“It wasn’t me.”
That’s the most commonly used expression in the world, didn’t you know? When a mother asks her oldest child who knocked over the lamp, that’s what she gets in response. When a coach asks his star player who was responsible for the team losing the game, the player usually gives this response. When your boss asks you who forgot to send that email to corporate, that phrase is probably on the tip of your tongue, whether it was your fault or not. And that’s where the problem comes in.
If no one saw you do it, then it wasn’t you. Who can prove it anyway? It’s all about what is commonly called “passing the buck.”
Now, the phrase was originally used with gamblers who would play poker or similar-themed card games to designate the chips or objects used as collateral, which I find quite ironic when thinking about this as it applies to the word’s current usage. Passing the buck back then meant you weren’t doing so well in the game. Whoever had the buck passed to him was the champion, or at least the winner of that particular hand. You can see the irony clearly.
So, why are we so quick to blame others?
1. It’s easier to blame others than it is to explain what really happened.
2. The instinct for self-survival is the oldest instinct in the world.
3. We think we can get away with it.
Some people only admit to wrongdoing and take the blame when they’ve been caught redhanded at it, or when they’ve been caught in their lie. For instance, if Jeff has been accused of stealing the chocolate bar from the fridge, he says he didn’t do it, but he has melted chocolate on his lips. Others only confess when they think it will make others look more leniently upon them. For example, if Susie admits to smoking behind the barn and says she will do better. If her mother had caught her smoking there would have been all hell to pay, but by admitting to it upfront she may just avoid sanctions. And still others never admit to doing anything wrong no matter what. Stick to the lie, they say.
I had a conversation with someone at work today about just this sort of thing. I was at the baler (the machine that crushes cardboard), and the previous person who had been there left it a mess. He had shoved cardboard in sideways so that it was sticking out of the machine and clogging it up. When a supervisor came back to the baler, I put up my hands and said, “It wasn’t me.” She said, “Sure,” and I responded with, “If it was me, I would just admit to it. I’m weird like that. But yeah, this wasn’t me.” She laughed at what I said, but then admitted the truth in the statement.
That wasn’t always the case with me, but I’ve learned over my thirty-six odd years that lying about things never helps. Eventually you will be found out, or even if you don’t, you’ll feel guilty enough that you’ll wish you had been found out, so you could be cleansed of the lie and the filth that comes along with it. One of my students, who is black, told the class, “I’m white,” in order to get a laugh, and it achieved the desired effect. When some of the other students said, “Isn’t that racial?” I responded with, “It’s just a little white lie.” That got a lot more laughs. Because, you know, there is no such thing.
When you pass the buck, you create a ripple effect. Perhaps Susie gets in trouble for something you did, and now Susie refuses to talk to you. Or maybe you lied and said you had mopped up the spill and Leon breaks his arm when he falls because of the spill that is very much still there. And even if nothing outwardly happens, there are forces working inside of you, like your conscience, that will be sure you feel guilty for as long as you keep lying about whatever it was.
“Man up,” as a friend of mine used to always say. If it was an honest mistake or oversight, it can hopefully be corrected and your reputation for honesty remains intact. If it was an intentional thing, maybe owning up to it forces you to think about why you did it in the first place, so you don’t take that wrong path again.