Own It: A Discussion on Accountability and Responsibility in Relationships

     Accepting responsibility and accountability for behavior can sometimes be a very difficult feat.  Within every relationship (including friendships and situationships), trust and accountability play a serious role.  On Nov. 10, graduate assistants Shawn McCoy, who studies clinical mental health counseling, and Shielah Debanc, who interns at the End Violence Center, lead an interactive discussion about accountability, responsibility, and ownership in relationships.

     Shawn and Shielah discussed the difference between accountability and responsibility. The words were one and the same to many students, but others believed that responsibility is a constant attitude of owning up to one’s actions, whereas accountability is one’s ability to acknowledge mistakes that have been made.  Some may say that being responsible prevents people from having to be accountable.  However, it is important to realize that being accountable is not something to cause shame.  In fact, we should strive to have accountability in all of our relationships.

     The End Violence Center distributed handouts on accountability. Accountability can be acknowledgement that you hurt another’s feelings.  This is considered the four steps of accountability.  It involves being emotionally present and allowing oneself to empathize with the person that has been hurt.  Using the compassion from step 1, a person can continue to step 2 of accountability by examining his or her action’s effect on their relationship.  One must realize that actions are chosen, not forced and that a certain chosen action has had a negative effect on a relationship.

    Clarifying expectations and agreements within the relationship is step three.  Being accountable for failing to meet another’s expectations requires communication of what those expectations were.  It is important that the accountable person understand how the other person perceives their relationship.   Step 4 requires a person to examine the relationship from a broader context and notice that the decisions we make and actions we take every day are what forms any relationship.  At this final step, a person may consider a behavior change or a change of decision.

     At the Own It discussion in Carter Hall, Sheilah and Shawn distributed an equality wheel  to  each student.   The wheel identified eight aspects of healthy relationships: honesty, communication, intimacy, affection, negotiation, responsibility, respect, and support.  After the discussion, it became abundantly clear that owning up to one’s actions is essential for any of these eight qualities to exist.  A person who is responsible for his or her actions accepts the way that a partner feels and considers that feeling when making future decisions.  This workshop, which was the third installment of the End Violence Center’s three-part relationship series, allowed students to discuss accountability in their own relationships.  I certainly left with an understanding of how to more effectively communicate within my own relationships, an understanding of how to recognize another’s emotions as my own.