Top Three Values: Part II - Accountability
Earlier this year, I was asked to do a “values” exercise and identify my top three values. What I came up with was the following:
These last three months of 2023, I’m going to dig a little deeper into each of these values and think about why they made it to the top of my list. My intention is not to convince you they should be your top values, but to share with you my process for getting there and how I’m going about incorporating them into my life and work. It will hopefully give you a road map for finding your own top values and finding ways to practice them.
For all the shouting people do about holding people accountable, you would think we as a society would be better at it. But we’re not. There are individuals who move through life with impunity, and others who suffer disproportionate punishment. It’s an overwhelming problem that I can’t possibly address in this blog post. But what I can and have been working on is holding myself and those immediately around me accountable.
When someone around us makes a mistake or they cause harm, it can be uncomfortable for us to address it directly. There are plenty of times where I’ve let things go and minimized my discomfort and rationalized away bad behavior. Especially when I believed it was “unintentional,” and I didn’t want to be “mean.”
Accountability can be a loaded term. I used to confuse it with its simple-minded and less sophisticated cousin: blame. Where blame paints with a broad brush, accountability requires nuance and complexity. Blames sounds like, “You did something that I don’t like and it created this problem and therefore you are an asshole!” Accountability sounds like, “I want you to know that because you did A, it resulted in X and it impacted me in this way. Can we talk about what happened?”
Accountability, when you’re brave enough to offer it and the other party is brave enough to engage, offers an opportunity to build connection and a path forward. And this works in reverse as well.
It’s scary to admit you made a mistake that caused someone harm. It’s so much easier to get defensive and start explaining and rationalizing your actions. If you can gaslight the other person into believing it’s not your fault or that it wasn’t intentional, you might be able to avoid the consequences.
Both holding someone accountable and being accountable takes courage, vulnerability and trust. It can feel like jumping off a cliff because you don’t know what’s going to happen when you start that conversation. But with practice, it starts to feel more like a leap of faith than a terrifying free fall. If we can all start holding each other accountable for small infractions, maybe we as a culture can prevent the monsters that are born from turning a blind eye.
The nightmare that led to the #metoo movement didn’t develop overnight. It was the accumulation of millions of small actions that went unaddressed and ignored until it metastasized into a systemic and far-reaching catastrophe that our society will spend years unraveling and repairing.
In an interview with Marc Maron, artist and writer Eve Ensler discusses the powerful men who have been called out. She argues that it’s not sufficient for them to say sorry and then be fired and/or thrown in jail. Apologies and punishments can’t lead to healing if the offender and their enablers don't fully acknowledge the impact of the behavior. Just as an accountant audits an organization’s financial records, Ensler makes the case that society needs to examine closely what happened and account for the specific harm that was done. Only then can we find a way forward.
While I can’t single-handedly fix society as a whole— don’t think I haven’t tried—a few years ago, I’ve started to make a greater effort to hold myself and those around me accountable
What does accountability mean to me?
Acknowledging the impact my words and actions have
Taking steps to repair and heal damage I’ve caused
Immediately and directly addressing harm people have caused me
Being open to apologies and healing
Setting boundaries with people who are not accountable for their actions
What does it allow me to do?
Practice self-honesty: When I’m holding myself and others accountable, I’m practicing my first value: Self-Honesty (Read my last blog post here.)
Build stronger relationships: When people I care about call me out when I’ve caused harm and then give me a chance to make it right, it develops trust and respect between us.
Open my mind: Instead of boiling things down to “I’m right and they are wrong,” holding people accountable requires me to approach the problem with empathy and curiosity. (More on this in my next blog post!)
Resources and Inspiration for accountability: