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Where is humankind headed? The coiling accountability crisis

Wednesday June 15, 2022

I thought I’d share something I’m thinking about a lot lately: The future of humanity and how our future is closely linked with a growing awareness of accountability and reconciliation.

Accountability and Reconciliation

At the decade-period level, we are just now witnessing a ramping-up of a long-term pattern of demand for accountability and reconciliation at multiple levels:

  1. Personal ethical and integral accountability
  2. Social responsibility to growth and development
  3. Corporate accountability to humanity, as compared against items 1 & 2

Reconciliation is pretty great, especially in theory: You enter a form of discussion around positions of equity or inequity. The outcome is one of distribution of energy toward an improved outcome for the parties involved.

Who wouldn’t want that?

But unfortunately, we’re really good at making the reconciliation process extremely personal. Without realizing what we’ve done, we tend to raise the stakes for all of us, when we think we have limited the risk-on stakes to one person or group.

Such public discussion is typically sculpted around dichotomies at first, but it tends to deepen quickly and easily. (This is also part of the problem—a lot of us are naturally deep reconcilers and this approach can be wildly inappropriate and also too personal, too fast.)

The overall trend is troubling for organisms that operate on a shallow level in their public or human-human interfaces.

And while this trend itself may not be a crisis, the response can easily lead to many, many crises.

An Example Archetype

A great example archetype in this area is the typical “boom” business, an economic organization that is absolutely printing money.

Such an organization is usually built around nimble, fast-moving economic processes. However, almost as if by script (we know about this script—personality dynamics have a lot to say here), sets of dangerously covert ethical perspectives are mostly kept in the background until they begin to pop off in unwanted ways.

This type of organization is awfully easy prey, to a natural cycle in which a business is examined for intrinsic value by various stakeholders. This examination is repeated over time, and at any time the examiner could be the consumer, the investor, the vendor, the government, and so on. (The boss’s family, the neighbors—it’s fascinating that the stories we tell ourselves reveal so, so many stakeholders in everything)

(And we are all aware of this cycle by now, aren’t we? The big bad business? It’s a huge part of what we know as the “news cycle” in modern media.)

Such an examination, which is only natural, demands a public interface to the intrinsic ethical properties of the organization. And, however obvious this unfolding may seem as I write it out here, again and again such businesses show that this is a zone of weak footing for them. Thus they will likely be rocked by continual waves of accountability and demand for reconciliation.

I’ve worked for such businesses, and they are absolutely bonkers on the inside. They represent a risk to the future of humanity, but IMO it’s a risk we should learn to interface and help with, rather than scorn.

Such businesses aren’t alone in this. Similar demand even tends to build up in therapeutic non-profit organizations, religions, and families. All well-meaning.

A good deal of this demand comes from what you might think of as displacement and projection: As individuals or groups learn of new ethical or values-based principles that may cast a poor lens on their own subjective past, they experience a heightening of fear and sensation. They begin to worry about their personal security.

Such individuals and groups, being only human, will need to find quick relief in the form of a sort of “object lesson.” This gets their mind off the subject lesson (and none of this is exactly conscious). So, the third-party, especially the third party that has lately escaped examination, becomes an easy object of their frustrating energy.

Dealing With It

This is all pretty harsh stuff in a lot of ways, especially if you feel you’re the target, or a potential target. The tendency is to react and to defend oneself.

However, that’s also an unfortunate mistake in a lot of cases. Again and again we find that it’s a mistake to take an obviously defensive posture, at least as if it’s going to be the solution to the problem.

At an individual level, I have also seen this with my coaching clients—they tell me that their response to a need for reconciliation is more like martyrdom.

Personally, I’ve been down this road myself, and while examining the circumstances, I realized it was a huge mistake, and a waste of energy. There’s no real need for it, first of all. It’s more like an exercise in hallucination based on one’s conflicted understanding of one’s own good nature. And as such, it makes the problem “all about me,” which makes little logical sense if you consider that there is another party to the issue. Some burdens must be shared, but even more importantly, sometimes others want to share those burdens because again—they’re projecting. They also desperately want to know that there’s a constructive solution in here somewhere.

Let me repeat that in a different way: We all, desperately, want to know that there’s a constructive solution in here somewhere. Even if we’re less-than-aware of this fact. Even if we’re talking an evil business, or an evil person. We have skin in the game.

So what are some other actions or postures we can take in this kind of situation? This seems like a really important question.

Finding New, Solid Footing Beyond Reconciliation

In my opinion, businesses, organizations, and individuals will need to find, test, and vet many new models for interfacing with the outside, or the outsider, in such situations.

I’ve participated in organization-level interventions aimed at this kind of outcome, and I’ve worked alongside those who were intervening as outside consultants. The interventions were indeed helpful, but they also weren’t intrinsically available to the organization. This was a huge problem, in my view.

In considering various models that could help, there are many obvious leverage points and workarounds. Many of these could be made intrinsic without too much work.

Unfortunately, I don’t see many people talking or thinking about this yet, but I could be wrong.

And maybe that’s the thing: “Many.” “Various.” “Models.” There is a plurality vs. singularity issue here, and the plurality part can help out the singularity-with-issues.

We don’t need one thing or another. We need to start to perceive, together, that there is more than one way out of a really uncomfortable examination. For both the examiner and the examined.

I really think part of the secret in responding successfully is in taking lots of paths, even contradictory paths, at the same time—and communicating that.

Perhaps in the future we’ll learn more about it, but for now, my hat is off to those who embrace such a situation with creativity. It’s taxing because there is not a very strong cultural history or tradition to draw on. And it is not often very rewarding, because the solution may need to be kept and protected at a subjective level until it can mature, and long before others realize its utility.

Conclusion

And that’s about as low-level as I’m comfortable going with this topic. I don’t believe we really need so many examples at this point—the idea is to look forward and work forward, to be willing to talk about this at a high level, even if it takes some learning—and not to look backward so much.

Those higher principles of decade-to-decade movement point at patterns which will be useful in guiding very specific future developments in culture and society.

Eventually, hopefully, we’ll be able to look at problem-things and say, “that’s part of us, or it’s not a problem at all,” and move forward creatively, less personally, maybe even less passionately, and more grounded in experience: “This used to be a problem for society, until we all learned, together, how to treat it in all these different ways.”

Filed in: People /69/ | Essays /49/ | Relationships /74/

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