Starting with Harm, and how we talk to ourselves
Accountability is something I think about every day.
I ask myself, ‘How am I considerate of how I impact other people, and how can I create explicit understandings in our expectations of each other?’
This quickly gets muddled and complicated, but at the heart of my question is a set of intentions.
Specifically, intentions for how I want to approach starting, ending, and maintaining relationships, initiatives and communities that I am a part of.
This week I was having a conversation centered on drawing boundaries after harm has happened. For the point of this blog post, the details aren’t significant, but what came up in our conversation is how hard it is to try and be clear in retrospect.
The information we gain about a situation makes it challenging to remember how we felt or what we thought before we had more knowledge.
The feelings that have strengthened with time and repetition of familiar slights makes it hard to respond to specific and cumulative harm that has happened.
We have to prioritize what we want individually versus what we want from a relationship versus what we want for a community.
We have to acknowledge that once harm occurs, we have mis stepped. Our choices are fewer and our buy in reduced.
The need to re establish safety negates our remaining energy for anything else.
What then is the balance between acknowledging harm and becoming accountable to it?
What definition do we use to approach responding to how someone has been hurt by us?
What advice might we receive that contradicts itself?
What is easy in theory than in practice?
What feels important in practice that doesn’t align with our stated goals or values?
Have we stated our expectations as clearly as we meant to?
For most of my teenage and adult life I have been in therapy.
I have spent more money on therapy than anything else.
Almost fifteen years later, I have internalized one lesson more than most others from those containers.
The ability to communicate your self work into your relationships is the most practical outcome.
The constructs that shape how therapy can serve us can fall short of transferring to relationships outside of therapy, and when they do our roadmaps for how to be accountable remains under articulated.
Counter intuitively, relating self-awareness we gain to self-awareness we can translate requires numerous prerequisite steps.
This means that an aspect of accountability is inherently aspirational, but that doesn’t make harm less concrete in the meantime.
We’re not only concerned with avoiding future harm, we’re concerned with harm that happened now.
We’re working to be able to perceive harm as more constant than episodic, and accountability as both instruction and skill, and we’re being outpaced by contradictory examples and habits we haven’t broken.
In my conversation I asked these five questions, and I share them here to ground accountability work in increased self-knowledge and practiced skills for bridging that knowledge with how we use it relationally.
1) Am I defensive?
2) Am I detached?
3) Can I connect to and acknowledge someone’s experience of harm?
4) Can I acknowledge and respond to someone’s experience of loss?
5) Can I be clear in defining the boundaries I’m seeking?
The work of accountability is a form of emotional labor and emotional intelligence no matter what scale of harm we are grappling with.
The work of attaching your 1) desire for what happens, 2) your perception of what happens and 3) your response to direct feedback has to be looked at simultaneously.
We have to know where we’re coming from, and we have to take harm more seriously.
If we surrender accountability frameworks to legalese our resistance to being held accountable will remain heightened and detached from related outcomes we’re seeking. Outcomes like healing for our relationships, resilience, communicativeness, and openness to learning for the long haul.
How can we look inward and see ourselves better?
How can we construct accountability to be practical and layered?
When will we invest in alternative approaches for getting somewhere new? Somewhere we know we haven’t gotten to yet, and somewhere we don’t yet know how to truly prepare to invest in imagining.
If you can’t see yourself in the world you imagine as safer and healthier, what’s in your way?
I wonder if asking those kinds of questions will help us voice our concerns more honestly.
I wonder if the problem is not that we take harm too seriously, but that we don’t take it seriously enough.
I wonder if there is room to look inwards and see ourselves better.
I wonder if accountability can become both practical and layered.
Indeed, I believe it already is.