• May 4, 2015


As a psychologist and researcher of social influence I like to keep an eye on the lines used by public figures in order to convince people of something. That something is usually why they – the public figure – are right where someone else is wrong. There are any number of influence strategies available to people when they need to make a convincing case, enough to form an entire textbook, but there are some that stand out as being popular more so than others due to their frequent use by interviewees in mainstream media.

There happens to be one particular strategy that has become popular with public figures in the Isle of Man. The strategy in question is the “throw the responsibility on your opponent” technique, which we will call “responsibility shifting” for convenience. Simply put, in the absence of a meaningful argument the challenged public figure will say something like “if you know how to do it better you’re invited to do so.”

Responsibility shifting is supposed to sound like a full and solid reply to criticism: presumably the shifter is suggesting that they have considered all options and there is only one that is viable, the one they have chosen. However, the reality is that responsibility shifting is an empty reply, devoid of logic, insight, or imagination. What the shifter is actually saying is “I am unwilling to accept criticism and – for reasons known only to myself – I have no interest in thinking about other possibilities, so I’ll make out that it’s your job to do so.”

Using an analogy highlights just how bad an argument responsibility shifting is. Suppose you went to have some engine work done on your car and the mechanic began work with a baseball bat. If you challenged the mechanic and their reply was “well if you know how to do it better you’re welcome to do so”, chances are you wouldn’t just apologise and leave them to it. The point is that you do not have to know how to do something to know that something is wrong with what is being done. You do not have to be a mechanic or to have specific knowledge of a better way to work on an engine to know that there is a better way than attacking it with baseball bat.

The responsibility shifting approach to criticism has reared its head now in two high-profile areas of Manx life. The first responsibility shifter was Treasury Minister Eddy Teare MHK. Mr Teare – in an effort to defend his economic plan – challenged his critics to “put forward [their] alternative” since they would have obviously “done quite a bit of work” on the matter. Very wisely at the time the Celtic League’s Director of Information Bernard Moffatt interpreted Mr Teare’s remarks as a request for others to do his job for him (like the mechanic asking you to tell him how to fix your engine). Mr Teare was very acutely aware that no other person had the advantage of holding his position in government. That is to say, nobody else was leader of the treasury, therefore most or all alternative ideas could be dismissed by him as unviable without any need for him to present real alternatives.

The most recent responsibility shifter in Manx news is Graham Crowe, Chairman of the Manx Music, Speech, and Dance Festival’s Promotional Committee. Mr Crowe has been quick to dismiss the protest of Stewart Bennett against corporate sponsorship from concrete, brick, and overpopulation fanatics Dandara. (Incidentally, the irony of a group that facilities cultural erosion yet is named Heritage Homes and sponsors a cultural festival is almost too ridiculous!) Mr Crowe suggests that “if Mr Bennett has any ideas as to how we can make the festival more financially secure going forward…my promotional committee would be only too delighted to hear from him.” To interpret, he is saying “I do not appreciate your criticism and, since I cannot defend our choice with substance, I wish to make it seem like your responsibility to come up with better ideas.”

(As a side, it is interesting to follow the logic of Mr Crowe’s other argument, that is, if Dandara destroy natural habitats it is not their fault, rather it is the fault of the Government for letting them do so. Obviously Dandara cannot be expected to act conscientiously of their own accord: the Government is their only means of moral guidance. Presumably, historically, no individual or entity has ever been accountable for immoral acts where their Government has given them the thumbs up to commit those acts…)

Responsibility shifting seems to be a tactic of choice for deflecting criticism in the Isle of Man in present times. Whether it is due to arrogance or just plain old lack of imagination is up for debate. As a social psychologist all I will say is that it is not my responsibility to know the reason, I am doing things in the best possible way, and if you think you know better I invite you to write your own article!

(This article prepared for Celtic News by Peddyr Mac Niallan – Mannin Branch)

J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information
Celtic League


(Please note that replies to correspondence received by the League and posted on CL News are usually scanned hard copies. Obviously every effort is made to ensure the scanning process is accurate but sometimes errors do occur.)


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