As I write this, I am coming off the tail end of a conversation with my adorable 19-year old son who I love to the moon and back. He has an essay due at 11:59 PM tonight, or rather an outline for an essay. It is 7:35 PM. He says…”I am turning it in early!” with no hint of sarcasm.
As comical as this may sound, it sheds light on a shift in society that I think has been brewing for some time now - the slow death of accountability - especially among the Centennial or Gen Z born after 1996.
I have two children who fall into that generation and, as a parent, I look back and I think I did everything right using practices like:
Encourage an environment to tell the truth and be honest.
Create a home with chores and responsibility.
Reward them for honesty and accountability.
Share emotions when something doesn’t feel right and try to teach them to do the same
Follow through when you say you are going to do something.
You think you are being a good role model, you think you are building accountability through these processes and behaviors. The dictionary offers a nice synopsis of the 4 pillars of accountability which really resonate with me.
The website Emotionalcompetency.com describes responsibility as follows, but I think these pillars reflect what we expect from the development of accountability as well.
Having a duty or obligation to act
Acknowledging and accepting the choices you have made, the actions you have taken, and the results they have led to.
Able to meet commitments made to yourself and others
Keeping the promises you make.
Doing everything you say you will do, or have lead others to expect from you. Do what you say!
So what is causing this shift? I have some theories.
The current political situation does not help, this being the “Post-Truth” era and all. If we don’t have truth how can we even begin to restore accountability? This is a not at dig at any one party or person, this is across the board. Politicians, all of them are rooting for power and prestige. Personal accountability means nothing to them, and we see it played out in the media every day as politicians flip flop on issues when a bigger offer comes along.
Technology and social media is fostering this lethargic relationship to responsibility. After all, its just a face on the computer screen or your facebook feed. Are we still developing emotional connections to the real people behind these emails, facebook post and snapchat streaks? We have minimized the witnessing and experiencing of emotion when you disappoint someone. The sad truth is everyday agreements are being broken, in business, in life, in relationships, in schools, in the home and to ourselves. If there is no emotional connection for not being accountable this is fostering a society of self-centeredness.
I think this carries through with a lack of human connection and interpersonal relationships over the last several years. People spend more time looking into their phones then into the eyes of the people they walk by or live with. This technology that I am using to reach you today, as helpful and amazing as it is, is helping create a “feeling” of connection but we are becoming more and more disconnected from each other every day.
If we want to dive into this a little deeper one could even make the argument that poverty, lack of education, poor diet and and growing epidemic of dis-ease and obesity are impacting our accountability.
Developing accountability doesn’t just impact our ability to be accountable and responsible. The consequences are much further reaching.
Accountability teaches us about critical and creative thinking. If we never have a chance to be accountable for something, how can you develop solutions when things aren’t going as planned? We can’t just be accountable for something we know is going to succeed, there is no learning in that.
Accountability helps us learn to be proud of accomplishments, to seek, to strive. So now there goes initiative too.
Accountability teaches us the importance of self-care, taking the time to take care of mind, body and spirit so we can fulfill our obligations and responsibilities in the world.
Accountability teaches us that we have an impact on others, Our words hurt, our actions even more so. When we don’t show up, we disappoint. When we follow through, we can feel pride and emotion and joy.
Accountability teaches us about when to say yes, and when to say no thank you. This of course impacts our interpersonal relationships and respect for other human beings. If we always say yes but never follow through we have no accountability. People don’t respect or trust us; our word means nothing.
Accountability teaches us to be realistic about the expectations we set on others and on ourselves. One often overlooked phenomenon is when you place expectations on someone do they have the resources and capacity to fulfill those expectations or are we just setting them, and ourselves up for failure? Whether it is something as simple as taking out the garbage, paying our bills, or fulfilling a million dollar contract, we develop a clear understanding of self, we understand our strengths and we are real about our weaknesses. And just as important we can accept constructive criticism and give it without begin a$$holes.
Accountability also teaches us to be mindful of our language, of blaming others, complaining or projecting onto those around you. The proliferation of the negative mind in society warrants its own story, but if we learn to dodge accountability it becomes easier to blame others and further minimize the deep connections we need for healthy relationships and community. We understand that our life impacts the lives of others emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually.
We desire the experience of passion, striving and achievement. We can experience celebration and success. It teaches us to strengthen interpersonal relationships because we find out who can help us, and desire the experience of helping other. We are comfortable creating verbal contracts with others to help us stay accountable and vice versa.
Most of all, we realize we can’t do it all on our own and we must care about the other humans around us. This is the most important lesson of all.
So you see, this one shift in our social norms and social expectations - the death of accountability - leads to catastrophic and the imminent demise of strong, moral, character. It limits the ability to build positive interpersonal relationships. What is most sad is that it is dumbing down our society making us week minded robots in search of Facebook likes instead of human likes. We are becoming accountable for only one thing, charging our phones, the spark from which all life seems to be created today.
This post has taken a far more serious tone than I had intended, and I cannot claim to be perfect. But I am accountable for my mistakes and I learn from them. I learn to say yes when I can say yes, say no when I should, and hopefully be an inspiration to someone else to do the same.