It's a big week for accountabiity in the news: election campaigns in the States and Canada and financial meltdowns are on everyone's minds. As always, we are looking for someone who can tell us a compelling story about what is happening and what can be done to change it.
Who is account-able in this election? Increasingly, we wonder if anyone can tell us a story we will believe. We hear so many clashing accounts that none of them offer true accountability. None of them convince us. None of them catch our imaginations and make cause-and-effect into something real and tangible.
Some of this is the way we are made. Complex psychological processes ensure we will tell a story that we can live with - whether or not anyone else can believe it. The role of our stories is only partly to convince others. The other part is to allow others to notice that the stories we are telling are deeply, remarkably flawed. They are flawed because we protect ourselves - and in protecting ourselves, we inevitably pull back a little from the world as it is and walk into the world as we wish it were. We are able to give ourselves endless accounts of reality - and none of them are true.
That's why the real essence of account-ability is found not in the individual, but in the community. Wherever we come together and function with tolerance for difference, we produce multiple accounts of every situation or event. These multiple, different accounts overlap and combine to give us a truer perspective than we can find - or trust - from any individual psyche. In order to be accountable, the stories must overlap and they must be different. We all have different blind spots.
This is why a team is the basic unit of accountability. A team is a group whose stories overlap. The whole story told by all the members is always a more satisfying account than the account offered by an individual - including the team's leader. This does not mean that the leader is not responsible - it means that any leader owns only a part of the story.
Your story is your story because you are at the centre. This is why it is useful for you to give your account - because it puts your actions and reactions and impacts in the spotlight. This is why other people can hold you accountable through the account you give. And it is also why your account is never accurate. Accountability requires more than a great defence. Account - ability requires difference, tolerance, and community.