By Suma Varughese July 2011 When you give away responsibility, you give away authority The family was sitting down to a sumptuous dinner because Mom’s childhood friend, Meena, who lived in Hyderabad, was visiting for a few days. Mom was putting forth her best culinary foot to impress her friend. There was kofta curry, veg pulao, harabhara kebabs, potato salad, mutter paneer and nice soft rotis. The children ate with a will, while the grown-ups kept up a spirited conversation. Alka’s ears pricked up when she heard Mom say in response to something Meena aunty had said, “Well, if you give away responsibility, you can’t expect to have authority.” “Mom, what do you mean by that?” asked Alka. Her mother turned to her and said, “Aunty was telling us how her boss has over the years, been passing on all his responsibilities to her, so much so that most of the staff started reporting to her rather than to him and that led to a kind of showdown between them.”“Oh,” said Alka, “Mom that is so similar to what happened to me recently.” Everyone looked up, interested. Alka cringed. “Oh, well okay, here is the story. I was made the leader of a social service project that our school was running for street kids. Each group was to adopt one child for a year and be responsible for his education, hygiene, nutrition, ethics, and so on. The idea was to empower them to rejoin society at the end of the year if they wanted to. There was to be no compulsion. Every week the group members were to give me feedback and I was supposed to evaluate their work.”“Great,” enthused their father, “What a lovely thing to do. I am so proud of you.’“Oh, Dad,” winced Alka, “Not so fast. It didn’t end so well. I am sorry to say that I did not take to the responsibility very well. In fact, whenever my group members came to give their reports, I would ask my number two, Kartik, to meet them. So much so that they soon began to go directly to him and to cut me off altogether. When we had our group meets, everyone would address their concerns to Kartik and not to me. All this while I thought Kartik was stealing these people away but now I am recognisng that my lack of responsibility dissolved my authority.”“That is right,” said Dad. “So where are you now in this affair?” “Am still in the same place. Totally stuck,” said Alka gloomily. “It’s so humiliating to go for those meetings. Kartik and I have a meeting with our social service teacher and it is all going to come out in the open. I think she will throw me out as leader.”Nisha squeezed her hand and Avijit put a comforting hand over her shoulder. “Dad,” asked Avijit, “why do people find it so hard to be responsible?”“It’s a big question,” said Dad, “but I think it is intimately related to self-esteem and people’s faith in their capabilities.” Dad stole a glance at Alka’s crestfallen face, “Shoo, dear,” he chided. “There is never any need to feel bad about such things. What did I say you were?” All three children chanted dutifully, “A work in progress.” “Exactly. You are not finished by any chance. You will grow and change. Every situation in life is an opportunity for growth. Never forget that.”“But, Dad, what do I tell my miss?” asked Alka in an anguished voice.“I’ll tell you,” said Mom. “It’s not easy but it’s the only way. Call a meeting of Kartik and your team members. Admit to them that you have not taken your responsibility as seriously as you should have. Thank Kartik for having shouldered it so far and ask them if they are willing to give you another chance. There is a very good chance they will say yes, but are you willing to take the responsibility, Alka?”“Mom, I think I am,” said Alka soberly. “This whole thing has really taught me a huge lesson. I am realising that if you abdicate responsibility you not only abdicate authority but also people’s respect. I would like to learn to be more responsible.”“Nothing easier,” said Avijit, with a wicked glint in his eyes. “Henceforth, I appoint you as the one responsible for waking me up in the morning, reminding me of my homework everyday, supplying me with comforting cups of tea as yours truly exercises his grey cells through the night and so on. In a month’s time I guarantee you will run for President.”“ Ho ho,” said Alka in a hollow voice. “Very funny.” Turning to her mother, she said, “Mom, I shall do what you say. I am going to come clean.”Meena aunty turned to Mom, “I wish my boss had half of Alka’s maturity. I can’t see him doing such a responsible thing.”Dad gave a thump on Alka’s back. “See, sweetie, responsibility is already happening.”
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