To whom are we accountable in life? Who are our standard bearers by which we judge our own performance?
These seemingly straightforward questions are, under closer scrutiny, almost unbearably complex. There are often multiple accountabilities, and those can shift depending on the topic.
Discern your accountabilities to work, for example. That might seem easy, as you are clearly accountable to your boss. However, you are also likely accountable to the standards of your profession, to regulatory requirements. As a nurse, I was accountable to the patients I served. I could easily meet the standards of correct documentation, an accurate physical assessment, a skilled dressing change. More complex was determining a subtle change in a patient’s condition, or sensing isolation and fear, and finding a way to listen and comfort.
Turn the topic of work slightly to career and the accountabilities change again. Perhaps it is your own drive that has created certain internal expectations of how your career should advance and in what time frame. It could be family expectations: meeting financial needs or keeping up with the Joneses, or perhaps hearing the echoes of parental guidance and obligation to standards set when you were a child.
Surely accountabilities in relationships are fairly obvious, aren’t they? We are accountable to the people with whom we are in relationship. Yet, when you think about being a parent, you can’t allow the child to judge every action of his mother or father and decide whether it was a wise and good one. Even relationships with spouses have to have a longer view than the immediate popularity of actions taken or words said.
We have accountability to the laws of our community, state and nation—from the police officer who spots us driving through a stop sign to helping out at a local food drive to taking the privilege of casting a well-researched vote. I am certainly holding myself accountable to the environment, working to decrease our dependence on plastic and increase what we recycle, combining errands to decrease my gas use.
Underlying that, we have accountability to society and its often ill-defined sense of what constitutes a responsible, just, and moral citizenry. Descend another layer, and it is our own morals and values to which we hold ourselves accountable, based, for many of us, on the tenets of our faith and our relationship with God.
Our accountabilities are complex and multi-faceted, but the interpretation of those accountabilities is what we have absorbed into ourselves. It is a detailed internal Constitution within each of us, pulling together all our knowledge and beliefs, morals and values, ambitions and visions. In my work, I was accountable to my patients and my boss and the standards of my profession, but I created my own framework to guide me in that accountability. In my family, I am accountable to my husband and my children, but I have set my own standards for what I believe I need to do to be a good and loving wife and mother. Although my parents are no longer earth-bound, their teachings have wound their way into my morals, values and behaviors. My ultimate accountability is to God and the tenets of my faith, but the day-to-day guidance for that accountability is…me. Yes, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but I am accountable to Margie.
This is why it was so incredibly weird that, in my eating habits, I somehow forfeited my accountability to myself and assigned it to others. I used to rail against the people in my life—my parents, my husband, my family and friends—who made me feel guilty for eating too much or for eating a forbidden food, for gaining weight, for not being able to control my own behavior. I hated their lectures and their methods for trying to control my behavior. I hated that they made me feel guilty and ashamed.
My maladaptive behaviors led to their maladaptive behaviors. That’s the bottom line. Because I wasn’t able to control my eating, the people in my life who loved me and wanted what was best for me tried to control my eating. I had set all of us up for failure, and I had done this by not being accountable to myself.
That is the starting point. I have to be accountable to myself in what I eat and how I eat, as I am accountable to myself in every other aspect of my life. Self-accountability means I don’t have any means of “sneaking” or “cheating.” I set up the framework for how I want to live my life and I constantly measure and adjust my progress against that framework. Rather than judge myself and damn less than stellar behavior, I constantly seek ways to improve. Over time, I have learned to trust myself, to feel confident in my own decisions.
This applies to so much more in life than what we put in our mouths. It is a good lesson to look at the problems and challenges in our lives in terms of ensuring that we have kept our own accountability in dealing with them. Even facing what seems to be out of our control—such as facing the possibility of a serious illness—comes down to a series of decisions we make. Do we run from that possibility or do we face it? Do we go to the doctor or stay home? Do we go on with our lives while we await test results or do we fling ourselves into an emotional maelstrom?
We are, by nature, flawed and finite human beings. We will fail and fall down from our internal Constitution multiple times in our lives. Ultimately, though, it is not if or when we fall, but if we find a way to get up again.