It seems that we have lost the social skill of “think before you speak” (or type or live stream or tweet) and “do unto others what you want them to do to you,” and it’s showing. Lady Gaga. Rachel Hollis. Chrissy Teigen. Lin-Manuel Miranda. The list goes on. Public figures who have been called out by the public to own up to their societal no-no’s, their worst day(s), their big *audible gasp from the audience*. And they have all had to issue apologies, as clumsily and imperfect as they have been.
What is interesting, however, is how much “we” are quick to turn around and demand behaviors and conduct from others that are often far higher than our own behaviors and conduct. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and issued many apologies, and there are plenty of people who will be the first to tell you the times I have royally messed up. And I’m the type of person that knows I’ve messed up, and my brain likes to remind me of these specific instances as I lay my head down to sleep (anyone else?).
But when someone wrongs me? I forget the grace I would want and I unleash fury. I want all my friends to know how terrible they are, I want everyone to be on my side and see things only from my perspective, I want the person to have a terrible day, and I want the person to live an a house with no AC where it’s summer year round (terrible, I know).
If I am (we are) to truly believe that I am (others are) better than my worst (their worse) day, then I need to extend that grace to others too. Yes, there are boundaries. Yes, there are lines that are drawn about clear wrongs (like abusive relationships, for example). But making mistakes and owning up to them? Who am I to say that the person is not doing the work to be better? And honestly, who does their best internal work to “be better” when being publicly shamed to “do better”, when doing better takes time, is mostly done in private, and requires a lot of humility?
I think we get apologizing and accountability confused. Apologies are important, but they’re just the start. They are short term, like the quick Zumba class on Friday nights before happy hour. We get a quick apology, we forgive (or not), and we move on (or not). If we’re honest though, how many of us walk away from an apology thinking “well it doesn’t matter because they’re still____” or “I’m never going to be their friend again because I will never be able to trust them” or some other thing that shows we already made our mind up about them, apology or not?
Accountability is the secret sauce, it’s the work. It’s the 5am HIIT workouts, with clean eating 5 days a week and consistent 8 hours of sleep. Holding yourself accountable is a lifestyle change. When we demand apologies, we need to be clear if we are actually demanding accountability, and I’m not sure those of us on the “outside” are the right ones to hold space for the accountability to happen. I’m also not sure we will ever see this work in person, and thus it takes us out of the equation.
Is that what makes us the most uncomfortable? Not having control over how someone does better after we called them out to do better?
As a human, learning to apologize and respecting the other person’s response, no matter how upset they continue to be, is an ever evolving learning experience for me. I have had to learn to apologize to my spouse and my child. With my apologies, I have to make changes to how I say things and how I do things to be better today than I was yesterday.
As a mom, accountability is the gift of mom friends who have told me the good, the bad, and the ugly. They gave me permission before I became a mom to get it wrong, and they give me permission now to tell them how I have gotten it wrong, knowing they won’t laugh at me and say “sucks for you, never happened to me”. They are always quick to give me space to vent, share a time something similar happened to them, and then how they gracefully worked on themselves and their relationship(s) with their child(ren) to do better the next time. They remind me of who I am, and they remind me that each new day is an opportunity to do something better than I did the day before. I find myself apologizing less and confessing more. It feels better and less shameful, to be honest.
I think the power of accountability involves relationships. Relationships with friends and family who won’t BS you and will tell it to you straight. Relationships with therapists who will ask you questions to make you work through the whys. Relationships with mentors who will tell you about their experience with making mistakes and the hard lessons they had to learn. Maybe it’s even staying in relationship with the one you wronged, as long as it is healthy and respectful for both involved.
What if we started doing more of that? What if we worked hard to find and create intentional community with others (celebrities can’t really be my community, can they?) and are honest about our journeys and our worst days? I loved the response the internet gave to the precious HBO Max intern. What a freeing feeling it is when I know I am better than my worse day, and what determination comes after knowing that I am surrounded by a tribe of people who help me believe I can and will do better!