when accountability is an obstacle to intimacy

But certainly, for us who understand life, figures are a matter of indifference.

If I have told you these details about the asteroid, and made a note of its number for you, it is on account of the grown-ups and their ways. When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, “What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?” Instead, they demand: “How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?” Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.

If you were to say to the grown-ups: “I saw a beautiful house made of rosy brick, with geraniums in the windows and doves on the roof,” they would not be able to get any idea of that house at all. You would have to say to them: “I saw a house that cost $20,000.” Then they would exclaim: “Oh, what a pretty house that is!”
— Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

As is typical for the new year, I have been seeing numerous articles about goal-setting. And they often talk about accountability. Make your goals measurable, they say. Tell others so you can be held accountable. Accountability is about analysis, about reducing something to the measurable, often for the purpose of manipulation. Accountability can also quietly convey distrust.

I want to be a voice for intimacy over accountability. For knowing yourself instead of forcing yourself.

When I was teaching I heard a lot about accountability, too. And I witnessed what happens when accountability becomes the driving force instead of a small piece of potentially useful information. When goals and learning outcomes and analysis and efficiency suck the curiousity and joy and intimacy out of the holy ground that education should occupy. For me, teaching is a sacred act, and the things that mattered could not be counted. Tests could tell you a very limited bit of information and I guarantee you that looking at a student’s test scores gives you next to nothing in terms of truly knowing that child. And when teachers are pushed to focus on the meeting the metrics instead of meeting the exquisite human in front of them, it destroys the trusting relationship in which learning and growth is meant to happen.

My clients sometimes say they would like me to hold them accountable. I remind them of our initial consultation where I expressly say, “I am not a coach that will hold you accountable. If you want that you will have to find another coach.”  I will believe in you. I will hold you capable. I will support you in what is wanting to emerge. I will explore with you whether what you think you want is what you really want. But I will not hold you accountable. I want to foster a deeper listening and self-trust in my clients. If they do something because I am holding them accountable, it is interfering in the development of that trust. It is undermining their relationship with themselves.

It can be really easy to get caught up in this accountability rush. How many steps did I take today? What is my weight, my caloric intake, my income….

I invite you to leave space for the unaccountable. Don’t let what can be counted override the deeper essential knowing. Don’t pay more attention to what is on your plate than you do to your internal landscape.

Am I feeling the way I want to feel?  

Is my life aligned with my values?

How well do I know myself?

Am I willing to trust myself?

Keep accountability in its rightful place as a servant, not a master.  Not just how many steps did I take today, but how am I in this body today? What did I notice, hear, sense as I walked?

Love lives in attention and trust, not in accountability. Be interested in yourself beyond the metrics. This is the path to intimacy.

If you are of a certain age you will remember this clip from Sesame Street. How beautiful you are. xox