The Practice Of Accountability

By Minji

"We hear a lot about the practice of gratitude and how it can be beneficial for daily living.  I also love the quote that reminds us that happiness is a habit to be proactively cultivated.  Through this ordeal, I realize another attribute that’s worth regularly practicing and cultivating, but not as often discussed in a personal context, is accountability."

I was driving back home from yoga teacher training on a Saturday night.  The sun had set and it was the dead of winter, so it was pitch dark and my neighborhood was already in slumber.  I started turning in to parallel park in my usual spot and ended up scraping the headlights of my neighbor’s car.  I couldn’t believe the stupidity of this mistake.  This is something I’ve done a gazillion times – my neighbor is very consistent with his parking spot, as am I.  My second thought was to assess the damage – it was so dark I could barely see, but with my cell’s flashlight, I could make out that the damage was minimal.  My car was totally fine but I could see that there were slight scrape marks on my neighbor’s car.  Damn, was the third thought I had. Then the real drama began.

Instinctively, I thought to knock on my neighbor’s door and apologize…then, just like in those cartoons, the little devil popped up over a shoulder and started “reasoning” with me.  He reminded me how the damage was barely noticeable and that there were surely no witnesses.  I’m embarrassed to admit, at some point during my mental dilemma, just ignoring the whole accident and playing dumb seemed like the best way out.  I managed to come back to my senses and ultimately ended up telling my neighbor, but this got me thinking about the principle of “accountability.”

Accountability is defined as an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions.  We’re taught accountability early on as children – if you carelessly knock over your friend’s ice cream cone, you own up to it, say sorry and find a way to make it up to them.  Accountability is also a word often used in the context of government or the workplace in general.  With all the high-publicity corruption scandals out there, anyone who’s worked at a big corporation has probably heard this word more than they want to.  It’s frequently used in the context of politicians, corporate culture, values and business goals.   

But there’s a huge gap between the lessons on accountability we learn as children…and applying these teachings to our personal adult lives, don’t you think?  Once you reach adulthood, for most personal matters, it’s up to you and only you to “own it.” The night after the accident, I was out with a few close friends and polled them on what they thought most people would’ve done in a situation like this.  Surprisingly, the majority thought a lot of people wouldn’t own up to it if they thought they could get away with it.  Regardless of whether you agree with this or not, I think we can all concur that being accountable in personal life can be tough.  And like most challenging things in life, if we don’t practice or prepare for it, we might not succeed, despite the fact that deep down inside, we know that hastily choosing the “easy way out” could result in more stress, anxiety and guilt, thereby causing ourselves greater harm. 

I have to say, as hard as it was to knock on my neighbor’s door, once I got the apology out, I felt a huge burden lifted from my shoulders.  Knowing that now I would be on the hook for repairs stung too, but it was worth the lightness of heart I felt after owing up to my blunder.  

We hear a lot about the practice of gratitude and how it can be beneficial for daily living.  I also love the quote that reminds us that happiness is a habit to be proactively cultivated.  Through this ordeal, I realize another attribute that’s worth regularly practicing and cultivating, but not as often discussed in a personal context, is accountability.  It’s on my list these days when it comes to daily intentions.  Every situation is unique so far be it for me or this one example to suggest what accountability might look like, but if you've ever found yourself asking or struggling to do what's right in a moment like this, perhaps this will resonate with you too?