i once heard Imani Harmon paraphrase another thinker who spoke about the fact that you can't hold someone accountable if you don't share the same values. more obvious and equally critical, you can't hold someone accountable who doesn't want to be held accountable.
i'm at a point in my life where contemplating the relationship between grace and accountability is a daily endeavor. as a high school teacher, it's maybe the most important part of my job. i haven't figured out the balance yet, but i'm certainly trying.
as humans, we all need both grace and accountability, and for me, it feels especially murky deciding how much of each to extend with this group of kids at this moment in time. more than anything, the relationships i have with my students informs this balance. i taught most of them last year too. knowing them well makes giving grace dangerously easy. i have to be cautious about not making excuses for them or downplaying their agency.
i feel confident in saying my students know i care about them and believe i'm invested in their wellbeing. this is what makes holding them accountable significantly easier. i am often inspired by their ability to be accountable, not under-accountable, or over-accountable, just aware of what is expected and honest about how they have measured up against it.
still, i wonder what it means to prepare them for this world. a world where so many of us are held over-accountable to unreasonable expectations and the most powerful among us face next to no meaningful accountability at all. what even is our relationship to grace as a society? how do we model the world we want while facing the world we have?
and for me, this work is the simplest part. what's even harder is balancing grace and accountability with other adults.
i am proud of how my hopefulness allows me to see the best in others and be generous. i am also well aware that it has played a role in me not holding those who have harmed me accountable. for most of my life, if people seemed sorry, that was enough for me. after all, i had survived worse and god forbid i "made someone feel bad." then i'd be surprised when bad behavior continued.
not anymore. i'm no longer interested in passively participating in patterns of harm and that is much more important to me than whether or not someone feels bad about their bad behavior, myself included. that doesn't mean holding people accountable or being accountable has become easy for me, but as an abolitionist who refuses to engage in punishment as a solution, working at engaging in meaningful accountability as someone who has caused harm and been harmed is at the core of my personal work.
over a series of posts this winter, i'm going to share my reflections as i continue to study and seek wisdom about accountability. i'm going to dig into things like relationship & context, prep work, repair, what happens when someone won't be accountable, and what happens when a pattern of behavior repeats.
i'm obviously no expert, but i'm grateful for this space to reflect. i hope you'll reply with any things that are coming up for you, questions, pushback, challenges, what resounds, and what doesn't.
as always, i hope it's useful.
if it was and you've got five bucks a month to spare, click here.
katie wills evans