*Pardon my language in this post as those that know me, know I have a bit of a potty mouth and it comes out on this one for sure.*
Accountability is something that comes up a lot in my home… having three young children, ages 3, 5 and 8 – it is a massive learning process to ensure they understand what accountability is, and how it applies to their lives.
I am adamant as a parent that my children believe in this value. I believe as parents, if we fail to set Accountability as a value within our children than we are not doing our jobs. On a side note my whole goal as a parent is to raise functional, contributing members of society. And what that looks like to me is raising someone who becomes an adult with good self esteem, a strong sense of self and personal conviction, someone with integrity (which requires accountability) and someone that gives back to their community.
When we don’t raise our children to be accountable, what happens? Well, they become self centred, hypocritical victims of the world around them. They become in short, Assholes. Yes, I realize that is exceptionally harsh sounding but it is true.
A caveat that when holding anyone Accountable, it is essential to be specific and to acknowledge your own personal perspective or lens that may skew the vision of events. Remember Facts Matter. What was said or done is more important when holding someone Accountable than your personal feelings. I say this, not because feelings don’t matter in my example below I take Accountability to another’s feelings but Facts are more important in Accountability because if we accept the refusal of fact, we can erase History.
I have worked over two decades with youth in what often was their first job, and have taught countless courses related to leadership training. I have had many a conversation with a parent that made excuses for the child either being late, not getting their work done, or not meeting a standard. The intention was good, to support their child, but the result taught their child that they did not need to take responsibility for their actions or lack there of. This in turn leads to a longer, harder road for the child in question because at some point (unless they hold strong privilege, which often they did) their child would experience a job, a course, a relationship where someone could no longer make excuses for them.
Let’s start with the idea of failing. Nobody likes to fail, nobody likes to feel like they are failing – these are facts. When we as humans do something sub-par, less than our best, or just plain wrong it doesn’t feel good; simply put, it feels bad to fuck up. Another fact is that everyone fails at some point in their life. So not learning from those failures ends up in us doing a continual loop of bad actions, behaviour and not growing.
When we fail, or do wrong – we have an opportunity to grow, however we can only grow if we are held accountable for our words and actions. It’s human nature to want to forget or minimize what we do when wrong, again, it feels bad to fuck up.
As parents we often want to protect our kids and this leads us to doing things like calling in sick for them at work, blaming teacher’s for our kids poor behaviour or lack of ability, or worse excusing dangerous behaviour as phases. If parents did a better job of holding their kids accountable, then we would have far more adults willing to do so as well.
I’ll give you an example of someone I had in a leadership class, the candidate was extremely strong in the knowledge aspect of the course, however did not have the physical strength to complete the requirements necessary. The course lead to a certification where the individual would be responsible for the safety of others and the physical requirements were directly related to their ability to do this job safely. The student when speaking with me, seemed to understand why it was important to complete the skills. We took extra time to work one on one, and with another participant to try and gain the strength. Their parents however chose to push and take the perspective that I was the issue, that I didn’t want their child to succeed. So instead of helping their child learn resilience through the failure; they fought, tried to show their child that the guidelines should not apply to them, got additional support and evaluation only to have their child fail again. In the courses I teach it is essential for people to acknowledge and learn from their mistakes. I, too had to learn from this experience because the communication from the candidate and myself had no hint of such misunderstanding. I now have a plan to acknowledge this in future classes to hopefully provide a safer space for students to share.
I could take the perspective that the candidate was two faced, that they just really didn’t want to face their own inability, that I did everything I could but that wouldn’t allow me to grow. My growth is coming from acknowledging that my message was lost, that I could do better in the future, that I will try to do better.
It is not possible for every person to be successful in everything. Read that again. It is impossible for us to be successful at everything. It is impossible for us to be perfect. Knowing this helps with Accountability, because it’s not as scary to admit we are struggling or failing, if we understand that the vast majority are doing the same, right along with us.
I have written my last few posts on privilege, representation and the values of wealth, status and power. The reason Accountability is so important to loop in, is that there is a misapplication of Accountability to marginalized people. An ideal of capitalism, that anyone can make something of themselves, does not factor in that the playing field isn’t even. It misplaces accountability on those without privilege, without representation, without wealth, status or power. It makes it so the oppressors need not take any accountability, and that those being oppressed do.
How is it possible to believe that those placed in a position with less resources, access to education, and opportunities are to be more accountable than those keeping them there. This premise directly applies to how white supremacy shows up in our lives without us even be conscious to it.
I want to take the example in Canada and how we treat the Indigenous. I was born, raised and still live in Calgary. I lived with fairly liberal parents (as liberal as Alberta gets), I read early, went to good schools, I should have been taught about Residential schools but I wasn’t. I was not aware of the existence of Residential schools until I was 28 years old. When I was first told my reaction was quite literally disbelief. I told my friend there was no way the Canadian government would do that. How could parents let their kids be taken away? It just wasn’t possible – I had to look up the Truth and Reconciliation commission and went down the rabbit hole of just exactly what had happened. That these ‘schools’ were open until 1996, when I would have been 13.
The purpose of Residential schools was to ‘kill the Indian in the child’; it was to abolish the Indigenous culture by isolating the children from their parents, their homes, their tradition, culture and heritage. To force assimilation to the dominant (white) culture. In contrast, as a white child I was taught that we, as in Canada, were a country that was a mosaic, one that embraced all cultures. We were led to believe that we were not a melting pot like the United States. That all religions, races and beliefs were important. I was taught this without ever being told that the exact opposite applied to the Indigenous in our country.
