In many situations in my life, I have been personally accountable for my actions. Every part of being who I am has something to do with morality. Being responsible and accountable for what I do is something I take very personally. It is a key point in my personality and a critical part of being part of the US Army. Being accountable is something a lot of people typically avoid. In many instances of our lives, and in our country and our society, there are times where people aren’t accountable and don’t own up to what they’re doing. Social and political problems are abound in this country from people not being accountable and responsible for what they do.
Our country is full of instances, playing out everywhere, of people who make poor decisions, and try to get others to bail them out. While this is a fact of life, it’s certainly not one I want to be a part of. Long ago, people used to not have a choice about accountability and responsibility. In the 1800’s, people didn’t have a choice as to how they spent their summers and falls- they were farming and plowing and bracing for the cold, harsh winter to come. Without being responsible and accountable to tend to their families, the frontier families of America’s history would have been victims of terrible famines and starvation.
Without controlling their animals and tending to their crops, they stood to lose more than money, or the respect of those around them. They stood to lose their lives. I grew up in a rural part of Alaska, and while most people grow up with modern convienences, I wasn’t so lucky. While most kids sat around playing video games or basketball on paved courts, I spent time in the woods gathering firewood.
I lived off of a small generator and a fireplace. Without wood in the fireplace, we froze. Without the generator, we didn’t have light, and our food wouldn’t stay cold inside. We didn’t have thousands of amps of electricity to play with. I learned responsibility at a young age by saving energy- turning the lights off when I left rooms. Most people don’t know what it means to be accountable for what they do, either. They attempt to heap responsibility on others, to avoid being blamed for usually very silly reasons.
These reasons can be anything- some people are afraid what others think of them, others are afraid of getting in trouble by those above them. It’s easy to see why some people would be uncomfortable or try to avoid responsibility for their actions. I am not one of those people, either. I take accountability for my decisions. As a contractor and electrician in the oilfields, and working in the city on telephone lines, it wasn’t just a matter of good business to make sure that my work was clean and complete. I was working on people’s 911 lines, their Life Alert systems, their security systems. If those systems failed, my customers could have lost their livelihood or even their lives.
I had to be 100% sure of what I did, and if something didn’t work, I stayed until it was fixed. I watched other contractors act very differently about their work, and it never ended well. Many times, when someone would do a crappy job, I would be the guy to go and fix it. They weren’t accountable for what they did- they used excuses to cover for their work, or problems they ran into. But at the end of the day, if someone’s phones weren’t working, it didn’t matter why, it only mattered they didn’t have an emergency line, and their lives could be in danger because of that. In my time as a contractor, my reputation for being a good tradesman actually meant job security and it meant that I had a good working relationship with my customers.
I had businesses request me by name and I did special wiring work for people, who gave me pay raises and flexible hours to keep me happy. The reason they did this was because they knew I was going to do it better than others. Knowing this, the companies and businesses I worked at wanted me to be the one to work for them. I got a lot of job offers in communications because my work was good, clean and my system installations were reliable. I also was a friendly, likeable guy.
People weren’t afraid of me or intimidated, and I respected their homes and was responsible enough to clean my work area before I headed out. To this day, there are people who want me to go work for them once my time is up in the Army. My bosses back then, as well as my customers, knew they could put me in hard working conditions and count on me to get things done. I worked in boiler rooms, on telephone poles and in cramped crawlspaces. They knew I was dedicated and responsible enough to get done anything that I had to.
They also trusted me to be accountable in that when I had to go into someone’s house and start drilling holes in walls, or digging trenches, that I wouldn’t mess something up or punch a bunch of holes we didn’t need. I was respectful of someone’s house- even when they didn’t mind, I still respected that. It gave people a good impression when you treat their home nice. It also generated compliments, which made it to my bosses and up the chain, and I got lots of thanks for that.
When layoffs came, I was always held over- it was usually the unaccountable, lazy ones that got canned. Lying was also a big deal, as everyone messes up sometimes- but being honest about things not going your way is a lot better than lying and making excuses. Excuses and lies got people kicked off of job sites. Being honest gave me job security. When I was in Job Corps training to be an electrician
I also know what happens in the oil fields if someone doesn’t clean up their work. Mistakes could cost millions of dollars and would lead to people doing the same job over and over again. This not only wasted time and resources, it made the whole company look bad. If someone messed up, they lost their job, and that was that. In the industry, if you can’t do the job right, and on budget, someone will replace you, and you will be going home and going hungry. I made a name for myself as a good apprentice, doing my job and doing it right, and even if I wasn’t always the fastest at it, I always spent the least amount of time altogether.
Why? Because I did not have to go back and do the job over and over again, like the ‘fast’ guys did. If you do the job once and it takes two hours, you are gettign more done faster than the guy that does it in an hour, but has to do it three times. I have seen what it means to be responsible and accountable, not just in what bad things can happen if I am not, but in what good things can happen if I am. People remember who you are and appreciate your work, and what you bring to the table in a team. They remember things like how clean and sturdy your installations are, or how high-quality your repair work is.
