President Truman kept a plaque on his desk with the phrase ‘The buck stops here,” meaning it was his job to make decisions and to accept responsibility for those decisions. President Jimmy Carter pulled that plaque out of storage to keep the reminder in front of him as well.
But what does it mean? A quick Wikipedia search comes up with two possible etymologies:
The expression is said to have originated from poker, in which a marker or counter (such as a knife with a buckhorn handle during the American Frontier era) was used to indicate the person whose turn it was to deal. If the player did not wish to deal he could pass the responsibility by passing the “buck”, as the counter came to be called, to the next player.
Another less common but arguably less fanciful attribution is to the French expression bouc émissaire, meaning “scapegoat”, whereby passing the bouc is equivalent to passing the blame or onus. The terms bouc émissaire and scapegoat both originate from an Old Testament (Lev. 16:6–10) reference to an animal that was ritually made to carry the burden of sins, after which the “buck” was sent or “passed”into the wilderness to expiate them.
So, either a refusal to take responsibility and kick the can down the road, or an intentional decision to blame someone else for your own actions. In either event, passing the buck is a refusal to take responsibility and act on it.
It can be difficult to discern what is our responsibility. One could argue we have a responsibility to fix harm we’ve caused, to prevent harm within our power to prevent, and to accept blame and credit when due. But these aren’t bright lines, and often decisions are complex and complicated by the actions and responsibilities of other players. That’s where the Serenity Prayer comes in:
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
For those things within your control, have the courage to change what you can and to do your part.