If I am starting to sound upset, it is, because I am. I remember the white hot shame I felt when I discovered everything that occurred and the misconception I had of our nation. The story we had been told, and if it was up to some politicians/historians (looking at you, Jason Kenney and Chris Champion), would still be told was that Residential schools and their lasting effects were not/are not that bad or perhaps not bad at all. There has been a recommendation to take the information out of school curriculum for younger ages, that these children wouldn’t be capable of understanding what happened. Residential schools directly affected the lives of 150,000 Indigenous youth, and generations to come after, approximately 6,000 children died in Residential schools. I would say it is more than appropriate that my children learn about what happened, how and why these schools were allowed to operate, given that they were compulsory for Indigenous children to attend at age 7.
My biggest issue with the idea of possibly taking what occurred in Residential schools out of our curriculum is that it would diminish our Accountability. We, as in white people, did that, or allowed that, or allowed ourselves to be ignorant of that. In not taking Accountability, we wrote a different narrative on the struggles of the Indigenous, one that places entirely their circumstances and any difficulties in their lives on their own shoulders.
Why is it that we can be more empathetic towards a wealthy, white drug addict? Or young, white youth breaking into facilities and injuring themselves, than we can an entire group of individuals that were subjected to years of abuse (physical, mental and emotional). Less empathy to an entire group being told that who they were born to be (culturally, language, etc.) was bad or lesser than. Perhaps it is because we haven’t been taught that we need to take ownership of the results of our actions and their long lasting effects.
In growing up, because I was so privileged and unaware I didn’t understand why Black people were still saying things like white people are racists, because I myself had never met someone my age that was racist. To me there weren’t any more slaves so what was the deal. I genuinely didn’t understand all the longstanding effects of slavery, land ownership, red-lining and the systems put in place to continually hold back an entire race. Not to mention the corrupt Justice system and all the Police brutality that they have been subjected to. That racism was still steeped in our waters. When we think of Accountability it is hard to understand that it’s not just about what we do personally, but also what we aren’t doing.
When learning about the Holocaust and the rise of the Nazi party in Germany it was easy to see how the us vs them group think got out of control. FacingHistory.org does an excellent job exploring this topic and I highly recommend checking them out.
Taking a look at what is happening in the United States and the recent attempted coup/Insurrection and the resulting lack of Accountability for those that led the charge, fed the words and created, enabled an environment that led to such violence is almost unbelievable. It is as though we have learned nothing from the past, or more so those that read about the past, took completely different lessons than what they should. Those that voted to not impeach Trump, to not hold him Accountable are doing so because they too, do not want to be Accountable for their own actions.
Yet those very same people believe that marginalized individuals need to be accountable for their actions. That a rape victim must continue to carry a fetus of their rapist because of ‘God’s will’. They protect a system that jails a teenager and holds them without trial for 3 years for allegedly stealing a backpack. The system that believes a young, white male, that excels at sports deserves a 6 months sentence for sexual assault because of their character, but that a Black athlete guilty of the same crime is sentenced to 15-25 years. A system that allows white people to shoot innocent black joggers on video with no charges for months. A system that allows a white cop to murder a Black suspect, caught on camera, for an alleged counterfeit $20 bill. Accountability only applies to those they wish to hold power over, their lens is dirty.
In Europe there are many memorials about the Holocaust in hopes of never going down that road again. Memorials to help keep us Accountable to the 6 million Jews and millions of other lives lost for the name of status and power. We teach history to learn from it, to change our societies and shape our world to a better place.
I would argue that not wanting to teach Residential schools to our children is an attempt to not take Accountability to the damage we have done. To continue to paint our world and that of Indigenous people into blurry visions of history.
Accountability stems into so many factors in our lives from Oil and Gas companies being Accountable for clean up of their sites and the environmental laws of the countries which they source their resources. To employers adhering to labour laws. To employees showing up on time and producing the work they are paid for. To travellers during the pandemic ensuring they get the right COVID test (hello, PCR) before heading home so they don’t get forced into quarantine. To politicians keeping their campaign promises. People try to fluff off Accountability all the time because it is hard work, that is the truth. Being Accountable for your actions is hard work, but it is worthy work.
Accountability starts young, it starts with picking up the toys that you take out, putting your own dish in the dishwasher, acknowledging when you have lied or done wrong. If we don’t teach these lessons young than we never learn them. If we are never Accountable than the whole world is a mess.
Valuing Accountability and holding each other to like standards is what is just and fair. Understanding the nuance of why someone reacted the way they did is important, like when one kids hits the other when the first one takes a toy out of their hand. Who is accountable in this situation? The child that hit arguable did the greater crime, but the child that took what didn’t belong to them was in the wrong too and wronged first. What are we to do? Hold both Accountable to the situation. But it’s not always that plain to see and understanding where each person comes from, where they grew up, how they were raised, their privilege or lack thereof gives us perspective. It’s not meant to be an excuse but it is meant to provide context, that if you were in the same situation, given the same options what would you do.
Holding people Accountable again gives the opportunity for growth, growth is where real change is possible. Right now, we need real change in our world. If you don’t like the image in the mirror when someone is holding you to your words, your actions or inactions than maybe it is time to re-evaluate your world, your values. Having integrity is matching who you are with what you believe and what you put out into the world.
Now I do say in the title that Accountability leads to resilience and it does. In the simple way of knowing that growth is possible when you take it. That no one is perfect, that is huge in resilience – holding ourselves up to perfect ideals is what drives our resilience down. Resilience in accepting yourself, for exactly who you are. Acknowledging that we are all doing our best drives empathy and resilience.
What happens if we aren’t doing our best? What if we aren’t being Accountable? Well then we are perpetually the victim of a world of our own making, and we are an Asshole. Let’s not be Assholes.