Falling Out of Love with Potential So We Can Learn to See Past Parroting

I’m a sucker for projects.

Creative ventures whose appeal stems from that voice in my head that shouts this is workable.

I am stimulated by chances to be engaged in evolution and change work.

I am humbled by how much learning is ever present to be in healthy relationships, whether with work, in child care, as partners, in the work place.

The problem is that sometimes the voice of creativity obscures the voice of expectation.

The one that reminds you that accountability needs some foundation as its foothold.

When you are a trainer, often your relationships with people and ideas begin in times of learning.

They’re supposed to, and those structures are essential to how we evolve and gain capacity.

Yet outside of those bounds, how do you navigate learning and accountability?

How do you know when to lean into creativity more than expectation, or mutuality more than learning?

The short answer is that you usually don’t.

You guess.

Sometimes you choose.

But listening to one impulse often comes at the expense of other threads of reasoning within us.

Sometimes we’re afforded circumstances to see our patterns in how we prioritize competing sets of information, especially in our relationships.

I didn’t grow up in a family that had many pets, but parroting is a phrase that evokes that imagery.

It refers to a stage in the learning process where you can replicate a topic in the way it has been introduced to you, but where you can’t yet understand or internalize it’s meaning or apply it.

This is the first stage in learning. It often includes simultaneous dissonance, not yet confronting what it would take to fully engage and accept a new skill or thought process.

It might be what we think of as talking the talk without walking the walk.

Or to be really apropos, talking a talk, repeating a concept you want to and may soon understand.

This process sounds off putting when I describe it, engendering versions of remembered experiences where we’ve been the one parroted, as we simultaneously exceptionalize ourselves as never doing the parroting personally.

At the risk of bursting too many bubbles, I’ll just say I haven’t yet been or met the exception.

And yet we regularly miss indications that we and those close to us are still or again in a parroting period, where integrating new skills and information leaves them more novice than expert.

If we can’t recognize when parroting is happening, how can we identify teachers who are not only parroting ideas to us?

If we want to surround ourselves with relationships that support our continued learning, and can hold accountability and mutuality, how do we navigate our fuzziness and unclarity?

If this process is normative, is it also harmless?

Is accountability incompatible with how we learn? Can you be accountable beyond your capacity?

These are the questions I find myself asking as I transition out of formal teaching and consulting roles, and into changed and varied dual relationships.

Dual relationships characterized by multiple and imbalanced power arrangements, and defined professional roles alongside personal relationships.

Said more simply characterized by nuance and multiplicity in expectation setting.

I’ve experienced more tug than cohesion, dissonance punctured by practical scenarios that require clearer boundaries.

I’ve been more than one person’s sounding board as they confront having caused harm in some way, as well as sounding boards to those impacted by that harm.

I’ve been torn between allowing for learning and clarifying accountability, unsure if I can be supportive in both processes at once.

I’ve been left questioning whether I am astute in listening for parroting versus understanding in my personal relationships.

I’ve been quietly asking whether my creativity needs more direction from other self-talk, outside reality checks, clarified criteria, body scans, emotion mapping, critical follow up questions, time apart.

I don’t have a success story or failure I’ve learned from that I’m willing to share here.

But I do have a nagging new awareness of my pattern in prioritizing someone’s growth over their impact on me. I have a preference for long over short games without stamina to plan that far ahead. I have clarity on when I’m acting against my gut and my head to follow my heart. I have questions emerging that are crafting new criteria in how I approach accountability in friendships.

I have acute sensory signals that are frequently able to tell if parroting is accompanied by deeper understanding and aligned behavior.

Signals like intrusive thoughts, and insomnia, and triggered muscle memory related to ambiguity.

I’m convicted that healthy learning and responsive accountability is never ambiguous.

I’m convicted that having expectations is valid, especially in healthy relationships inclusive of mutuality.

I’m convicted that when accountability is present, creativity is all the more abundant.

I’m convicted that investment in mutuality is how we have emotional space to keep learning.

And so accordingly, because accountability always incorporates transparency, I share these questions to help all of us better prioritize and build upon our genuine learning and integration of that knowledge.

Am I parroting, or do I understand?

1) Are you able to explain a concept using varied examples?

2) Are you able to explain a concept in multiple ways, using your own words, and not the same way each time?

3) Are you able to recognize applied concepts in someone else’s behavior?

4) Are you able to recognize applied concepts in your own behavior?

5) Are you able to recognize a failure to apply a concept or skill in your own behavior?

6) Are you able to recognize a failure to apply a concept or skill in someone else’s behavior?

7) Can you independently select a skill that applies a concept?

8) Can you independently select a skill that distorts a concept that it is applying?

9) Can you access knowledge and skills in varied emotional states?

10) Can you access knowledge and skills when you’re alone?

11) Can you access knowledge and skills in the presence of new relationships?

12) Can you access knowledge and skills in the presence of existing relationships?

Parroting is characterized by one dimensional recitation of someone else’s explanation or application of a concept or skill. If you find yourself hovering in one dimension, that’s okay, you’re on a learning continuum. You’re working through dissonance so that you can use new information.

Being accountable to your learning and to your relationships just asks you to be accurate in describing where you are, and willing to hear the limits of your developed understanding.

Don’t fall for the false comparison of waiting to know more than you do right now, or overstating what you know. Ask yourself what is getting in the way of your understanding, and focus your energy there.

All of our relationships can be healthier when we operationalize relationships that are more resilient to all the stages of our learning, and all the harm that happens in our stumbling through that learning.

I am still and probably always will be a sucker for potential, my own and those who want to grow.

Only now I’m learning to love growth that can be sustained over time more, and learning that results in integrated knowledge, creative endeavors characterized by health, and relationships resilient to higher and more consistent expectations of each other.

At its best, accountability comes down to our articulated expectations of each other and ourselves.



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Amanda Lindamood

Writer. Thinker. Facilitator. Advocate. Invested in accountability for power based violence, creative initiatives, and meaningful, nuanced dialoguing.