Fault and Accountability

As parents, we create false boundaries and artificial punishments for our children to help them see connections between poor choices and natural consequences. Children can’t connect their crankiness in the morning with staying up late the evening, so we tell them to be in bed by exactly this time or they won’t get a bedtime story (or whatever). The standard and the consequence are both artificial.

Kids learn the concepts of blame and fault early. If they find someone or something to blame, then the parents won’t think them at fault and won’t apply the artificial punishment. For example, if my little brother was hogging the bathroom, I can’t be expected to be in bed at exactly 8pm, so I should get a pass this one time.

Blame and fault are themselves just as artificial as the rules of parents because these concepts rely on the existence of an arbiter that doesn’t exist. In the adult world, there is no parental figure to whom you can plead your case. There is no one to convince that the violation can be blamed on someone else, and the fault wasn’t your own.

If you eat too much, or smoke, or fail to exercise, you’ll be unhealthy. Blaming your habits on someone else doesn’t make you any less unhealthy. You’ll endure the consequence even if your parents didn’t teach you good nutrition, your friends pressured you into smoking, or your job is too demanding to make room for exercise. Adults are accountable for their situation because they suffer or benefit from it, even if they have a reasonable excuse or someone else to blame.

Because the consequence of the error (poor health) is natural, there is no parental figure who can let it slide this one time. There is no one to blame. Fault is irrelevant.

Bosses are a weak exception. A boss may set a false standard, a false reward, and a false consequence, so fault and blame have some limited power. I couldn’t hit my number (false standard) to earn my bonus (false reward), but I shouldn’t be demoted (false consequence & fault) because my coworker didn’t support me (blame).

The boss as a parental figure might agree and hesitate to apply the false consequences, but the natural consequences are unavoidable. A failure, regardless of who is at fault, has natural consequences. Even if the boss agrees hitting the number was impossible, you’re still not getting the bonus, which means you can’t put the addition on the house.

Even legitimate excuses have natural consequences. Missing a big client meeting to take care of your sick kid is the right thing to do. In children’s language, it’s a good excuse, and it isn’t your fault. But the natural consequence of not getting the business will likely still occur. Accountability for natural consequences is unavoidable, even if the person can’t be blamed and isn’t really at fault.

The person who is most effected by the failure is the person who is accountable.

If your parents had a bitter divorce, you may not be at fault for struggling to build good relationships, but you’re still accountable because you’ll be the person who suffers from loneliness.

If you have bad teeth for genetic reasons, you may not be at fault for the cavities, but you’re still suffer all of the fillings.

If your parents didn’t value education, you may not be at fault for your ignorance, but you’ll still suffer the natural consequences of it.

The person in suffering receives no solace from the knowledge that they weren’t at fault for creating it. Accepting accountability for the suffering, however, is empowering because it means you control your fate and have the means to correct it.

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