Accountabilty is the willingness to acknowledge that we have participated in creating, through comission or ommision, the conditions that we wish to see changed. Without this capacity to see ourselves as cause, our efforts become either coercive or wishfully dependent on the transformation of others.
Community will be created the moment we decide to act as creators of what it can become. This requires us to believe that this organization, neighborhood, community is mine or ours to create. This will occur when we are willing to ask the question "How have I contributed to the current reality?" Confusion, blame and waiting for someone else to change are a defense against ownership and personal power.
--Peter Block, Civic Engagment and the Restoration of Community
One of the most challenging practices I've been engaging in this year is asking myself "How have I contributed to the current reality?" Another way to ask the question is:
What have I done to contribute to the very thing I complain about or want to change?
I've found that repeatedly trying to answer this question is both empowering and ego-threatening. It's also well worth continuing to ask.
It's empowering because it puts the power for changing the situation into my own hands, rather than having it rely on getting someone else to change. It gives me another avenue into figuring out how I can create a new situation or dynamic.
At the same time, it is ego-threatening because it invites me to consider the ways in which I am all the things I complain about the most. How am I apathetic or not present or too focused on problems or constantly complaining about what's wrong? How often am I critical, refusing to challenge my own world view, listening poorly and pushing my own agenda?
When it comes to career and work life, I've found that too easily, I can embrace the idea that bad situations are created by other people. I am the victim or else the savior, riding in to save the day. Either way, I am on one side of the situation and everyone else is on the other side. This "me vs. them" dynamic can be very damaging.
Forcing myself to see how I co-create the very things I want to change, though, has given me another way to be. It is teaching me to be more understanding and compassionate of where other people may be coming from. Not that I'm always able to feel this understanding, but when I can, it has shifted my interactions.
More importantly, it consistently reminds me that I must be clear about what I want more of and that I must embody those things in my interactions with people and situations where I want to see change. I can't control what other people do, but I can bring more of what I want to create change.
For example, a few weeks ago, I asked where the meaningful conversations are at work. Since I asked that question, I've been looking at the ways that I have created situations where meaningless conversations continue. How much work do I put into crafting questions that help people go deeper? How am I expanding my skills and tools so that I create the space and opportunity for those kinds of conversations? How does my own inertia, sense of helplessness, difficulties with conflict and discomfort with being in a place where there are no clear answers contribute to these situations?
This question--how am I contributing to the situation I want to change?--has been one of my most powerful tools in shifting my understanding of how I fit into any situation. Not only can I see the negative ways in which I contribute, I also become accountable for finding the positive strategies I can use to shift the conversations.
This question is critical to my reflective practice. Although challenging to ask and answer, it's been well worth the effort.