Accountability is a buzzword we often see floating around when we are discussing transgressions and triggers that affect us deeply. Personal accountability is a far less sexier phrase that doesn’t quite get the same amount of attention but is just as, if not, more important.
Finger pointing, blame, and judgment give us the freedom to look away from our mirrors, allowing us to disengage and detach ourselves from the work required for us as individuals and as a community to heal and grow. Personal accountability allows us to use our energy towards self-reflection: how am I showing up in the spaces I am privileged to enter, and how much of my own energy is contributing to either negative or positive feelings I have with regards to how I am interacting with those in said space? Sometimes, the “bad vibes” or feelings of things being off can be us.—our unwillingness to sit with how we can impact the energy that shows itself in our own communities. Often times, the things we see in others—the behaviors, actions, and practices that trigger us and offend us—are not only the things that may require a deeper level of understanding and investigating on our behalf, but also may be the things that are mere reflections of the work we are either doing or need to do more of on ourselves.
The act of holding ourselves accountable means we are shining a light on our own fears, our own insecurities, and our own issues that would otherwise remain dormant. It also means we get to look at the totality of our experience and the experience of others, allowing compassion and empathy of self to take center stage. This, in turn, makes us more compassionate and empathetic to the plights and struggles of others. Personal accountability also opens the door for forgiveness, freeing us from the shackles of guilt and shame that keep us stagnant, away from the healing waiting for us on the other side. That forgiveness of self also facilitates that same energy towards others we may be apprehensive in forgiving or understanding.
It’s easy to think that personal accountability means we don’t hold others accountable as well. It’s important for us to also recognize that more than one thing gets to be true at the same time. We can see where we have made errors or have fallen short while also holding others accountable for their behaviors that may have contributed to an arisen conflict. This affords the room to view the shortcomings of others and ourselves in a more holistic way, as opposed to a more myopic point of view that limits how we get to grow.
However, personal accountability can easily lead to self-deprecation if we aren’t careful. Shame, guilt and regret can sometimes be powerful emotions that can help us recognize the internal work needed to reframe the stories we have told about ourselves. But if those emotions are not coupled with just as strong of a dose of compassion, empathy and kindness for ourselves, the path to accountability can also lead us onto a journey that can be detrimental to our mental health. When we make personal accountability the primary, what we’re actually saying is that both the individual and collective health of the community matters more than looking solely outside of ourselves to see where the fault may lie. None of us are perfect, and each of us affects what happens to our communities moving forward. Long gone are the days where we can solely point to our institutions to lead us toward change. Each of us has a personal obligation to look within ourselves to challenge our truths, and our values and in order to push us to the liberation we’ve been striving for.
Joél Leon is a father, dreamer and storyteller. Follow him @joelleon.