toxic stuff I consumed, the physically inactive life I lead, and my stressful thinking. And if my body became overwhelmed with the daily intake of lifeless food, drink and thinking, I could hand-ball my failing health to the medical fraternity; who would prescribe all manner of remedies to fix me. If their pills and potions failed I could have the diseased parts replaced, zapped with radiation, sliced away or chemically poisoned. No worries mate!
After 64 years of that quality of thinking and behaviour what follows was the end result:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure).
- Hypothyroidism (an under active thyroid).
- Continuous diarrhoea.
- Various perennial skin ailments.
- High cholesterol.
- Exhausted much of the time… old and worn out.
- Cancer of the prostate
Like other ‘she’ll be right mate’ Aussie males, I didn’t take care of myself. Didn’t grasp at a gut level (bulging bigger by the day) that I only had one body and it needed good care and maintenance. For which I was responsible and accountable. And more fool me, unlike most males, stored in the recesses of my memory was accumulated knowledge from earlier study on achieving and maintaining optimal health. This I ignored. Instead I put the burden on my body to keep me alive in the face of gross neglect and mistreatment. A bad mistake!
In the case of the cancer, the specialist presented the news, warning me that there was limited time to have the tumours cut, drugged, or burnt away – or they would metastasize. “When this happens,” she said, “you will die a slow painful death. “ I had already been told a few years earlier that I should take medication for my high blood pressure and my rapidly failing thyroid and would need to do so for the rest of my life. I had a range of creams for my skin conditions that gave temporary relief. And I also had blood tests, endoscopies and colonoscopies all without finding out why I had had ‘the runs’ for the preceding 5 years.
The cancer news jolted me to my core. I was scared. What to do? Having failed to take care of my health, was I now about to pass the buck once more? Was I going to leave it all to the medical, pharmaceutical or complementary medicine fraternities? Or was I going to meet the challenge of healing my body, of which the cancer and assorted other conditions were but symptoms of neglect and abuse… an irresponsible lifestyle? Had I really discovered the essence of responsibility back in ’92?
Apparently not quite! But from the deepest recess I remembered that the body, given the right conditions – optimal nutrition, appropriate exercise and a peaceful state of mind, will heal from any malady. I remembered books read in my twenties, and recalled a remarkable personal healing experience in my early thirties. Those readings and the natural healing event demonstrated the following: a 100% raw vegan organic diet, coupled with significantly reduced eating done in concert with fresh juicing, an energetic outdoor exercise program and a contented state of mind would, if practiced with daily discipline, lead to healing.
The decision was made; the path forward clear. For me, shifting the burden of responsibility for my health to others was no longer a viable option. I had faith that, as it had become sick with mistreatment, my body would heal, given time and cared for in the way I knew how to. If in doubt I would dig deeper.
Two years six months later aged 67, following a natural healing regime, my body responded in the following way:
- Weight reduced from 83.7kg to 61.7kg: a drop of 22kg.
- Blood pressure down from 135/85 to 110/60
- Thyroid Function: TSH down from 27.90 to 3.12 (Healthy Range 0.40 – 4.00).
- Normal bowl movements.
- Skin conditions healed.
- Cholesterol has reduced from 5.3 to 3.8 (Healthy Range <5.5*).
- LDL Cholesterol (the bad stuff) down from 3.8 to 2.6 (Healthy Range <3.5).
- Coronary Risk Ratio has come down from 5.3 to 3.8 (Healthy Range <5.0).
- Feeling stronger, healthier and more energised than I can recall at any point in my life.
- The test results show steady improvement.
Passing the buck for our health has become so commonplace that it looks as if it is the right thing to do. The norm! Taking next to zero responsibility for our health is part of our culture. It’s frightening!
We smoke; we use drugs. We consume alcohol, caffeine and sugar laden drinks. Some of us, maybe to salve our conscience, take make-believe health drinks; pasteurised, chemicalised, devitalised fruit and veggie juices and a mind boggling array of other containerised anti-health drinks. We eat make believe health foods; made with dead ingredients. We exist on food that has had the nutrition and nourishment cooked or processed to near extinction. We grow increasingly inactive, fat and unhealthy or emaciated and sickly. We line up in our hundreds of thousands each day across the nation at medical practices. Given pharmaceuticals for fixing our self induced failing health; we merely join the club of life time users. Others, disillusioned at the malfunction of modern medicine – and its clear inability to stem our nation’s declining health, turn to the naturopath or homeopath, hoping that extracts of this or that tree, bark, root, fruit, shrub, vegetable or herb will do the trick. Or that this vitamin, mineral, enzyme, pro-biotic, anti-oxidant or protein supplement will remedy what Mother Nature has the inherent capacity to provide if only we bypass the dead-food dealers and go direct to the manufacturer; Mother Nature.
