I have tried to be non-partisan here, directly blame no specific person. But you should be able to see how they apply to many leaders.
The phrase “the buck stops here” is similar to tropes like “the captain goes down with the ship.” Isn’t the captain sometimes the best person to lead the way to the boats so the passengers can abandon ship? Knows how many each can take safely? Knows the ways of the sea that might help passengers survive? Knows which way to row once ship has been abandoned more than many?
So the captain should commit suicide to punish himself? Climbing up on such a cross may seem noble, but often the opposite of being responsible, of what would be best. Let society and personal conscience decide guilt after. That’s “responsible.” Do what can help those around you instead.
So many truisms we take for granted really aren’t all that true, nor the best thing to do.
I understand the sentiment behind “the buck stops here,” but almost all the time “the buck” should stop in many places as well as the ‘captain.’ Whether you are head of a corporation or a country there are a lot of people who contributed to that decision, despite this metaphorical ball of… definitely rolls uphill. But look at what happened like a mass shooting at a church…
The minister doesn’t load the gun.
The minister doesn’t turn it on the masses.
The minister doesn’t spray the crowd with bullets.
The minister may lead his flock, been too tolerant oif someone perceived as dangerous to the group, or too stern, or too suggestive, but he doesn’t pull the trigger.
Let’s be fair here. Let’s flip the narrative. Some leaders are too much like Charlie Manson who also didn’t pull the trigger, or use the knife, that night. But there bloody well may be an incredible amount of responsibility, as there surely was with Manson. But if “the buck stops” really is a thing should mean we ignore what the Manson murderers actually did?
Of course not.
Obviously my analogies here spread over many kinds of leaders in society, including the president. The buck usually doesn’t stop with just him, or her. There are exceptions where it stops almost exclusively with him, or her. How much is a more rational discussion rather than simplifying into just “where the buck stops.”
Here’s the irony: the leaders who say “the buck stops here;” and take the phrase seriously, are often the best leaders and also the LESS responsible for all that happened. The worst ones are often more to blame, yet will claim; whatever happened it was perfect, deny there was any problem at all, blame ALL it on those who oppose them, blame it ALL on underlings, blame it ALL on the previous leader, say it didn’t happen, or what happened was all ice cream, puppies and rainbows.
You know, the kind of neighborhood kid who ruins the whole damn neighborhood and turns the kids against each other. Or the worst kind of CEO who sabotages the company, but manages to hang on, or gets a fat check so he or she leaves quietly. Or not so quietly. Or the politician who is protected from what should be the consequences of what they did because he or she did rise to such heights.
You or I do it and the consequences are dire.
The ultimate irony being the better leader is usually the one forced out, or marginalized so they can’t get much done. The worst go ahead and do their damnedest, and I do mean “damned.”
Apologies to President Truman, but “The buck stops here” is actually a bad concept, like most simplistic concepts. A good leader should accept appropriate blame, but also explain how this came to be in many ways that are not his fault.
Nothing happens in a vacuum.
Unfortunately these days there’s a lot of vacuums in too many citizen’s heads. They seek simple, often wrong, answers. They are the horse de-wormer or fish tank pill cure for whatever ills we visit upon ourselves. They don’t hear the truth. All the simplistic Twitter/Facebook mindset hears is blah, blah, blah, blame someone else. No matter how artfully phrased. They have to have pure villains to hate. And some leaders are all too ready to offer such witches for the burning.
Doth not bode well for the future of any civilized republic, or whatever freedoms that society may have.
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 40 years, first published in fall of 1972. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks, and into the unseen cracks and crevasses, that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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