Thursday, March 3, 2016

ACCOUNTABILITY - An Extended Definition

When I taught college freshmen how to write essays, we used a textbook that defined the different types. At the time, I think there were eight, so I spent the first few weeks introducing general concepts about this kind of nonfiction writing. Thus we eased into the types.

I was never happy with the one called Extended Definition.

All my life—well, after I learned to read—I had used a dictionary to help me define words. What else do you do when the only adult in your home refuses to tell you what a word means and you have to find out? You haul out the dictionary and “look it up.” (My children remember this well—I wouldn’t tell them, either.)

Fast forward to this end of my life, and what do I find myself doing? Writing essays about words, my old anathema, The Extended Definition.

Now that I recognize what it is, the Extended Definition has less gut-wrenching quality about it. After all, an extended definition is merely using my knowledge of life—as I’ve lived it, read about it, heard from others—to make a word come alive.

Today’s Word: Accountability

I know, I know—you don’t really want to hear any more about it. Your choice—find another blog to read this morning.

For those remaining, are we ready?

Accountability is partially defined as responsibility. Okay, I get that.

My walking buddy and I check in with each other in the mornings—do you feel up to walking? Did you rest well? Is the weather too cold/windy/icy for you? If we agree that all systems are go (more or less), we meet at the Y and do our laps on the track. One of us may walk more than the other does; depends on a lot of things.

What we’ve learned about ourselves—we’ve both mentioned it—is that if one of us doesn’t walk that morning, the other one may not either. Having a buddy going through the same early morning process of waking up, dressing for the Y, and driving the mile or two to the site, is a better motivator than just saying, “My schedule says I’m walking at the Y at 6:30.”

But we’ve also learned—no matter how tired, grumpy, unmotivated we feel, if we do go through the getting up stuff and make it to the Y, we’ll feel better afterward. Even if we do only half the number of laps we usually do. The effort is worth it, but usually only recognized after the fact of walking.

Along with responsibility, there’s an element of trust here. Much like responsibility, trust introduces the sense of relying on someone for support. This is especially true of organizations.

Take Weight Watchers. The organization has been around for decades. It’s now online so you don’t have to leave your hearth and home to weigh in. The website has opportunities for recipes, chats, and articles to boost your morale. The underlying message is that you aren’t alone in your struggle.

Churches have always helped me. When I go there I will be welcomed. The service won’t hold huge surprises, so I can forget about “doing things right” and just do them. I can sing or not, depending on my voice that morning. I can pray with a large group or I can silently add my own petitions. Besides having support in my spiritual life, I am being a support to someone who needs it. (Often I don’t know who that is; doesn’t matter. The important thing is to show up and be there.)

Perhaps the best support group is one’s own family. (This may not work for some people.) My children don’t live geographically close to me. Yet we are a close family—interested in each other’s lives, our growth, our problems. We check in from time to time—some are regular visits, some are occasional. If we have bad days, we trust someone close to us really cares.

Today’s technology practically forces us to keep in touch: email, texting, Skype, Google Hang-Outs. And if you aren’t on Facebook or one of the other social media, you’re really out of it. We dinosaurs still love our snail mail and phone calls.

But the bottom line is this: We trust someone else to be on the other end of our reaching out.

Accountability has been around forever, probably.

Families expect and encourage us to live up to some set of values. Many people think of that as "guilting” but without it, there might be no values lived up to at all.

School—now, there’s accountability in spades: grades, report cards, parent-teacher conferences. You did your homework for grades. You might get a chance at extra credit. But when it came down to the end, it was all about how well you did in your work. (And sometimes deportment—attitude plays a part.)

Group efforts—sports, music groups, clubs—expected each person to take part; team effort became the watchword.

I don’t have any great pronouncement to end this writing. I’m not in love with the word accountability, but I understand it and encourage us to embrace what it stands for.

For me it brings a sense of community, even when I’m alone.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post, and a great word. I like it a lot, although sometimes I do squirm a little under its weight.