Unfortunately most of us (me included til recently) refuse to take the natural road that leads to vibrant, sustainable health. Instead, we live on a lifeless food diet. Some, trying to do the right thing, lace their diet with limited value vitamin and mineral supplements; trusting that these will compensate for a lousy diet. Millions, from babies to old timers, are ending up with serious disease. Hundreds of thousands are hospitalised and more of our aged are living a wretched, drug extended but a physically and mentally infirmed old age (many in soul destroying Care). From cradle to grave, we pass the burden of responsibility to an expanding legion of, dare I say it, make believe health providers (main stream or alternative) to fix the symptoms of an unhealthy lifestyle rather than eating, drinking and living naturally.
Becoming responsible for living very simply and naturally has healed 7 of my 8 ailments. Given time, and continuing to provide my body with nature’s natural medicine: organic nutrition, exercise and healthy thinking, the cancer will go the same way as my other lifestyle induced conditions. Passing the buck for my health has stopped.
ON A GRANDER SCALE – THE HEALTH OF OUR PLANET
Having seen how we shift the burden of responsibility for our health let’s look briefly at how we do the same thing with the wellbeing of our common home… the planet.
Polluting the air; degrading the arable soils; acidifying, contaminating and scraping the life from our oceans floors; heating up the atmosphere; killing the lungs of our planet – the forests; and, embracing the potential destruction of our food chain by genetically modifying it – that is just a headline grabbing few examples of our irresponsibility. And, for a second time, I acknowledge that there are others, infinitely more qualified, who will vehemently disagree with my views. But having listened carefully to both sides of the debate on each preceding point for over 50 years, I am unwilling to sit on the fence and in effect, absolve myself of responsibility. I don’t believe we can risk inflicting further potential harm that may take thousands if not millions of years to heal while in the process we destroy the animal kingdom (a kingdom in which we are clearly the destructive species).
Closer to home however is our misuse of water. For two hundred years Australians have refused to be accountable for undervaluing, wasting, poisoning and in other ways destroying our most precious resource.
In my home town Perth we argue the toss over how to deal with water restrictions. We ask “Is it best to use desalination; build more dams; pipe overland or ship it 2000 kilometres from our North; or plumb the depths of additional ancient and finite aquifers?” More of us should ask: “How do we conserve what we have?” Most cures, as with our personal health, address the symptoms not the cause – our chronically irresponsible use and abuse. Each solution passes the buck. We waste water everywhere we use it. In agriculture, industry, at all levels of government and in our homes and gardens. At present we still don’t have a real water shortage! What we have is a massive waste of water in every nook and cranny of our community.
Rather than take personal responsibility for educating ourselves and stopping the waste, aren’t we (individually and collectively) shifting the burden of responsibility to our elected Government to solve the problem? It seems so to me. Our Government in turns shifts it back to the tax payer, us, to pay for what many see as unsustainable solutions. On this merry-go-round, arm in arm with the Government, we form a pact which ultimately shifts the problem onto the environment in one way or another. We build another ecologically damaging dam. Better still; we salt up our local sea while at the same time using massive amounts of CO2 emitting energy to run a desalination plant. We drain another ancient aquifer that takes a thousand years to refill, or we construct an environmentally harmful canal from the north to the south. Passing the buck, the thoughtless way of living, is never better illustrated than when we talk about life sustaining water.
Few of us see to the heart of the problem: our lack of careful and prudent use of this most precious resource, and pricing it in accordance with its economic and environmental cost. Instead, we blame ‘climate change’ or the lack of infrastructure planning by successive Governments. Most of us habitually look outside ourselves to solve the problem. Incongruous as it sounds, we ignore the fact that we live on the planet’s driest continent! We need to respond to that, understand that, and respect that. We need to stop (as with our personal health) treating symptoms (in this case our need to please ourselves how we use water) and address the cause, our lack of adequate conservation.
As with all problems, sustainable solutions are available. There are highly skilled men and women who know exactly what needs to be changed within agriculture, industry, government and in our homes and gardens to conserve this most precious resource. We need to listen to them and to act. The buck can stop with you and me at work or at home for wasting water and for the other ways in which we are destroying our planet. What do you say? Will we, as custodians of our environment, embrace responsibility before it is too late? Being 100% responsible for our personal contribution would be a grand start!
OUR ECONOMIC PROBLEMS – INDIVIDUAL AND COLLECTIVE BURDEN SHIFTING
The Australian Government, with the blessing of the Opposition, has committed our taxes by handing out a big chunk of this year’s anticipated surplus, $10+ Billion, to those they think will spend it quickly (and thus stimulate the economy and keep the so-called mindless masses pumping away on the consumption treadmill).
Our Banks, of which the four biggest are in the world’s strongest top twenty, have been underwritten by the Government; excuse me… the tax payer. More Government intervention is promised. Tax payers’ dollars are being pledged by our Prime Minister to prop up sectors of our economy that are finding the going tough. As I see it, we are thus removing the burden of responsibility from poorly managed companies and households and passing it to tax payers as a whole. What a bloody good scheme! Fail and get bailed out. This of course only happens if you are a car manufacturer, car distributer, farmer, bank or part of a politically sensitive sector of our economy. Too bad about the rest of the poor little sods dotted all over the country who will go broke! They don’t have enough political clout to be invited aboard the gravy train. And anyway, the train is nowhere near strong enough to pull additional carriages of freeloaders. The present heavy payload, having convinced each other and most of the population that by papering over the widening cracks in our economic system they can stop the dam bursting; will drown millions of us.
