we don't hold people accountable; we create space for people to take accountability

this post is inspired by one line in an episode of how two survive the end of the world: The Practices We Need: #metoo and Transformative Justice

there is a LOT of language and talk about accountability and community accountability. some of it is soooo dope. and much of it is starting to get REALLY toxic, REAL quick.

i wanted to write out a few thoughts because these are the areas where i’m finding myself the most frustrated and the most excited. i also want to state very clearly that i am a novice here. i am writing to put my thoughts out into the world and have them affirmed, challenged, and hopefully held with care. we are trying to live into a world we have never had. and the only way to get there is to take steps.

you don’t hold people accountable; you create space for people to take accountability

in my work with organizations, i keep finding this pattern: people lower in the hierarchy want to hold people higher in the hierarchy accountable. when i push a little and ask what does accountability mean or what would it look like, i find that what gets included is all sorts of stuff, most of which is far beyond accountability. the clarity i try to bring is this:

accountability means to be accountable or responsible. responsibility is one’s “ability to respond.”

then we get to the “respond to what?” question. to me, it is responding to the claims of hurt or harm.

and in practice, what i see this most often looking like is this:

accountability, imo, is the work of person 1 sitting with and acknowledging (a) that the hurt or harm DID in fact happen and (b) that they had some part in causing it.

from there, and still within the process of accountability, all sorts of other things become possible. addressing the hurt or harm (though hurt is not always something that can be tended to interpersonally) can happen within an accountability process. restorative or transformative processes and more are also possible to engage in from here.

ok i need to run but i’ll say two more things:

first, accountability processes are voluntary. if it is not voluntary, it is coercive. and idk about you, but i really DISLIKE being coerced. that said, just because accountability is voluntary does not mean that harm should be allowed to continue indefinitely. if someone won’t take accountability and stop causing harm of their own will, there are still PLENTY of things that can be done to protect people who are (potential) targets of their harm.

second, we cannot hold people accountable who don’t hold our values to our values. a pattern i keep seeing is that people are trying to get leadership to be accountable to values of the collective/staff but the leadership doesn’t actually hold the same values. it is one thing (i dare call it love) to show someone that they are acting out of alignment with their own values. it is an entirely different thing to try to get someone to change their values (i believe that work is possible but happens on the scale of years and decades, not days and weeks).


EDIT (20 aug 2020): thank you, sol, for catching the error in this original sentence: “if it is not voluntary, it is coercive. and idk about you, but i really like being coerced.” i definitely, definitely don’t like being coerced.

words / writing / post-processing
475w / 20min / 8min