The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on August 12, 2010.

I filled out an online survey recently, and something about it has been troubling me ever since.

I get these surveys every so often, and always ignore the ones in which it’s obvious that their main – or only – objective is to get information about me for marketing purposes. This one, however, was a follow-up to an annual conference I recently attended, and its purpose was to get feedback about the event so the organization could evaluate this conference and decide on changes to make for the next one.

Surveys like that I’m always happy to complete. Most require simply clicking on a number that rates my level of satisfaction with something, or the level of relevance or importance it has to me. I always answer the questions as thoroughly and honestly as I can, but I rarely put anything in the “Comments” box that usually follows each question – unless there is something that has struck me as so unbelievably good or unbelievably bad that it warrants additional remarks.

I also rarely include my name or contact information – which is usually listed as “Optional” at the end of the survey – because I’d rather not invite additional unsolicited email, even though I know that just by returning the survey, I’ve opened myself up to that possibility.

On this particular survey, the request for contact information was not optional. It was required. So I filled it in, but then I went back and checked all of my responses. I found myself filling in some of the “Comment” boxes that I had left blank, because in areas where I had not given something a high rating, I felt the need to explain why.

Although I wasn’t any less honest when I thought I was answering the questions anonymously, when I knew my responses would be attributed to me I felt more accountable for explaining them. It surprised me to realize this about myself, and that’s the part that bothered me.

I have always believed strongly – and I am certainly not alone in this – that a lack of personal accountability is responsible for some of the biggest problems in our society today. If we were all to take full responsibility – both the credit and the blame – for all of our actions and decisions, there’s no doubt in my mind that we would be in enormously better shape than we are today, as individuals, as families, and as communities.

All too often, many of us hide behind anonymity, including the perceived anonymity of the internet. And all too quickly we can fall into the herd mentality that comes when we’re just one small person in a crowd of many, whether it’s a vocal and angry mob protesting out in the streets or a group of people sitting quietly at their computers, sending their ideas and opinions out into cyberspace.

What made me so uncomfortable about the survey I recently answered was seeing myself in that group. I don’t like being there, and I’m going to take steps to remove myself from it starting immediately.

From now on, whenever I am offering my opinion or answering questions, I’m going to pretend that the person I am responding to is standing or sitting right across from me. No matter who they are or where they are in real life, I want everything I say and do to be exactly the same as what I would say to them in person.

And if I ever receive an online survey on this subject, I’ll be sure to fill in all the Comment boxes, so I can answer the questions in full detail.

© Betty Liedtke, 2010