“It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable.” Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (Molière), French playwright, actor and poet (1622-1673)
“Responsibility equals accountability equals ownership. And a sense of ownership is the most powerful weapon a team or organization can have.” – Pat Summitt, head coach of the Lady Volunteers, University of Tennessee Women’s Basketball team for 38 years. (1952-2016)
I’ve been thinking a lot about accountability: being accountable myself and seeking accountability from others. I sometimes think about it after I’ve bolted out of bed in the dark to let our senior and somewhat infirm dog outside for the second or third time. (She sleeps very successfully during the day!) This is one way I demonstrate my accountability in my personal life: I care for those in my family who are least able to care for themselves. Sometimes I think that my sense of responsibility is honed to the absurd and then resist feeling accountable just to find space for rest. Not how I want to roll.
Personal, group, organizational, community, country, world: so many layers of accountability. So many opportunities to do and possibilities to not do, to take a stand and to step back from the fray. So many opportunities to demonstrate ownership, to say: “This is how I/we can help.” “I/we will take that on with guidance.” “I/we will find a way to help toward positive change.” “I/we will help steward a person, a project, a movement.”
But let’s go back to the exhaustion that feeling constantly accountable can generate. What I’ve learned is that being effectively accountable means that I also have to find balance. Being part of a team (family, class, committee, congregation, community, world) means both being accountable and encouraging others to be accountable. Sharing accountability means that all invest in and are invested in achieving the goal; no one person needs to feel “rode hard and put away wet” to use a phrase from the world of horses and their care.
I’ve discovered that during these last 11 months that I am far more likely to lose my way and forget that the strongest teams share accountability. When almost all communication is electronic, it just seems harder, less organic. It means we might need to actually ask someone else on our team to play that key role. And yet we need to do just that for the strength of the team and the project. Again: sharing accountability results in a stronger team.
We can identify many people throughout history who have demonstrated accountability. And there are many more who will never be named. We can identify people in our lives who demonstrate accountability who will probably not be acknowledged by future generations. In my current immersion in local efforts to help the homeless toward housing security I experience, on a regular basis, personal and group accountability that is lifting up important change.
Accountability to our UU principles can be the trampoline from which we launch ourselves into projects that might seem risky but can be achievable when we hold ourselves and each other accountable. As Molière encourages us with words written long ago: “It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable.” Let’s use these words to inspire us to grow our beloved community with courageous action.
President, Board of Trustees