When Harry Truman was the president of the United States, he had a famous sign on his desk. It said “the buck stops here”. It referred to the phrase “passing the buck”, which means to pass on responsibility to someone else so that you don’t have to deal with it. For Truman, the sign indicated that as president he was taking charge and making decisions that everyone else wanted to avoid. For us, passing the buck seems to be a way of life.

It’s endemic to the Pakistani Code. If someone asks you for something, pretend you didn’t hear. Anyone who has ever walked into a shop where someone is behind a counter knows that you have to stand on your head and speak in tongues if you want any of them to meet your eyes, let alone pay any attention to you, the customer, who is trying to buy something, which is the reason for their existence. Their job is to sell you things, and yet they shy away so much from the act of actually doing so that you begin to wonder whether someone told them talking to strangers will send them to hell. These days the Punjab provincial government is passing the buck on security to schools, and schools are tossing that buck right back onto the government. Between the two, parents are paying fees for their children to sit at home and squabble over the remote control because nobody wants to step up.

The same goes for health care. Doctors don’t care about responsibility, because no system exists in this country to hold them accountable to anything. There is no concept of suing anyone for medical malpractice, no concept of suspending a medical license. Ergo no responsibility, and doctors can swan around prescribing whatever they like to whoever they like, doing procedures that are unnecessary and basically lording it over all the patients who lack the knowledge and courage to question their decisions. If something goes wrong, as it often does, they can pass the buck onto the hospital, who can toss it onto a nurse or medical officer and bob’s your uncle.

It’s appalling how many examples I can think of right now. Teachers are routinely hassled by parents when their children don’t do well, clearly passing the responsibility of both the child and their own parenting onto a third person. On the flip side patients who don’t follow prescriptions, self-medicate or ignore their doctor’s advice then blame the same doctor when their treatment goes south. It’s ridiculous, and indicative of how deeply dysfunctional we are as a group of people. No society can ever be strong, enlightened or principled if everyone is trying to dodge responsibility for even something as small as giving you a bottle of vitamin C from a shelf behind a counter. We’re a nation of dodgers, from the top to the bottom, and shirkers enable other shirkers. So when the boss isn’t doing her job properly, she is in no position to pull any of her employees up for their shirking—in fact, they’re probably going to be covering for each other’s carelessness. Not only is that utterly dishonest and corrupt, it can even be life-threatening. Everyone thinks their buck-passing won’t matter in the big picture, but we forget that everyone contributes to the big picture. That responsibility is directly linked to accountability, which in turn implies certain standards.

The law is only effective because it creates a system in which everyone is held responsible for their actions. You can’t fire randomly in the air because you feel like it, because when that bullet hits a bystander, it is your fault they are injured. You can’t beat someone to death because they disagreed with you. Taking responsibility for one’s actions is the fundament of civilized society, the foundation of it. It is also the foundation of morality, and ethics. If you made a mistake, you have to make it right. Unfortunately, when we make mistakes we spend all our energy in trying to prove how it wasn’t our fault, because we’re obviously so perfect that it is inconceivable that we ever err. That we are so committed to everything we do that we work hard to ensure that mistakes are seldom, if ever, made. If only that were indeed true. The more we pass the buck, the deeper we dig ourselves into our anarchic hole. When we make it permissible for doctors to botch surgeries, it’s only a matter of time when the victim becomes us. When we don’t hold murderers and corrupt politicans accountable, we’re making our societies increasingly violent and lawless. We’re enabling the ghoondas, the villains, the bad guys, by weakening all the apparatuses that exist to create accountability. And why? Because taking responsibility means inconvenience. It means having to suffer, being embarrassed, having to do the difficult thing. It means that uncomfortable realization that we aren’t the best and we aren’t perfect, but by acknowledging our mistakes we are able to rectify them and move forward. It’s no coincidence that as a nation we are still so stagnant and close-minded, and that that condition is only worsening. We’re the people who still think Malala Yousafzai’s shooting was staged, that everything that goes wrong is because the Indians did it, that earthquakes are a punishment from heaven. It’s high time we grew a spine and a sense of integrity. It’s time to stop the buck, before we’re all doomed.