By Judge R. Poland
This column first appeared in the January 26, 1995 edition of Flagler College’s newspaper The Gargoyle.
Many years ago my New Year’s resolution was to never again make a New Year’s resolution. Rather, I decided to identify a personal character flaw each January 1st and then work arduously to change that disagreeable habit. I share this with you, the college community, because I would like you to engage in this process with me.
Pogo said, “I have seen the enemy and it is us.” My experience in the business and legal world has taught me that we are, indeed, our own worst enemy. It is endemic to our nature that we blame others for our failures and credit ourselves for our successes. But if we are willing to accept responsibility for our victories, should we not be willing to accept responsibility for our defeats?
When I coached the Skowhegan Lady Indians to a fast-pitch New England championship, I had just three rules. These rules had more to do with life than with the game of softball. First, we would always give our best effort whether on or off the softball diamond. Second, we would play as intelligently as possible. Third, rather than blaming umpires, field conditions, or teammates for our losses, we would accept personally the responsibility for losing. Each of us would ask what we could do to make our team better. This third rule, more than anything else, made us improve enough to become a championship team. I was accountable as a coach for my decision-making and each player was accountable for her performance.
Likewise, the successful attorneys and business persons whom I have known exemplify individual responsibility. Good trial attorneys do not blame the judge or the jury for losing a winnable case. Rather, they examine and re-examine what they could have done differently. Business history is also replete with examples of individuals who went bankrupt during their first ventures only to amass fortunes later by learning from mistakes and changing behavior patterns.
Students should follow this same path. Blame should not be laid at the door of the instructor, a roommate, or library hours. Look in the mirror. That is the only person who can change that “C” into an “A.” While there may be a few extraneous factors that affect our performance, we cannot always control these factors. We can, however, control our own efforts.
As we begin a new year and a new semester, let us resolve to eliminate the victim mentality. Let us resolve to accept responsibility for our own destiny. We must own our problems. By owning them, we can resolve them. If we attempt to give them away, they will only return to us larger than ever. If we refuse to build our character on the shifting sands of rationalization and compromise, we can then, and only then, disprove Pogo’s philosophy.