Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Taking the blame

A few weeks ago, I needed something to make it through the rest of the afternoon but I'd already finished the pot of tea I'd brewed that morning so I thought I'd have a cup of coffee. I went to the cafeteria to the coffee machine and found a mess. Someone had made coffee but had spilled the old grounds and some coffee on the floor and on the counter and had just left the mess there. So, I decided to clean it up, take my cup of coffee and get back to work.

Why is nothing ever simple? As I looked into the mess I saw it was more extensive that I first thought so it was going to take longer than I first estimated. I guess this is why the person who caused it had just left it. But the problem remained and if I didn't clean it up, someone else would have to handle it. So, I got down on my knees and started to work. It didn't take long for other people to come in and the first thing out of everyone's mouth was, "Oh, look who made a mess!"

Isn't that the way it always is? For as many times as we see the person who made the mess just scuttle off and leave it, we all seem to think that the person cleaning up the mess was the one who made it. A similar thing that happens, usually in grade school or with people of that mentality, when someone leaves off some gas and then doesn't admit it. Of course, the Grade School Judicial System has come up with a way to deal with these things, "He who smelt it, dealt it." Whoever mentions the smell is immediately blamed for it. So, everyone stands there ignoring it or leaving if possible. There's not much to be done to remedy the situation without seeming to have "smelt it" so no one will start fanning or opening windows for fear of being labeled as the one who caused the problem.

Back to me cleaning up the coffee mess. I gave up explaining that I hadn't made the mess. Besides taking time away from working on the problem, I wasn't about to try to justify myself to the people who I imagined were thinking that I'd made the mess. But as I worked and more people came in for coffee, I was getting in their way. Some were mad that I would get between them and their coffee just to clean up the mess. So, again, my clean up was slowed down as I had to move to let them get their coffee. Some, who knew I hadn't made the mess, said I should just leave, "You're just enabling the mess makers. They'll never learn if you just clean up after them." Others said, "Don't you have something more important to do?"

Then people started offering suggestions of where I'd gone wrong - both in making the mess to begin with (you know my thoughts here) and in cleaning it up incorrectly. "What you should have done" and "I'd do it like this" being thrown freely around. I finally finished and got back to my desk (after reheating the coffee that had gone cold). It really makes you less likely to jump in and help the next time you see something that needs to be done.

That night, watching the news about the handling of the recession we're in, the arguments about how to handle it, who's fault it is and how long it is taking, it dawned on me that I'd lived the life of a politician for a short time that day. I won't be running for office any time soon.

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