There has been a lot of misuse of the term "responsibility"
over the last few days, as though it is interchangeable with
words considered perfect synonyms to imply "blame" or
"guilt". This is inaccurate.
"Responsibility" means having moral, legal, or mental
accountability for an area or a function, so a pilot is
responsible for flying a plane, a teacher for teaching his
students and a CEO for managing her company. However, this
does not mean that they are to blame if something beyond their
control goes wrong.
For example, you cannot blame the teacher if a student doesn't
review the material properly or get enough sleep the night
before an exam, and gets a poor grade. That is the student's
responsibility, not the teacher's.
If a company has a policy to make regular backups of its data,
but the Computer Department ignores this or is negligent in
carrying out this task, and valuable information is lost in a
power cut, the CEO cannot be directly blamed, as direct
responsibility for safeguarding the company's data clearly
belongs to the Computer Department.
Bad maintenance on an aircraft is not the fault of the pilots,
who cannot be held responsible if problems develop during a
flight (unless they ignore a checklist or warning while on the
However, there is also "overall" or "ministerial" responsibility,
where someone in a position of authority and/or not directly
involved in all the routine details of the running of a company,
department or organization, may feel obliged to take
"responsibility" for his team's mistake lower down the line,
while obviously not accepting direct blame for the fault or
I hope you get the picture. As I am responsible for the material
in this column, please feel free to contact me if you have any
queries, issues or suggestions.
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