Be accountable. Be a champion.

Demotivator : Fired
Demotivator : Fired (Photo credit: muffytyrone)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve recently had to become re-acquainted with housekeeping. Luckily, my eldest son is at a magical age. He is just old enough to be trusted with chores, and just young enough to feel a sense of reward based on mom and dad’s praise alone rather than requiring the monetary variety.

One night, not too long ago, he offered to wipe down all our kitchen surfaces. We have a glass table and it shows ever smear and ketchup stained fingerprint, so we eagerly took him up on his offer while we put away other things. Except we neglected to remove the entire dinner setting from the table before he got started.


Pity (Photo credit: Arthurvd)

Both my husband and I looked up from our respective areas in the connecting rooms to see that our son had learned a lesson in gravity. One of our glassware had magically transformed the floor into a barefoot nightmare. Our son must have become too enthusiastic with his wiping and swiped it right off the table top.

He looked at the glass. He looked at us. He looked back at the glass.

I expected waterworks. I expected him to blame his toddler brother for distracting him. I expected him to blame his father for leaving the glass on the table. I expected him to blame me for not magically being there to catch the glass before it fell.

I did not expect him to calmly say. “I am sorry mommy. I broke the glass. Are you disappointed in me?”

I shook my head and told him “No. Accidents happen, but I need you to go to another room while we clean this up.”

He said okay, but then he surprised me again. He wasn’t able to finish his chore in the kitchen, but instead of running off to play, he walked around picking up his toys so that it would be easier for me to vacuum.

Am I bragging a little here about my wonderful, mature, preschooler? You’d better believe it, but this story illustrates a under-recognized virtue – accountability.

Accountability is so under-recognized that it does not fall on any of the various lists of virtues. It is true. I looked it up.

Honesty is on the virtue list. I could have prompted my son with a question, “Did you break the glass?” knowing full well he did. Had he answered affirmatively, he would have been truthful, but that wouldn’t be a boast-worthy story.

No, I bring this story up because he not only showed honesty, but also respect, courage, and responsibility by the simple act of admitting to his mistake on his own and finding a way to make amends without burdening the offended party with unnecessary investigation or pursuit of restitution. In other words he made it right without getting Law & Order: MOM involved.

Accountability is another one of those virtues that appears to be harder to retain as we age. Perhaps it is because accountability requires that you provide a report to someone, and public speaking can be scary.

Perhaps it is because no one wants to get stuck in the infinite loop found within the problem solving flow chart.

problem_solving_flow_chart (Photo credit: slark)

Jokes aside, it is all fun and games until someone gets hurt. If you follow scandals in general, the damage caused by the reveal of the cover-up is worse than the damage from the original transgression (excluding violent crimes), and yet people keep forgetting that lesson. They choose not to admit to the crime up front, and hope that no one will ever notice. These people place a higher value on other things than personal accountability.

Personal accountability is simple on paper. You accepted a task. You are responsible for ensuring it is completed as agreed. There will always be factors that are out of your control. It is your responsibility to minimize the risk of those factors. If you still fail to complete the task, it is your responsibility to notify others promptly and make amends.

Unfortunately personal accountability is also tough. Unless we are gifted with great genes, looking in the mirror isn’t always pleasant, especially when reporting bad news. We can’t all be Dorian Grey. Many of us would prefer to imagine ourselves looking the way we did during some prior event. Dressed to the nines, weight – eh good enough, and skin stunningly perfect. Rather than a mirror, we prefer to look at a doctored photograph.

So if accountability becomes rarer, the laws of supply and demand would suggest that it should grow more valuable over time. Therefore people should value personal accountability over other lesser things. Right?

Accidents happen. Admit them to yourself and to others. Make them right. And move on. In the words of Freddie Mercury:

I’ve paid my dues
Time after time.
I’ve done my sentence
But committed no crime.
And bad mistakes ‒
I’ve made a few.
I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face
But I’ve come through.

…’Cause we are the champions.

We can only be the champions of change if we own up to what’s gone wrong.

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