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Authority, Responsibility, Blame, Accountability
Dropping to your knees and sobbing uncontrollably isn’t a great way to exit your therapist’s office but there I was. As I was walking out the door at the end of a session he casually used the word “responsibility”. It was like he’d hit me in the face with a brick.
He patched me back together enough that I could drive home but we clearly had some work to do. Over the next few months it came out that in my family the word “responsibility” meant that someone could abuse you and it was your fault, not theirs. It’s a weird, twisted, self-protective misinterpretation of the concept of responsibility. I had to learn that there was a real concept about accepting consequences and the word “responsibility” reasonably attaches to it.
This all happened 20 years ago. Since then I have made a dozen attempts to consolidate and express what I have learned about the key concepts in social relations. I failed every time. Yet here I am taking another shot at it, because:
Understanding these concepts is important to living a good life.
I want to understand these concepts better, having come to them in middle age instead of learning them naturally.
I’m encountering more mismatches of authority and responsibility, the balancing of which Extreme Programming was built on. I can’t talk about the mismatch without nailing down the concepts.
Folks disagree about the concepts and names, sometimes meaning opposite concepts with the same words.
I’m not going to claim primacy in what follows. These are not the “correct” once-and-for-all-time definitions. These are useful concepts in social relations. They need names. The following 4 posts will help me discuss what I mean.