Hejlskov’s car garage

The principle of responsibility is derived from Bernhard Weiners work. It states that

The one that takes responsibility gains influence

This means that if we want to be able to influence anything we need to take responsibility. Of course that is not an easy task. It’s easy enough when we know what to do. But if we don’t have a good method we often try to move over the responsibilty to someone else. We start talking about the person we are working being stubborn or unmotivated, we start talking about the parenting skills of te prents of the person we are working with etc.
Moving the responsibility to somebody else unfortunately means that we loose the possibility of success. This happens in schools, in group homes, in psychiatric services, in homes for the elderly and everywhere else where we supply support and care for other people. The best way to helt yourself to maintain responsibility is to use the car garage metaphor.

I’m a psychologist. I’m the first academic in my greater family. We Hejlskovs have some great traditions. One of them is to skip school as fast as possible. I actually started out that way but returned to school as an adult. Another one is to work. I started working at age 12 and I have worked ever since. And we have a great tradition of working ourselves to death at an early age. My beautiful wife tells me I’m keeping that tradition alive. But when I became a psychologist and started working in clinical settings and in schools I became aware that my work ethics unfortunately don’t apply to everyone in schools and care settings. To keep my work ethics I decided to pretens that I work in a car garage. It’s the easiest way. The principle is easy:

We all work in a car garage.

In a car garage it’s quite easy to talk about responsibility. There is no doubt about who’s in charge of service and repairs. It’s the mechanic. The mechanic can’t get rid of the responsibility by moving it to somebody else. At least not if he wants to get paid. Let’s try a few examples out:

I leave my car at the garage for service and maintenance. When returning the next day I expect the car to be ready for me, fresh oil in the engine and verything all right. But what if I pick up the key, pay the bill and then find out that the oil has not been changed? The mechanic can have different explanations:

  • The car didn’t coorporate. The oil sump plug (that you screww out in order to drain the oil) was stuck. The car held on to it for all it was worth. If the car won’t coorporate there is nothing you can do. But it took a while to assess the problem, that’s what you are paying for.
  • The car lacks motivation. It’s like it’s just sitting there waiting for me to do all the work. I asked it to get onto the lift, but nothing happened. It just sat there on the garage floor. So there was nothing I could do.
  • The car has been driven quite roughly. It’s obvious that you (the owner) are not taking properly care of it. It’s dirty, and the shocks are worn by rough driving and the spark plugs dirty from many cold starts. If you as the owner don’t take better care of your car it can’t be my responsibility to service it. If you took better care of it it wouldn’t be necessary to change the oil yet.
  • The oil sump plug is 1/2 inch. At this workshop we don’t use good old british wrenches. We are modern and only use evidence based methods. All research tells us that millimeter wrenches work on more cars than inch wrences. So we tossed all the old wrenches and bought brand new millimeter wrenches. We tried a 13 mm wrench on your oil sump plug. It was just a little too big. But the wrench destroyed the plug. It’s round now. I hit my knuckle on the spring when the wrench slipped, look, i’m still bleeding. So we reported the car to the police. You’ll have to wait for them to stop by. Maybe they’ll take the car in custody. We have a zero tolerance policy on assaults here and work closely with the police.

Nobody would accept any of these excuses. The deal in the garage is that i leave my car there and the mechanic services the car, including oil change. I pay him for a job well done. The mechanic is supposed have the tools and skills needed, and no moral vews on my driving abilities or styles. The car does not need to be motivated or to coorporate. It’s the mechanic’s job and responsibilty to do the work and perfom the task, includion getting the car on the lift and loosening the oil sump plug.

Just like in care settings or in schools. The staff is responsible for doing the work they get paid for and solving the problems arising doing it. It doesn’t matter if it’s the problem of getting the pupil to learn what he needs to learn, the service user in a group home to go for a walk in order to sleep better or the psychiatic patient to have a calm and nice day.

But there is yet another important principle in the car garage: The mechanic cannot use tools or methods that damage the car. That’s why he only uses the right tools. You can loosen the oil sump plug with a big enough hammer, but not without breaking the sump. It’s just the same in schools, group homes and psychiatric services. You can manage a difficult situation by using restraints. But not without damaging the person you are paid to take good care of. Either by inflicting physical damage (which actually happens in close to 20 % of all restraint situations according to Legget & Silvester) or by traumaticing the person you are restraining. So of course we don not use physical or mechanical restraints.