They don’t care about things that don’t matter, and I believe that if you remember what matters, you will do well in any work you do in your life. More importantly, the thing about accountability is that people can trust you when you own up to what you do. If people know you will stand up and say what you did, and stand up and make sure people know you are the responsible one for what you did, that builds character and honesty people can count on in a person. It builds trust, and when you’re working alongside a team, crew or unit, people learn that they can trust you when things are tight, and a situation isn’t easy.
There are classic situations in modern history where people weren’t responsible and accountable until it was too late. One of these classic examples was actually from the oil field, but it quickly escalated into something that became a household name. It was the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which killed the fishing industry in southcentral Alaska and cost billions of dollars. The Valdez was a large oil tanker leaving the Alyeska transfer station in Valdez, Alaska. Exxon Valdez left the Valdez oil terminal in March of 1989.
It was heading down to California to drop off about a million barrels of crude oil. Crude oil is a toxic, thick, black liquid- not like motor oil which is clean and transparent. The captain had been drinking during his command of the tanker, and it ended in catastrophe in large part because he seemed to not care. The ship ran aground and split open, gushing oil all over the ocean. This oil washed up on shore, turning the beaches black and covering birds and other wildlife in black, toxic crude oil.
Millions of creatures died and the area’s fishing-based economy was completely destroyed. The entire event cost tens of billions of dollars in cleanup, and the damage could never be undone. To this day, you can go down to the beaches, turn over any random stone, and find glops of the oil hiding under the rocks. It’s pretty terrible stuff and not good for you in any way, shape or form. For 20 years, the people of Valdez fought in court against the oil company, who tried to wave responsibility for the oil spill. They said it wasn’t their fault, it was Joe Hazelwood, and the Coast Guard, who gave the captain permission to move his ship through another lane than the one that ships normally take.
The companies eventually won in court and settled, and the people of Valdez and the surrounding area got almost no money from their lawsuit. Exxon-Mobil made billions and billions of dollars last year and it’s one of the biggest companies in the world. But still, if they ever needed help, the people of Valdez wouldn’t be there to watch their back because of that spill. While that’s not a big deal to corporations today, when things like bailouts and bankruptcy come and they want people to buy their stuff, people will shop somewhere else. They won’t get any business from the people they screw over.
People remember mistakes and they remember irresponsibility. They don’t forget when people mess things up like the Valdez, or the credit crisis, either. You can see it in the shares of BP right now- they dropped by almost half since the Gulf Coast spill started. That’s a totally different nature of disaster, but the result is the same- total environmental catastrophe. It will destroy a lot more than it has- it will get worse before it gets better, and people will either take accountability, or others will hold them responsible. It’s a lot easier to just own up and deal with it now than to wait til later.
I think there are two big mistakes that happened with the Valdez, that I have seen happen over and over again in life. And that is 1) not being accountable. 2) not being fair to the people hurt by a bad choice. Like I said, standing behind your decisions makes it so that people trust you and listen to what you have to say. It’s also important for people to be able to count on you to play your position on a team and make sure that your part of the job gets done. Probably the most important part of being accountable and responsible, and the best example that applies right now to me, is the Army.
Because the Army is a place where you might actually end up in a combat situation or battle. And in a battle, you have to own up to your position, and do as your job requires of you, regardless of whether or not it’s easy or simple. For example, take the battles in Europe in World War II. If during those battles, people had not dug foxholes, scouted enemies and did what they had to do, they would not have survived. You can’t be in a combat environment and wait for the other guy to dig a trench. Sometimes, you have to do it yourself. You must also be ready to face the consequences of the decisions you make.
That means you must think before you act, but think quickly. Not thinking and spending too much time hesitating are two things that will get you, or the people around you, killed. And what good is an army if it’s dead? Not very good at all, that’s what. It’s my job as a warrior to stay alive, and outlast my enemy. Making it home is my job and if I don’t own up and do my job I could wind up in a box. Beyond all that, it’s important that if I ever have a family, to teach these values to my children, and my family. These values are essential to making it in the world and if I ever hope to see any sons or daughters succeed in what they do they will have to take these values and morals to heart.
The reasons why are all over this paper. I do not want to see the future become a place where people don’t own up to what they do, and are wise or responsible about how they conduct themselves, because that’s a society that becomes weak and crumbles. It’s my job as a tradesman, a warrior, a man and an American to make sure these values are upheld, because these values hold us up as the superpower in this world. Empires that forget these values for opulence, greed and corruption have fallen, like the Romans, who failed to repel the Germanic invaders- because they weren’t getting paid by the corrupt Roman government.
That led to the downfall of their empire. We as Americans must be wiser than they were, and not forget the mistakes of those who came before us. I don’t think it’s a good sort of policy to avoid responsibility because of this- I value people’s respect and I take care of those that respect me, and take care of me. I won’t throw that all away because of greed or being afraid of what other people say or might think. I know that it might sound old-fashioned but that’s how I am. If I do something wrong, I’ll tell you I did. But you can count on me to do everything in my power to make sure I’m doing it right.