Avoiding responsibility means giving up the power to grow

Universal Storyteller
8 min readJan 16, 2019



This is another chapter of my book THE HERO INSIDE; and this is an interesting one as it explains how and why we have to take responsibility to be able to grow as a person...


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15th of January 2009. The US Airways pilots Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and his First Officer board their Airbus A320 at LaGuardia Airport for a routine flight to Charlotte, North Carolina. The two experienced pilots had done this flight plenty of times previously and on a normal day the flight time is just under two hours.

But on that day, nothing is normal.

Three minutes into the flight, a flock of Canada geese smashes into the plane, disabling both engines. Sully has to react fast; he only has 208 seconds; he doesn’t have the time and luxury to peruse any emergency manuals. He does not follow what would have been a ‘normal’ procedure: returning to the nearest airport.

Instead, he decides on trying a spectacular emergency landing right on the Hudson River. A manoeuvre which was never trained or even considered before. Sully succeeds in landing the broken plane on the river and manages to save the lives of all 155 passengers on board. A manoeuvre which would be later celebrated as one of the most astounding and improbable emergency landings in the history of civil aviation.

Instead of celebrating Sully as a hero, the National Transportation Safety Board claims at first that several computerized flight simulations showed that he could have safely landed the plane on one of the nearby airports. They believe the accident may have been a pilot error which would end Sully’s career immediately. But Sully insists that the simulations have to be rerun with live pilots under realistic conditions. Indeed, both simulations end in crashes and the potential loss of all passengers. Even though river landing might have been an unorthodox solution, Sully took the best option available, saving everybody’s life. He is fully rehabilitated.

This is the story of SULLY starring Tom Hanks based on real events.

What did Sully do? He took 100% responsibility and accountability for his actions during and after the incident and did what he thought was the right thing to do. He acted against all ‘normal’ advice and all the emergency procedures he was taught in countless flight simulator lessons.

Heroes hold themselves accountable for their actions and do not shy away from their own responsibility.

Be the creator of circumstances

But what do responsibility and its sibling accountability actually mean!?

They mean the willingness to stand up and be counted; they mean taking initiative and delivering on a commitment.

More precisely: having responsibility is the obligation to acknowledge the choices we have and act on them while taking charge for all consequences; accountability is about keeping promises and doing what we say we will.

Imagine the opposite of responsibility for a moment: That would be passively waiting for our fate to be determined by luck or others. In that case, we would solely depend on external forces to dictate our future. Doesn’t sound too appealing, does it?!

The advantages of acting responsibly and accountably are vast and important for our lives. By taking responsibility and accountability we empower ourselves to make a difference. We take our destiny into our own hands and grow confidence to make things better. If we take accountability, we are always the creator and not the victim of circumstances.

In the “Handbook of the Sociology of Mental Health,” sociology professors Catherine E. Ross and John Mirowsky of the University of Texas found that if we believe our focus of control lies internally, meaning we take accountability for our actions, we experience lower levels of psychological distress; as opposed to people who believe we are determined by external forces.

Also, we become better problem-solvers when we take accountability for the mistakes we make; through the sheer act of acknowledging our mistakes, we take the first step to learn and have a good chance to make it better next time. Even more so, if we take responsibility for our mistakes, we are forced to reflect on our own behaviour and motivations. It has the nice by-product that we learn about ourselves the hard way. It helps us to identify who we really are, which I turn is an important prerequisite to grow.

The best thing for the hero who has given up being right at all costs is the liberation it brings. Not having to be right all the time lifts a big weight from you and releases good energy you can somewhere else.

Holding ourselves accountable can have a positive impact on social affairs, too: owning our mistakes and actions enhances our relationships because people find us more trustworthy and can better relate to us.

Why we avoid responsibility

The big question is: if acting responsibly and taking accountability only bring advantages why do people actually avoid them so often?

Well, on a superficial level avoiding responsibility can make our lives more convenient: We can blame our hard upbringing or other disadvantages we might have experienced if things go wrong. Easy. We can point our fingers at others and blame them. Easy. Especially our parents and our education are convenient targets for people who avoid taking accountability for their actions. We can be completely in denial about the mistakes we made, which conveniently can avoid short-term confrontations.

It is in human nature that we don’t like to be reminded of our wrongdoings and we definitely do not like to admit our flaws to others.

