A core theme to my writing, indeed my career and entire world outlook, is “accountability is an act of love”. If I go through the effort to turn the mirror on someone, particularly someone I value as a friend, there is a reason. It isn’t pettiness, jealousy, or deflection; it is out of love.
I have loved so many people and at some point in that love extended to sharing some very difficult and uncomfortable truths, as well as receiving the same. “Love is humble, love is kind…” comes to mind. But love is also brave in its belief that we can all be better to one another. That we are all companions on this great journey of life together and that we deserve the companionship of those who will take our safety, integrity, and trust seriously. We all deserve people in our lives who seek to make things right when our humanity gets in the way of our connections or communities.
Love is stewardship for a better world through harmony and faith in each other. And when we break with that harmony & faith by harming each other, by traumatizing words & actions, no matter how emotionally justified we might have felt, love is the one that calls us back in to repair, restore and replenish the trust that was broken.
Those who resist that process reject the enduring love that is offered to them: we believe in you enough to talk to you about this, to meet you where you are, and call you back home to us. Accountability is often mistaken for punishment or penance, but those are just a few of the vehicles by which our society has chosen to try to restore that fractured harmony along with apologies and restorative justice. But at its core accountability is a confrontation with vulnerability, empathy, and humility.
And to the persistently resistant unaccountable I say this:
My greatest talent is that I see through you. I see all of you whether you want me to or not.
I noticed you and started observing you before you were even aware of me. I got to know you by the patterns in your behavior, the themes woven throughout your words. I heard the common cries of those you left behind and the similarities of who choose to stay despite it all. I examined my presumptions, mindful of where bias and assumption clouded by view…I tried to mind my business until your actions make it my business.
And when you finally did notice me, I knew more about you than you seemed to know about yourself. Some call it intuition, but as you tried to include me into your circle, I got to test how many of those presumptions were true. Filling in the gaps with an analysis of the unguarded moments when you didn’t know I was watching, and an applied accumulation of wisdom and experience informed by those more criminally masterful and more direly discriminated against than you.
I saw you better than you saw yourself. It was only a matter of time before the next shift of friends, co-workers, chosen family, and trusted colleagues would get burned out tending to the overactive ego that turned victimhood into vindictive victimization. Will you burn through them the way you burned through us?
I saw how you tried to silence, shame, shift the blame to protect your own version of the story.
I saw the ways you chose to harm, the ways you chose to punch down instead of lifting up so no one could have equal power to you.
I saw the ways you created false narratives when friends tried to call you in, the way you shattered trust to avoid the mirror.
I saw your defensiveness and excuses, the manic rationalizations you created once to keep you safe, and now have weaponized into manipulations to coerce your version of restrictive loyalty.
I saw you place the burden on your friends of color to affirm an assumed status of an ally while you still went out of your way to avoid the work of listening to them.
I saw you refuse to sing the “I’m sorry” song so often – even when people wrote out the words you needed to recite just so they could have peace.
I saw the monsters that crawled out of the cracks in your soul, demanding our obedience to quell their thirst for empty, petty vengeance. You can’t punish others for what you allowed yourself to become.
We aren’t waiting with bated breath that you’ll finally get it. We know you don’t want to do that work – you just want to take credit for it.
Our forgiveness and your release from the guilt infecting your bones hinges on your ability to embrace the humility of empathy. Our forgiveness requires you to admit you aren’t the only victim. It requires that you acknowledge that others have been legitimately traumatized by your sudden and inevitable betrayals of their trust.
We’re watching as you condition your contribution to the work on whether we’re ready to throw a parade in your honor.
We’re watching as you refuse to engage with how you contribute to community harms instead of taking the credit for what others have done to address it.
We’re waiting for you to consider…maybe we had a point. Maybe we weren’t attacking you, but instead showing you an uncomfortable mirror.
We’re watching you reject the idea that loyalty is about holding you responsible to rise above your petty jealousies instead of rubber-stamping your grudges.
At this point my forgiveness is elusive, but it’s not too late to try. It isn’t too late to accept the love that I offered through the lens of accountability. It isn’t too late to reconcile yourself to how you harmed others. It isn’t too late to start to try to make things right. Because engaging in that process – that is how you show us love too.
See…that’s what love does. It holds us responsible for being our best selves in our relationships and communities. Love shines a light of truth in the dark corners of denial so that healing and harmony are restored. The truth will always find a way to shine through. The clarion bell, once rung, continues to reverberate into the world long after you think you’ve silenced it.
Accountability is an act of love – pure, universal love. It is a hand reaching out and inviting you to make things right to restore the harmony that benefits us all. All you have to do is choose to grasp it and show you love us back enough to be vulnerable and humble to admit you broke the harmony. Show us you love us (and yourself) enough to fix it.