Six Step Apology (Pt 5)
The first four steps of the Six Step Apology that I learned from Ford Taylor focus on establishing personal responsibility. Each step moves you from a position of defensiveness to total personal accountability.
Personal accountability is something that we all want from our politicians, leaders, and heroes, but few of us really practice it in our own lives. John McEnroe, the temper-tantrum-throwing tennis player, is a great example of an athlete who never lost a game. It was always someone or something’s fault if he lost, not his own fault. He yelled at line judges, the ball fetchers, and the crowd. He would throw his racket, complain about the weather, and I don’t think he ever said the obvious which was, “I just didn’t play well today.”
Carol Dweck (Read our post “Comfort Over Growth”) identified John McEnroe as someone who was a great tennis player but could have been even better if he had gone home and practiced and learned to overcome challenges rather than deflect responsibility.
Taking responsibility and being accountable is admirable but very hard. I’m responsible for my behavior! Yet just because we are responsible doesn’t mean we are capable of controlling our behavior. I can take full responsibility for being angry and lashing out in a way that hurts, but that doesn’t cure me.
I find both comfort and a bit of fear when I read Paul – someone who seems to have it together. He says in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…for I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” Our willpower isn’t enough. This isn’t an excuse for doing things that hurt us and others, it is just a very important realization on the path to getting help.
So many times we spend a lot of energy making willpower-based promises like, “I promise to never do it again,” or, “I won’t ever forget…” Yet the reality is that even with the best of intentions our willpower isn’t enough. One of the most important realities for us as human beings is, “I can’t do this by myself.” It is at this point that being in relationship with God and others can help us do what we could never do on our own.
So that brings us to Step 5 in which we verbally acknowledge our need of others to help keep us from getting into the same position again.
- Acknowledge the offense: “I did _____.”
- Admit, “I was wrong.”
- Use the words, “I am sorry; I apologize.”
- Ask, “Will you (when you can) forgive me?”
- Say, “I give you permission to hold me accountable.”
What step five is says is:
- I’m responsible for my behavior
- I really don’t want to hurt you again
- If you see me doing something even remotely similar – let me know
- I will trust you and do what it takes to make you feel safe
I hear from people who have tried counseling and accountability and tell me that it doesn’t work. I’ve been on both sides of the accountability table, both needing accountability and having people ask me to help them with an issue. When accountability “doesn’t work” it was always because someone wasn’t sharing the truth. It typically isn’t blatant lying; it tends to involve not volunteering information or not telling the whole story. The reason the truth isn’t shared is that for many of us, being wrong and fallible is worse than the pain we are causing others. I’d rather be perceived as having things together rather stop being destructive.
Imagine carrying a large stack of your grandma’s best china. The stack is tall and has a mix of plates, saucers, and at the top is her favorite set of tea cups. You have a long way to carry them and it’s really heavy. You know that you dropped the last load you tried to carry and now you feel the load slipping through your sweaty fingers.
Your accountability partner asks if you need help, and because you don’t want to seem weak, you just say, “No, I’ve got things taken care of.” And so you keep bearing the load, the fear, and eventually the carnage.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Give permission and then trust the person to help.
This isn’t a simple process but if you are serious about not hurting the people you love, then it’s time to be accountable.
Question: Which is harder for you, personal responsibility or accountability? Have you seen great personal growth when you combined personal responsibility with accountability?
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