“That which we resist persists.”
– CG Jung
Accountability is the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions and the outcome of those actions. And, some might say, the ability and willingness to explain our reasons for those actions, whether they were good reasons or not. It’s one of the best tools for improving ourselves rapidly by identifying shortcomings, by understanding how we sabotage ourselves, and by maximizing the potential for growth that manifests when we fall short.
If that’s true, why is it so rare to come across someone who lives in the spirit of accountability?
What you give up by being accountable is self-delusions and defense mechanisms, all of which are designed to enable you to avoid feelings of shame (that shouldn’t be there in the first place). To put it another way, when you embrace accountability you sacrifice the ability to weasel out of pressure and bad feelings in the immediate circumstance. In return you gain valuable insight that can enable you to become a better person over time, but in the moment, it can be hard to put the long-term good over short-term comfort.
The main reason people avoid accountability is that they’ve felt ashamed in the past, and learned to deal with shame by using excuses. Excuses are the displacement of responsibility onto other people, the circumstances, mental disorders, God, the devil, the positioning of Jupiter and subsequent effects according to one’s ascendant star sign… you name it. The less accountable you are, the more excuses you need, and because your excuses need constant validation in order to retain credibility, you actually have an incentive to stay weak, broken, and powerless – You have an incentive to remain the kind of person that needs a lot of excuses.
Paradoxically, by activating defenses to avoid accountability, we actually accrue more shame. When we try to BS our way through a moment in which we could instead take accountability, we don’t feel strong, but instead feel weak. And when we feel weak, we feel ashamed, and the cycle continues.
Accountability can be viewed as a skill that many other skills depend on, in that it is a tool for learning. By learning to immediately step into accountability, you will cease wasting valuable energy on excuses and can instead use that energy to learn. As you make a habit of being accountable, it will eventually become an integral part of your character. You will start to feel better about yourself because you know you are reliable and aren’t (pardon my language) full of shit. People will detect that you’re accountable, especially people of good character who also notice and value it, and you will start to detect accountability (or its absence) in others as well.
When I first learned about accountability as a young man, I finally had what I needed to be emancipated from the failure-shame-excuses cycle. Among trusted allies, I started admitting my shortcomings when they manifested, owning the negative outcomes and impacts on others, getting curious about what went wrong, and acting to address the issues I subsequently uncovered by learning new skills and adopting new habits. Every time I came up short became a chance to deal with an issue in a way that left my dignity intact.
To be accountable is to honour the truth, and as such, accountability will set you free and usher vitality into your life.