I was walking on my street and saw a small group of people trying to lift a car. It was a strange sight. They weren’t making progress. When I approached them, they tried to recruit me. The car wouldn’t start and they needed to move it off the street and into a driveway only several feet away. For the street sweeper was coming.
Certainly the task required collaboration. Since I wanted to be neighborly (and say that I have lifted a car), I decided to help.
We still couldn’t do it. Finally, after adding a few more people to the cause, the car raised ever so slightly off the ground. We stopped and started a few times. Some people left. Others joined in. Our numbers fluctuated. (I think a couple unhelpful people actually made the task more challenging.) But in a few minutes the job was done.
In the newfound camaraderie we made a few jokes about our strength. Eventually a philosophically-inclined lifter asked the question, “So who was responsible for moving the car?”
We debated back and forth.
A couple burly guys wanted recognition. Others argued that it is true the strong people had more impact but, despite their strength, they couldn’t have done it by themselves. The slighter of us also couldn’t have done it without them.
It eventually became obvious that anyone who claimed sole credit was deluding themselves. Sure, maybe the job could have been done with a couple fewer people, but we didn’t want to test it. And even if we did, the philosophical question would remain.
We soon realized that we were thinking about the question in the wrong way.
Responsibility can be shared. When something good happens, the praise can often be shared—and shared in different degrees. Likewise, when something bad happens, blame can be shared.
Being the most responsible doesn’t mean that you’re the only one responsible. And it doesn’t mean that you could have done it without the contributions of others.