Another reason why people avoid responsibility is the psychological phenomenon called the “bystander-effect”. It means that we are less likely to take responsibility when in a larger group of people as we rely on other members of the group to take the initiative.

But think about the bad consequences: By not owning mistakes, by not being accountable for our flaws there is a real danger that we will not learn from them and will do the very same mistakes over and over again. Even worse, we might adopt a wrong self-conception by lying to ourselves and, thus, will not give us room to improve and grow.

By removing ourselves from a potential role in the problem we also remove ourselves from creating a potential solution. That, in turn, will take from us the satisfaction and joy to solve problems ourselves and overcome hurdles.

Simply put: If you always blame others and external circumstances for any shortcomings or misfortunes, you give up your own power to grow and change.

How to learn responsibility

The good news is that we can learn responsibility: Start with asking yourself if there is anything you try to avoid or hide in your life. Go out and confront it is the next step. Take full responsibility for it. Remember that responsibility is a choice.

Another way of learning responsibility is to change our mindset. Continuously make yourself aware that you are in total control of your own actions and thoughts. Next time feelings of blame or guilt come up in difficult situations, recognize that both might be signs of evading responsibility. Step back and ask yourself how your own actions have affected that situation.

You will liberate your life if you stop running or hiding from mistakes. Taking responsibility and owning mistakes will make your life truthful and authentic. It might make it harder in the short term but will pay off in the long term; and you will be more honest, especially to yourself. Really.

Heroes and responsibility

Looping back to heroes: they take responsibility and hold themselves accountable for their actions. Otherwise, they would not be heroes.

Take George Clooney’s movie GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK, which is based on the true story of the courageous broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow during the gloomy days of the McCarthy area. Mr. Murrow takes responsibility and encourages his viewers to stand up against the persecution of innocent people. In the politically toxic environment of 1950s America, he puts his own life at risk, stays true to his character and holds himself accountable for his own actions. In the end, his brave and honest broadcasts helped to censure Senator Joseph McCarthy.

WALL-E, one of the most adorable Pixar characters to date, is another good example. This innocent robot is programmed to collect waste which was left behind on the deserted planet Earth. He fulfils his job with utmost responsibility and always does his best no matter what he is doing; even though no one is watching. Though it is a lonely and mundane job, WALL-E manages to find happiness in the smallest of things.

Later in the story, he takes responsibility for his friend and love interest, the female robot Eve, and helps her no matter what. He then even teaches the human race that they can come back to planet earth and be accountable for the damage they caused. WALL-E is a universal reminder that we as the human race are responsible for the well-being of planet earth we live on.

Remember the 1970s cop thriller SERPICO with Al Pacino? Based on true events, this is the story of the snotty but incorruptible policeman Frank Serpico who slowly finds out that most of his friends and colleagues in the police department are corrupt. Frank decides to take responsibility and blows the whistle on the corrupt cops around him. Though he gets severely threatened by his fellow cops and friends, he stays true to himself and 100% accountable for his actions.

Be a creator, not a victim

Life is full of choices. Ultimately the story of our lives will be a result of the choices we made and the actions we took. People who act responsibly, believe that they can shape their life and attribute events and conditions, may they be good or bad, to their very own actions.

You can choose to be the creator of your own destiny; seeking solutions, taking action and trying something new when prompted with a stimulus from your environment. Or you can choose to be the victim of your world, blaming, complaining and finding excuses for your choices when prompted with a stimulus from your environment.

The former helps you achieve your goals and leads to autonomy, while the latter seldom helps you to achieve either.

Of course, there is absolutely no guarantee to achieving all of your life’s objectives, but once you take responsibility for your actions you have a greater chance of creating the life you desire.

Listen to Bob Dylan’s words: ”A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.”

Be responsible for everything you do. Don’t be a victim. Be a responsible creator. Heroes are.

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For the impatient and hurried

Three ways to learn more responsibility:

1. Detect avoidance and hiding
Ask yourself if there is anything you try to avoid or hide in your life. Go and detect it and take responsibility for it.

2. Change your mindset
Make yourself aware that you are in total control of your actions. If feelings of guilt and shame creep up, ask yourself if those are signs of evaded responsibility.

3. Own mistakes
If you make a mistake, own it. Only then you can learn from it and improve.



Universal Storyteller

Nicolai Schumann is the founder of Universal Storyteller and teaches storytelling at universities and to corporates. https://www.universalstoryteller.com