Accountability-as a Child versus as an Adult

When I was 10, my mother had a strikingly beautiful vase which I accidentally broke and I didn’t tell her for fear of being spanked. Yes! when I was growing up, spanking was a perfectly logical consequence for bad behavior. It never occurred to me that accidents weren’t bad behavior. Nevertheless, upon realizing that I had broken something my mother was very fond of, I quietly placed the vase on top of the cupboard and pretended nothing happened. Two weeks later, my mother discovered the broken vase and, lo and behold, I was her first suspect. I could never lie to my mother no matter how hard I tried, not on the day I stole meat from the pot in the kitchen but swore it wasn’t me or any of the times when the powdered milk finished quicker than expected.

My mother calmly questioned me about the broken vase, my mouth instantly broke into a guilty smile and I said, ‘‘yes mummy, it was me’’. She further asked why I felt the need to lie to her and I told her it was because I was afraid she would be angry. She calmly reminded me that she was only ever mad at me when I lied or hid things from her but if I told the truth and apologized, all would be forgiven. This was the first of many lessons on accountability that I started learning.

Once we become adults, we are no longer afraid of being spanked by our parents for wrong doing but we are still afraid of the consequences of our actions, partly because of how unsettling it is to see a loved one angry, disappointed or hurt because of our actions. Sometimes it’s circles outside of our loved ones such as the court of public opinion which can be ruthless in its demand for accountability. We can safely conclude that the words , ‘‘I messed up, I am sorry and is there anything I can do to fix this’’ aren’t always easily uttered. Matter of fact, many of us learnt more of what accountability isn’t as opposed to what it is and what we ought to do when others take responsibility for their actions.

It’s interesting to see how even as adults, we still act from a child-like modus operandi; in our minds telling the truth attracts punishment, loss, shame and embarrassment. In our frame of reference, we have associated taking accountability with negative consequences which we would rather evade so we make excuses, blame others, hide and lie.

An individuals frame of reference includes beliefs, preferences, values and culture on which he/she bases understanding and judgment . When a situation arises, an individual filters it through their frame of reference then give it meaning; for example, if I repeatedly make appointments with a friend but I don’t bother to show up or call in advance to excuse myself, I am processing this from my frame of reference. In it, its perfectly okay to make commitments without genuinely intending to keep them, its okay to lie to get ahead because its the end that justifies the means, its acceptable to do things that hurt others provided I get what I want or they never find out. Hence when a colleague at work confronts me about missed deadlines or perpetual late coming, I make excuses, I get angry, I hide, I lie because in my subconscious mind, my behavior is acceptable to me even if it isn’t to others. The need to improve will not be apparent to me instead I will do and say anything to justify my behavior except take accountability. This is partly why you can never win by pointing out how destructive certain peoples pattern of behavior is because they simply cannot process matters beyond their frame of reference, how then can they take accountability. This does not mean that those that do take accountability when called out on their mistakes see the world as we do but they may have learnt to suspend their frame of reference long enough to adopt another perspective and act from that perspective, this my friends is what we sometimes call walking in another persons shoes.

You cannot take accountability for what you are not convinced is unacceptable, you will keep breaking vases and hiding them until you are able to suspend your frame of reference, adopt another perspective of your behavior and its impact, so that you can objectively assess the allegations laid before you.

Over the years I have learnt several lessons on taking accountability for my actions and responsibility for my reactions to other’s actions. Every course of action taken has consequences and unlike my Mother who readily extended forgiveness to an ignorant child, fellow adults wont always be so forgiving. So once we know better, we ought to do better because mistakes can be forgiven but negative behavioral patterns should be broken and taking accountability is a good place to start.



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