Dear Gambia, it was some time in November 2002. A class full of third graders had to stand up on their chairs as punishment for a 45 minutes period. The homeroom teacher made sure that she wouldn’t let anyone sit down until the responsible student who broke the window glass confessed.
The whole class was playing around and having fun while teachers had a meeting the period before. It was all fun and game until we heard the sound of window shattered. My friends and I did not know who broke it, maybe the boys who played football in the corridor, or the girls who were throwing keychain in the class but one thing I knew was that it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that the teacher made us all take the punishment. It wasn’t fair that I, who did not break the window, had to take the punishment.
I did not remember what happened afterwards. I did not remember whether the teacher actually found the person responsible for breaking the window. But I still remember the anger and frustration I felt that day for taking the fall for an act that I didn’t commit. I remember that I resented the teacher and complained to my mother about it on how unfair it was for me, and for the rest of the class to take the punishment. Seven-year-old me wasn’t really happy.
Dear Gambia, my friend and I helped organize a charity event for a student-led volunteer group during college. As designated point of contact, we had to make sure the whole event went as smooth as possible. With the limited time for preparation, things were all over the place. Table centerpieces were not ready, name tags were mismatched, wrong logos of sponsors were printed out, and all the nightmares an event organizer could think of.
Before the event started, we literally became the designated point of contact for complaints, being yelled at by a few sponsors. Although we were not directly responsible for incompetent services by our suppliers, we had to swallow our pride and took all the yellings because at the end of the day, we were the organizers of this charity event. We could play the blame game but as the organizers, we were responsible for all the mishaps and setbacks, and to apologize on behalf of the group. That day, I learned what it meant to be responsible at the maturity of 19 years old.
Dear Gambia, my journalism career was very short and brief but I have learned so much about politics, social problems, and most importantly, about people. In Myanmar, it is rare to see a leader who is ready and willing to take the fall for the wrongdoing of his/her inferiors. Most of the time, even some people in great position and authority play the blame game.
It was one day in August when I had to write a report related to ethnic armed group, the topic which was complex and unfamiliar to me. Everything was fine until the story got published. One of the ethnic armed group leaders got offended by the headlines and demanded to take down the story from our website. I panicked. I didn’t know what to do. I literally cried in the bathroom, thinking it was the end of my life.
Luckily, my then-editor stepped in and talked with the ethnic leader, explained the intention of the headlines and how we meant no harm. The ethnic leader was calm, and my editor negotiated on changing the title and leaving the story up on the web. I was really grateful to the editor for stepping in instead of leaving me handle the problem on my own. Since then, I admire him for having a quality that even I sometimes lack, which is “taking responsibility.”
I’m no stranger to that quote everyone is posting, “With great power comes great responsibility.” This incident was the exact moment that I realized responsibility and accountability that came with certain authority or role.
Dear Gambia, abovementioned are a series of events related to “responsibility” that I have experienced throughout my life. These days, taking responsibility is a rare act to see even from responsible individuals. But who am I to judge people when it is even harder for me to take responsibility when it is not due.
Being responsible and taking responsibility are two different things. Sometimes, you may not be responsible for an act that caused severe ripple effects but you happen to be in the imbroglio so you have to take the responsibility anyway, just like in the first incident I shared. I didn’t break the window but I had to take the punishment alongside many other innocent friends, and one (or more) responsible person.
When it comes to national level, taking responsibility is a whole new level. Every new government inherits the wrongdoings of its predecessors. It’s inevitable. In light of current political affairs in Myanmar, the State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to face the tribunal at the International Court of Justice did not surprise me. You filed a case against our country as a whole country, not just an individual or a group of certain people. Apparently, she happens to be the leader of the political party that we voted for, and currently takes the highest position, even more powerful than the President. So her announcement did not surprise me at all.
It is widely accepted that she did not commit the crimes against humanity. She wasn’t responsible, truly. Supporters will say that it is heroic of her to lead the delegation to the Netherlands but haters will say that she is guilty of protecting real criminals, granting impunity. She may be guilty of not stopping the killings, but everyone in the right mind know how limited her authority is if he/she understands the constitution, formation of government and the military.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is neither being heroic nor protecting the criminals. She is doing her job, and taking responsibility as head of state, the position she holds, and for that, she has my full respect. Because these days, taking responsibility is a rare act.