Creep” refers to the gradual shifting of responsibility from one person or
group of people to another, without notification, and sometimes without the
consciousness of either party.
my children were small, I could not count the number of times when they would
run off to play, hand me their shoes or jumper and run away shouting, “Can you
hold these?” Whilst most of the time I didn’t mind taking the clothes from
them, it took me a lot longer to realise that, in doing so, they also expected
me to take full responsibility for them from that point until the next time
they needed them.
the clothes were left at the park, it was very clear to my children that I was
the last one with them and that this was entirely my fault. Perhaps there was
an element of truth to this too. In any case, I eventually learned the great
skill of putting my hands behind my back at these times; a skill which still
serves me well as I walk past time-share salespeople, spruikers and even do-gooder
folks with clipboards who beg me to sign their latest petition…. (Sigh). If
only it was as easy everywhere.
days, you could probably venture into a staff kitchen at just about any
workplace in Australia
and, more often than not, you will find a little angry sign saying “PLEASE WASH
YOUR OWN DISHES;” perhaps even sarcastically adding “your mother no longer
works here!” Whilst some of us might find it an interesting phenomenon that one
or two people tend to wash everyone else’s dishes, you can bet that not everyone
finds it amusing.
course, in many workplaces responsibility creep is no laughing matter. Take the
case of a manager who has been in a large firm for a number of years. As the
company grows, so does the workload. New staff will inevitably look to him as
the most obvious person to ask about
problems. On the other hand, the company CEO will also look to this person’s
years of experience and increasingly view them as the most reliable person to delegate tasks to.
result of this is that, unaddressed, the manager’s workload will sooner or
later become unsustainable. Whether the manager becomes jaded, begins looking
for other work or has a personal or family breakdown, none of these outcomes
are good for him or good for business. In this case, it is worth noticing that responsibility-creep
actually represents a disincentive for competence. This is to say, it’s like
the manager is being punished for being good at his job.
in the workplace the alternative of incompetence (or becoming poor at your job)
is not always an option, the same may not be true of families. Since it’s a
good deal more difficult to get fired
by your family, being lousy or incompetent at particular tasks can actually
prove to be a quick route to a life of ease. If a teenage son does a poor job
of mowing the lawn and ruins the mower in the process, he may quickly achieve
his end-goal of never being asked to do it again. Unfortunately, the same may
also be true of husbands and wives around issues of household chores, budgeting
the most dangerous relationships are those in which one person becomes
responsible, not only for the needs
of the other, but also for the emotions
of the other. If someone has ever said to you, “you made me angry” or “you made
me feel guilty,” then the power to control their emotions is a lot of power to
be giving you. The truth is, of course, it is not power that they are giving
you, but responsibility.
usually prefer to be in control of their own emotions, and it is supposed to be
only children who sulk or have tantrums if things don’t go their way. You
cannot truly make another person feel
anything, and it is only a person
with a manipulative agenda who will try to convince you otherwise.
in abusive relationships sometimes take a long time to learn that trying to
take responsibility for another person’s moods and feelings is like chasing a
rainbow. However hard you may try to walk
on eggshells or to be a people-pleaser,
responsibility will only creep further and further into your own territory
until it eventually suffocates you.
four-thousand years ago, a very wise king penned some valuable advice for those
trapped in this, the sharp end of responsibility-creep:
“An abusive man must suffer the consequences of
rescue him, you will have to do so again.” (Proverbs 19:19)
the responsibility-creep you are living with is related to domestic abuse, the
workplace or just a careless family member, the principle contained in this
proverb is profoundly helpful. It is not words alone, but cold hard
consequences which bring change to situations of blurred responsibility.
Nevertheless, words are an important starting point as far as identifying what
is going on and how you are feeling about it.
you do find yourself stuck in any kind of situation of responsibility-creep, I
trust you might find the following steps helpful:
- Decide not to
be a “rescuer” who picks up responsibilities for others
- Decide not to
“rescue” the other person by your silence
Decide not to
rescue the other person by your compliance
- By not
talking to them about what is happening
protecting their methods from being seen by others
- By not
talking to others who could be helping or supporting you
- You cannot
win a game from your powerless position within the game. You will need to
step outside of the game, name and expose the game.
Focus on the
- Staying in
the game means that you are happy to continue playing. You cannot say
something is unsustainable while you are there busily sustaining it
- Exposing the
other person to their natural consequences may require separation,
resignation, arbitration, or some other respective drastic action; one
which makes it clear that you are not going to keep on playing.
- it is not sustainable
- Exposing the
other person to their own consequences is the most authentic and kind
move of all; it’s no favour to stand in the way of another person’s
- These steps
may not always bring the changes you were hoping for, but they are a far
better chance than continuing to slowly sink