for release Friday November 14, 2003
by Melodie Davis
Blaming others is a national pastime. The talk show pundits do it. The candidates do it. Children do it. And guess what, it is infectious and they may be learning it at home from parents who do it, too. And yes, columnists sometimes make money blaming others.
John Miller, a graduate of Cornell University lives in Denver, Colo. with his wife Karen and seven children, including three adopted siblings. If seven children are enough to give you pause, you can bet he has some down-to-earth thinking on parenting, including the idea that parenting is really all about teaching children personal accountability. Can we really raise children to avoid the blame game that ensnares so many of us?
To test Mr. Miller’s premise that the secret to good parenting is teaching your kids personal accountability, answer honestly: When something doesn’t go right, what do your children hear you say? Do you blame your boss? A guidance counselor in high school who put you on the college track when you would have benefited greatly from technical school? Do you blame the pastor when things don’t go your way at church?
If our children hear us excessively blaming others, (we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t complain and blame sometimes), they will grow up to be blamers and victims, Miller points out.
Miller spells out a fairly easy way to get away from blaming others. The “Question Behind the Question” is a method of taking a bad question and changing it into one that helps people claim their personal responsibility, take action, and fix a problem.
“Personal accountability is not about changing others or controlling what you cannot. It’s about making a difference by changing yourself,” says Miller. Begin your questions with “What” or “How:” “What can I do to make a difference in my child’s education?” or “How can I get to know my teen better?”
In his book, QBQ: The Question Behind the Question (Denver Press, 2001), Miller shares two stories of personal responsibility that impressed him, one negatively and one positively. He went into a convenience store/gas station and wanted coffee, but the carafe was empty. He said politely to the person behind the counter, “Pardon me, but there’s no coffee in the pot.” The clerk pointed to someone else and said, “Coffee is her department.”
Then, he told then how he went into a jammed restaurant in downtown Minneapolis. He squeezed onto a seat at the crowded counter and in a few minutes, a young man carrying a tray full of dirty dishes hurried past on his way to the kitchen. But he caught Miller’s eye and asked, “Have you been helped?”
Miller said no, but that all he wanted was a salad and a couple of rolls. The waiter said he’d bring it and asked Miller what he wanted to drink. Miller prefers Diet Coke, but the waiter responded, oh, we only sell Pepsi. Would that be okay? Miller said in that case he’d just take water and the waiter promised to be right back.
Indeed he was back in a minute with the salad, rolls and water. Miller began to eat but then again a few minutes later, the waiter reappeared bearing a 20-ounce bottle of cold Diet Coke.
“Wow!” said Miller, thanking him and then asked, “I thought you didn’t sell Coke?”
“We don’t. It came from the grocery store around the corner.” Miller was really impressed but the waiter wouldn’t even let him reimburse the dollar the Coke cost. As the waiter continued to scurry about and Miller was sitting there almost in shock, he finally said, “But you’ve been awfully busy. How did you have time to go get it?”
“I didn’t, sir. I sent my manager!” To Miller, that was an excellent example of management who had empowered the workers to serve the customer at all costs, and to take personal responsibility that people were treated right.
Then Miller points out that the waiter could have blamed any number of others for the situation, such as who was supposed to cover the counter area, why could they only serve one cola, why are we always so short staffed, and when are customers going to learn to read what drinks are on the menu? Instead, he simply took the attitude of “What can I do to make a difference here?”
Wouldn’t we all like to be surrounded by such people in our workplace, at home or at school? The answer, of course, comes right back at us: “O.K., what can I do to make a difference here?”
Do you have a heartwarming story of someone who made a difference? Send to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 765 words; end material = 105 words
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