Taking Responsibility

(The Nationalist, 7 January 2000)


Some years ago, north of Dublin, a young man of eighteen, working with a haulage contractor, took a lorry out on the road without either a license or insurance. (You can’t get a license to drive a lorry until you’re 21.) He drove at speed and lost control of the lorry on a corner, so that it flipped over and come down on a car carrying two people. One was crushed to death immediately, the other taken to hospital with serious injuries. The lorry driver also was injured, though not seriously.

On waking up in hospital he spoke of how terrible the accident was for him, how much pain he felt, and so on. When told of the consequences to the two people in the car, he expressed no remorse, only more sympathy for himself. Persuaded to visit the injured person, who was in the same hospital, he didn’t ask her how she was or express any regret for what he had done to her or to the driver whose death he had caused. (As an aside from the story, it’s worth mentioning that when his case went to court later on, all he received was a fine of ¬£100.)

Something very different happened just two years ago. A girl of about 14 was injured in one of the stages of the Tour de France held in Ireland. She stepped out of the crowd and was hit by a cyclist, receiving serious head injuries. She was brought to hospital in a coma but recovered. When she regained consciousness she asked for the cyclist, whether he had been hurt. (He had, but not seriously, and had been discharged earlier.) She admitted that the accident was her fault.

Consider the contrasting reactions of the two people at the centre of the stories. The young man thought of himself first and didn’t acknowledge his responsibility. The girl thought of the other person first and did acknowledge her responsibility. Which of the two was the better human being?