Accountability

When We Look For Responsibility Why Is It That We Save

There’s an old gag that runs – the definition of “chutzpah” is when a kid murders his parents and throws himself on the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan. It’s funny, and yet, increasingly no one is to blame for anything in our society – no one takes responsibility, not even for their own actions.

Over three decades ago, Dan White set the implausibility bar very high by claiming he’d murdered Harvey Milk as the result of being hopped up on Twinkies. (The tasty snack treat made him do it!) That defense actually worked, and sparked riots.

We live in a society ruled by an enormous dog, (even bigger than Clifford the Big Red Dog) and all day long that dog eats our homework – so we never have to do it.

Now that the presidential election is ramping up across the land there is hand wringing and obligatory excoriation of elected officials. While this is understandable, everyone seems to have conveniently forgotten that they are the ones who put the offenders in office, and they can vote them out. They could even – gasp – run for office, like Harvey Milk.

Personal accountability was a cardinal virtue among the people who built this country; but it seems to be almost unknown today. The fact is, if lightning strikes your house, it’s not your fault, but it is your problem. Assigning blame isn’t going to fix your roof, getting up there with a hammer, saw and nails will.

This subject is very familiar to me, indeed, my youth was a veritable love song to entitlement. I thought roughing it was when we didn’t get sorbet in-between courses, (to cleanse our palettes). That all changed when the heavens rained fire on my life in the form of mental illness, madness, manic depression.

Bear in mind, I did nothing to deserve this curse, this nightmare, this torture. When you are mentally ill you have a very strong case for playing the victim card, and you can, if that’s what you want to be. But I didn’t. Like others before me, one day I simply refused to be a victim anymore, took ownership of the disaster, and faced it.

If you want the full story you can read it in my bipolar memoir, INVISIBLE DRIVING. Suffice it to say that engaging in that long battle didn’t just wrestle the illness to the ground, it made me a man.

One hears so much wisdom in AA meetings. Recently I heard a woman say, “I am not a victim and life is not an excuse.” Alcoholics and drug addicts are among the most skilled liars in the world, with an absolutely inspiring ability to blame other people for their faults and difficulties. Over years of having the bs beaten out of you by no-nonsense dipsomiacs one finally grows able to see, as Shakespeare said so nicely, “the fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves”.

Importantly, AA doesn’t care about righteous rage and fair versus unfair, AA is only interested in results. It is a program of absolute accountability, and, the question of – now that you are accountable what are you going to do?

Ironically, it was through mental illness and addiction that I grew to understand how to live a righteous and responsible life. Today I am no victim, that much is certain.

Published by

Alistair McHarg

Alistair McHarg was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, moved immediately to Edinburgh, and three years later moved to Amsterdam. At 6 he settled in Philadelphia and for 16 years was confused by Quaker education; Germanton Friends School and Haverford College. A Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Louisville nudged him even closer to unemployability. Convinced at an early age that fate had chosen writing as his calling, Alistair followed a characteristically slow and circuitous path. He has found work as deck hand on a Norwegian tramp freighter touring South America, Bureau of Land Management Emergency Fire Fighter in Alaska, guide at a Canadian wilderness survival camp, truck driver crisscrossing Colorado's continental divide, and inner city cabbie. Alistair has been arranging words on paper for a living since 1983.