Aaron W. Voyles looks at responsibility from the perspective of boyhood bystanders.
The game was this: you set two objects on the picnic table and then you pounded your fists on the edge of the table repeatedly. Because the table was at a slight angle, those objects would vibrate their way down the table until they finally fall off. You wanted to choose the winning object.
As Boy Scouts at camp–no cellphones, no CD players, no portable electronics of any kind–you eventually ran out of things to do, it seemed. We did what any inventive young boys would do. We made our own fun.
A boy named Levi and I were the leaders of the game. Nobody else really played, because, let’s face it, it was a pretty stupid game. But it’s not like they had anything better to do, so they stood around and watched us.
The issue with the game was this: there was a nice, expensive lantern one of the adults owned sitting on the table. Throughout most of the game, it was fine. Its heavy base kept it from moving except for a few shakes side-to-side. Until the competition intensified, of course.
During the finals, Levi and I blasted our fists onto the table. It was a furious affair, and the fancy lantern predictably crashed to the ground and into many more pieces than we would be capable of hiding. The adults heard it, and came to dole out our punishment.
Though Levi and I were the obvious targets, we were not the only ones punished. An adult told us that because we broke it as a patrol, we would have to replace it as a patrol. It was all of our responsibility, because we were a team.
It seemed odd to me at the time. Levi and I broke that lantern. No way around it. At the same time, I appreciated this adult’s perspective, because maybe I could sell it to my mom that someone else broke it since we all would have to pay up anyways, regardless of if we were at fault.
Taking aside the fact that really this punished our parents, since as children most of us didn’t have money, this mundane event sticks out to me in the context of responsibility. Last week, I spoke about us taking responsibility for our own actions and inactions. I spoke to what I was or was not doing that met my commitments.
In the case of lantern, I was responsible for breaking it. But the boys standing around were responsible for attending to it, encouraging it, and supporting that behavior. Heck, one of them could’ve just moved the lantern too. When we talk about the “boys will be boys” attitude and letting people get away things, when we look at problem college athletes or the misbehavior of college men, it’s not just the idea of letting someone like Levi or me get away. It’s letting everyone else off the hook too.
The importance in looking to what we are doing or not doing in any situation is that it forces us to realize that we help create the environment in which we live. It’s too easy to say that Levi or I was a “bad seed,” but that ignores the passivity of our society in confronting problematic behavior.
If we want to change the conversation about men, we must make it an inclusive one. That’s why campaigns such as #ItsOnUs are so important. If we are truly committed to positive masculinity, we must account for our actions and inactions in every situation, not just when it’s convenient.
Though this boyhood situation is simple and we thought that the adult who punished us was crazy, his thought process is not without merit. We were a patrol. We were a team. And we worked together that day to ruin someone else’s property. We bring with us the lessons of our childhood, only now our teams are even more important. When we consider what we teach about responsibility, we need to keep that in mind.
Ditching the Dunce Cap is a weekly Friday column from Aaron W. Voyles on the University of Texas-Austin. He welcomes your comments. This column is not affiliated with the university.
—Photo naosuke ii/Flickr
Also in Ditching the Dunce Cap:
Speaking with the Language of Responsibility
My “Career” as a Rock Star
Do We Just Complain About College Men?
I Can’t Write About Football
To Ditch the Dunce Cap
Can You Manage the College Male?
“Have at it, Boys” and College Men
The Challenge of Male Mentorship
Becoming a Beard Mentor
College Made Me Think I Hated Beer
An Ode to My College Roommate
Examining the Axe Effect
When Will You Grab Your Saw?
Do You Know the Mega-Dump?
If the Shoe Fits, Cheat