Boomerangs, Broken Windows and Responsibility

Australians lie. There is no purpose or task for which a boomerang is needed or helpful. From my experience they are nothing more than devices of destruction and mayhem. No matter how many times one reads "the instructions" they never come back when you throw them. Even if they did no finger-loving human would want to catch one in flight. The only possible use of boomerangs is as a tool for lessons in personal responsibility. 

Case in point: When my son was about 7 years old one of the boys in the neighborhood had a boomerang. Nate was playing at their house and asked if he could throw it. He had a pretty strong arm for a little boy and he gave it quite a heave. It was traveling pretty fast when it struck the window of their garage. It is basic law of physics that when an irresistible force strikes an immovable object that the boomerang wins. There was glass everywhere. It was time to buy a new window.

I was across the street when it happened and hurried over to survey the damage. I told the neighbor that we would pay for the window. He initially refused but I insisted. I turned to my son and asked him how much money he had in his piggy bank. "Nine dollars" was his hesitant reply. I told him he would be contributing that amount to the repair of the window and tears welled up in his little eyes, "But it was an accident!" 

I explained that even when we accidentally break something or do harm, something is still harmed or broken and someone will need to fix it. The window had to be replaced, that would cost money, and because the damage came from him he was responsible to for it.  We have to take responsibility for the consequences of our own actions even when they are unintentional. This wasn't punishment, it was just the way life worked. We went home and retrieved his life savings and I added the remainder. The neighbor graciously did the repair himself. 

Reflecting back on the story I am reminded that personal responsibility is a lost value. People are often quick to apologize but very slow to make amends. It seems no one wants to be held accountable for their mistakes. I see this all the time. Just this week we received a bill from a medical office. We were surprised because we had been asked to "pay in full" at the time of service had done so. The collections agent explained that they had made a mistake and "forgotten" to charge us for a portion of the services. My response that "payment in full" typically means you have "paid in full" and that we should therefore not have to pay for their mistake fell on deaf and uncaring ears. 

I have made similar billing mistakes in my practice but my worldview is different from that of the other medical office. In every circumstance I bear the expense of our mistakes. Both me and my son can attest that accepting responsibility is costly. Apologies are not. Here's hoping for a resurgence of responsibility in the world.

- Bart

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