What beggars’ belief is that it was only months ago that successive Reserve Bank Chairmen and Treasurers said that our economy was going gangbusters but overheated, and that demand driven inflation was getting out of control! Things were, on balance, very good! Neither the Reserve Bank nor Treasurers seem to understand what causes inflation, which is an increase in the supply of paper money, not an increase in wages and prices. Those increases are a symptom but not the fundamental cause. So what’s happened? If our economies, Federal, State, Local, Business, Family and Individual, were soundly based and wisely managed, would so many now be facing implied (and in my view widespread) financial annihilation?
Instead of persisting with our Lemming-like rush toward total economic meltdown, might there still be time to take a stand for fiscal prudence? Is not the time right to let the responsibility for poor corporate governance stay where it belongs… with the boards, senior executives and shareholders? Is now the time to return to fundamentals; such as ensuring at all economic levels that incomes exceed expenditure? What a novel idea! You may think me a simpleton to suggest that.
What if the excess created at all levels of the economy, just for once, was saved and invested? Set aside for personal, corporate and national development on badly needed infrastructure, rather than being wasted on trying to sustain an unsustainable consumption-driven, debt fuelled, economic model. A corrupted system, in a drunken stagger, that must eventually implode and when it does cause devastation of the like we may have never seen before.
We are a fleabite population of 22 million with $1 trillion in Household Debt, $620 billion in Foreign Debt, and a Current Account Deficit of $60 billion a year. We cannot continue to shift the burden of responsibility to more and more debt that will become increasingly hard to pay back and eventually cannot be repaid. We will be bankrupted as a nation. We must pull our heads in, be accountable and responsible and start living within our means, as families, as local and state governments, as corporations and as a nation.
We have kidded ourselves in thinking we have been clever. Not so! We’ve just been lucky to live in Australia and be a part of a global commodity bonanza. Before it’s too late, let’s grasp this opportunity and take responsibility to get off the consumer powered treadmill and put our fiscal houses in sustainable order. However painful that might be at this time, it will be but a mild sniffle to the pneumonia we face down the track if we don’t act now. Buck passing has to stop with each of us. A sound economic outlook is forecast for those that apply common sense and accept responsibility for living within their means. Dire consequences await those shifting responsibility to the Government, believing that they have the power to spend our way out of trouble. With that strategy, they will do nothing but delay the inevitable… and in so doing, create even worse economic chaos and greater personal hardship for all but the truly wealthy (and there aren’t many that actually fit that category).
Driving home today I read an outdoor advertising billboard. It said almost everything I’m trying to say in eleven words: “It’s not coz we can’t. It’s coz we can’t be bothered!” Pictured beneath the words was a new toilet roll sitting on top of a dispenser with an empty cardboard roll left on the metal spindle. Below that were the words: “Chill.” Beside that was a picture of a popular brand of iced coffee. Further on I came across another of those ads. The words were the same: “It’s not coz we can’t. It’s coz we can’t be bothered!” This time it pictured a gift that had been wrapped as only a year old could have achieved. In both ads the surface message implies: “Don’t get upset by what others do; just ‘chill’ with our iced coffee.” In fact, it’s cool not to replace the toilet roll or not bother making a neat job of wrapping a gift, and “cool people drink our iced coffee.” Trivial, you might say. But at a deeper level, the message is just another reaffirmation that it is cool to be irresponsible. The ad tunes into the growing level of irresponsibility, making it a badge of honour to be uncaring of others and unaccountable to do what is decent.
If you have made it to this point you will know that I have struggled with my own lack of responsibility. I still do. Like everyone, even at 67, I am still work in progress.
Critics of this piece might say that I am just a grumpy old man. That is certainly true on a bad day. Others, who understand the principle of Thought, might say I can only see the world through my thinking and my thinking is jaundiced toward irresponsibility. It is true, each of us can only see through the prism of our own thinking. It is equally true that once we have had a wakeup call we see the obvious… that which we were once blind to.
Australia, at this point, is on balance an irresponsible society. I trust that my grandchildren, great grandchildren (and yours as well) will live in a country where responsibility for one’s life – spiritual, physical, environmental and financial – will be the norm. If that comes to pass we will see people that are psychologically independent, deeply loving and thus interdependent, physically robust and fearless custodians of our planet – men and women who have moved beyond the mental prison of irresponsibility.
For that to materialise we must recognise that the buck ends with each of us. No more shifting the burden of responsibility. The future is up to you and me.
John Wood’s essay was originally distributed to his friends, family and colleagues. With permission, I am very pleased to bring his wisdom to my audience. John resides in Darlington, Australia. He is a successful entrepreneur and consultant, the founder of Fleetwood Corporation. In 1993, after retiring from Fleetwood, John founded the Philosophy of Living Centre, Australia. This Centre coached and mentored business leaders and later evolved into Dimension 4 Consulting of Perth.