There is a story you’ve heard before about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody and a job that was recognized but left undone since everybody thought someone else would do it. That story is actually a shortened version of a poem by Charles Osgood, the former host of CBS News Sunday Morning, who often conveyed wisdom through a poem:
A Poem About Responsibility
There was a most important job that needed to be done,
And no reason not to do it, there was absolutely none.
But in vital matters such as this, the thing you have to ask
Is who exactly will it be who’ll carry out the task?
Anybody could have told you that everybody knew
That this was something somebody surely had to do.
Nobody was unwilling; anybody had the ability.
But nobody believed that it was their responsibility.
It seemed to be a job that anybody could have done,
If anybody thought he was supposed to be the one.
But since everybody recognised that anybody could,
Everybody took for granted that somebody would.
But nobody told anybody that we are aware of,
That he would be in charge of seeing it was taken care of.
And nobody took it on himself to actually follow through,
And do what everybody thought that somebody would do.
When what everybody needed did not get done at all,
Everybody complained that somebody dropped the ball.
Anybody then could see it was an awful crying shame,
And everybody looked around for somebody to blame.
Somebody ought to have done the job
And Everybody should have,
But in the end Nobody did
What Anybody could have.
My mother loved Osgood’s wise folksy wisdom. This story was one of her favorites.
If you are a regular reader, you know that I helped lead a team of social workers to assist first responders at the World Trade Center Ground Zero Site in the early days after the disaster. I have written about my experience in an earlier post. (See: In the Ashes of My Brothers.)
For this post, however, I want to focus on the motto, almost a mantra, I developed as a result of my experience there: “The job belongs to the person who sees it.”
It is, perhaps, a shorter form of Osgood’s wisdom or perhaps a corollary.
You see, I learned in New York that some serious jobs require attention that haven’t necessarily been “assigned” to us, and might not even be what we set out to do. I also discovered that when you do see something that needs to be done, it is way too easy to say, “Somebody needs to do something about ‘____’ (that – fill in the blank)” or “someone else will fix that.” In all likelihood, those statements precede nothing being done and a problem going unaddressed.
An explanation: At the time I went to New York, I was the most experienced clinical person on the team I helped organize and train. I thought my clinical experience was what I would draw on while I was there. But, though I did use my clinical skills, and an important job to done was in helping the first responders cope with the loss and horror they were experiencing, I found myself seeing other things as well that needed my attention and organizational skills. It was like having two sets of ideas, and seeing needs others didn’t.
First, I came upon Leia, a woman living near Ground Zero, who had set up a relief station on a fallen girder. She desperately wanted to remain to “help the guys,”(guys in this case included women). However, as security tightened, she had no sponsoring organization to register her to continue her work. She was afraid to leave to get some sleep because once outside the perimeter, she would not be able to re-enter. She needed help, and the First Responders needed the nearby access to hydration and supplies.
I convinced our team to take over the Relief Station Leia had created, and I arranged for her to meet Major Reals, be able to rest at our shelter, and get clearance to become a Salvation Army sponsored volunteer to return.
This took time and phone calls, pulling me away from individual outreach, but the job seemed to need doing. I had met Leia. I saw the good she was doing. I saw she couldn’t keep it up and my mantra began to drum in my ears. I would not be the anybody who failed to do the job because “the job belonged to the person who sees it.”
In those early chaotic days, there were so many things that needed to be done. To meet the need for responders working on debris burning between 500 and 1,500 degrees we needed resources from new boots to gloves that were being degraded and consumed. I found those resources, developing a list of people in New York who would bring them to the perimeter. Then, I would get firefighters or police to go with me to pick them up. Later those needs would be met in a better organized less “ad hoc” way. But at the time, the job was there, the need was there, so less time for counseling, more time on the phone and picking up supplies, but the same words in my ears, “The job belongs to the person who sees it.” Somebody needed to do it.
In times like 9/11 priorities are easily and clearly seen, but my mantra has continued. I vowed in New York that if I ever again saw something that really needed doing I would do it, or at least I would get the ball rolling and then find someone who could take it over. If I saw a need, I decided I owned it, one way or another until someone else did.
I have had many people tell me they don’t have a calling in life. I usually ask if they have ever felt a need, looked around and seen one: poor children who need tutoring, a homeless man who needs a meal, a letter to the editor that should be written to address a community problem, lonely people in your church or neighborhood who could use a call or a get well or birthday card, senior center programs or hospitals who need volunteers, some immigrants who need furniture, a job, clothing or someone to teach them English, or volunteering to stuff letters for charity appeals, or organize donors, use picture-taking skills, or collect clothes or prom dresses for those who can’t afford them…turn your head and look around. It will be like looking at a puzzle and seeing the missing piece – you! Because the world is filled with some need that only you can see….
And the job belongs to the person who sees it.