Self-expression with accountability describes a way of expressing with fairness and integrity how we think and feel, without being accusatory, judgmental, or abusive.
Accountability is an honest claiming of what is going on for us underneath the words or actions that we are confronting. It is not a defensive reaction, a counter attack, a manipulation, a lie, a withdrawal, or a denial. For self-expression to have accountability, it must first have a confrontation, either of ourselves confronting ourselves, of another confronting us, or of us confronting another. Always, we must first confront ourselves to discover what’s going on for us before we can be accountable and before we can confront another. I will illustrate how accountability takes discipline, courage, commitment, and brains.
Having said this, we need to note that in our communication system, when a message is received, the first thing that happens to us once the message is registered, is that we have a reaction to it. This reaction is spontaneous and automatic. Reactions have emotional feelings attached to them that have been shaped by our past experiences, our present experience, our anticipated experiences, and our degree of investment in the information. In other words, messages that trigger reactions go through our system with a “charge”, positive, negative, or indifferent. This charge is not ours to edit or control. Reactions are to be registered as the first source of personal data relative to the information. They “inform” us and it is for us to discover what they are telling us. We must ask , “What is our relationship to this message and why is it triggering this reaction?” Therefore, right here at this initial stage, the integrity of our system can be violated if we do not confront ourselves to reflect on our reaction and its “charge”.
Our first deliberate participation in the communication process, therefore, is reflecting on our reaction to a message. How we begin to deliberately participate in this process affects whether we are fair, respectful, and accountable to and for our reaction. If we are, we preserve the integrity of our system. Automatic reactions are joined by deliberate self-reflection to allow us to be true to ourselves. If we just allow ourselves to react to our reactions, which means staying in an automatic mode, we will have no rules of fair play and the integrity of our system will be violated. Reacting to reactions keeps us operating on the automatic response level. Reactions and reactions to them are not self-reflective. Accountability, on the other hand, is a deliberate, thoughtful claiming of what we discover is going on for us. To be accountable, we must be self-reflective and deliberate, and confront our reactions, thus the need for discipline. We must discipline ourselves to search inside and try to discover, understand, and claim what our reaction is telling us about what we’re feeling and thinking. We must also claim what we’ve said and done and why, but we must never just react.
It takes discipline to be accountable. Reactions can be highly charged as they occur automatically, that is their nature. If not met with discipline their charge carries the energy and they just continue as chain reactions. They automatically trigger themselves and ask nothing of us. Even infants can react. Only the disciplined can be self-reflective and accountable. Teaching accountability means teaching discipline.
How does accountability takes courage? It takes courage to be accountable because we have to be honest and claim our part in whatever we said or did that we are being confronted about, either by ourselves or others. When confronted it is a natural tendency to want to duck the truth, either because we don’t want to get in trouble, we are embarrassed and don’t want to admit what we said or did, or we are angry at getting caught and feel trapped so we try to deflect, distract, defend or counterattack. Accountability leaves us unprotected, exposed, and having to deal truthfully with the effects and consequences of our actions. That takes courage. Hiding does not. However, we can be intimate only if we are accountable. Hiding may seem safer, but it is lonely and empty, say nothing of being a source of anxiety as we fear being exposed. Teaching accountability means teaching courage.
Accountability also takes commitment. Without commitment to fairness and integrity, we will never be accountable. We must ” value” fairness if we are to” be” fair, and accountability is the fairest thing going. No one is ever in jeopardy when fairness is the governing principle. The same is true of integrity (honesty). If there is fairness, then honesty is not dangerous. It is, instead, a protection and a relief. Even though there will be consequences when we are accountable for what we’ve said or done, the integrity of the process will provide its own protection. The understanding and resolution that follow will bring an intimacy and a lessening of tension that provides a sense of peace and well-being, as well as a sense of being known and being connected. If we are committed to fairness and honesty, we can find the discipline and courage to be accountable. If we are accountable, the fairness and honesty bring us a sense of intimacy and connectedness, of personal stature and well-being. It is a powerful and rewarding process. Teaching accountability means teaching commitment to fairness.
Finally, accountability takes brains. Accountability takes brains because it is not just an automatic process. It is a deliberative and complex one. We need to be self reflective, ponder what is going on for us, search around in our past, present, and anticipated future experiences, and make the appropriate associations and selections of what is relevant to the particular confrontation. Then we need to draw on the discipline and courage it takes to express what we discover with fairness, honesty and accountability. This is a complicated thought process involving strong feelings that could easily just turn into automatic reactions. It takes no particular brain power to react and bully, or react and deny, or react and manipulate and lie. It is easy. Initially it is much easier than being accountable. The problem is after … there is no relief, no peace, no understanding, no resolution … just reactions. Accountability requires sophisticated thought processes, and is both emotionally and intellectually difficult. It takes brains. Hopefully, you can teach your students to learn to enjoy using their brain to be accountable and consider it as exciting as being shrewd, clever, or manipulative. Hopefully, their value system will prefer courage, commitment, discipline, integrity, and fairness, and the understanding and intimacy that follow. Teaching accountability means teaching complex thinking and processing.
Obviously, accountability is challenging, both as a process and as a process to be taught. You will be challenged on both levels, by being accountable yourself and by teaching your students to be accountable. So often we bow to the pressure of time and expediency, and just exact conformity. There are times when that is appropriate, but they are the exception, not the rule. Conformity may seem to be quicker and easier, but, in actuality, if it doesn’t include some confrontation of the need for fairness and the students’ acknowledgment that it’s fair, conformity really buys us little. At best, perhaps a momentary reprieve. At worst, hostile acting out or silent smoldering resentment. Without a mutual agreement of fairness, conformity is the potential precursor of passivity, alienation, withdrawal, disinterest, depression, resentment or anger. Accountability is harder to have and harder to teach, but it always provides an opportunity for intimacy with the truth and with that comes understanding of ourselves and of each other, which in turn provide a sense of well-being. Trust is the wonderful byproduct of accountability. However, accountability is the outgrowth of confrontation, so we must also become skilled at confronting if we are to set the stage for accountability to occur.