In the early 1970’s there was an African American comedian, Flip Wilson, who hosted his own weekly comedy series and earned a Golden Globe and two Emmy Awards he was so talented. One of his hilarious routines involved acting out a character, Geraldine, who was married to long suffering Reverend LeRoy, pastor of the Church of What’s Happening Now. Her excuse for everything she did wrong was: “The devil made me do it.!” As Flip enacted in a famous routine, Pastor LeRoy discovers his irresponsible wife has bought an expensive dress and he explodes:
“What on earth ever possessed you to buy such a thing?” he demands. “The devil made me do it!” Geraldine protests. She tells her husband: “It’s not my fault!” I was walking down the street, minding my own business, when all at once the devil said to me, ‘Oh, my! Will you look at that fancy dress in the window over there!’ Never you mind about that dress, devil,’ I said to him. ‘I ain’t got nuthin’ to do with a dress like that! ‘Well,’ said the devil, ‘it won’t hurt to just look at it, will it? No, I guess not,’ I said. So I went over to the dress shop and looked in the window. My, that dress sure was fine! ‘Why don’t you go inside and have a closer look,’ said the devil. ‘After all, you’re just lookin’. So I went inside the shop to have a closer look. That dress was even more fancy inside the store than it was outside.
‘Why don’t you try it on,’ the devil said. Uh, uh, Mister devil,’ I said. ‘You know better than that! My husband would never let me buy a dress like that!’ ‘Can’t hurt to try it on,’ the devil said. ‘Reverend Leroy, he don’t even have to know! So I tried the dress on. Why, it was like I was poured into it, it fit so good! ‘Oh, you know that dress was made just for you,’ the devil said. ‘It wouldn’t be right to let some other woman have it.’ So before I knew what I was doing, I bought it! Like I said, the devil made me do it.
We’ve already talked about admissions of liability made to tactically keep out liability evidence as well as the psychology of defense apology. See for example: http://plaintifftriallawyertips.com/how-to-admit-you-were-wrong-accept-responsibility. But, what we more frequently see is a refusal to accept responsibility by a defendant either through evasion, lying or blaming others. Starting with Genesis with Adam blaming his wife and his wife blaming the serpent, humans have been reluctant to accept the fault of their own actions. Instead, human nature resorts to lies, evasion and blaming others. This excuse has as much validity as Geraldine’s protest of innocence because “The devil made me do it.” The defendant might as well have used the same excuse.
The consequence of refusing to accept responsibility is that when unethical or negligent behavior is not acknowledged, remedied or punished, society is taught it’s acceptable to condone the behavior. However, all members of society are expected to adhere to legal, ethical or moral codes of basic honesty for our collective good. If we allow individuals to benefit from their dishonesty and are permitted to avoid being responsible for what they do, we create a world like Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street who taught that “greed is good.” Our collective values determine what is right and wrong. These values are reflected in our laws of conduct and in our enforcement of what we all believe is reasonable conduct. A failure to enforce these rules is to approve and condone dishonesty.
The reason we punish our children for lying, stealing or dishonesty is because we want them to learn proper values which include being honest when they are wrong and responsible for what they do. One of the duties of parents is to teach our children to take responsibility for their actions. All of us, as parents, at some time or another, have had our children try to blame others and avoid taking responsibility for their conduct. We have had to teach them the importance of being honest and taking personal responsibility for what they have done or failed to do. Our judicial system follows same policy by holding wrongdoers responsible as a protection and benefit to all of society. What we do by our verdicts is to set community standards for conduct and reinforce the importance of honesty regarding personal responsibility.