Accountability vs Freedom
In my previous blog, I explored, through the lens of my story, how the pain experienced in our youth can affect our choices as adults. I spoke about how hurting children grow up to be hurt adults who in turn end up hurting others. While it’s an important foundation to lay in terms of understanding the underlying factors influencing volition, it begs the question of #accountability. Does the fact that I was subjected to the negative effects of other people’s indiscretions in my youth, relieve me of #responsibility for my adult choices that cause another’s pain?
One of the results of me taking on the role of surrogate husband and father at an early age was that I had a huge sense of responsibility. From as far back as I can recall, I was always thinking about how I could create and maintain the necessary facade expected by society from a minister’s family. I found myself feeling the pressure to compensate for any family shortcomings by being overly religious, polite, studious and generally a good kid. In hindsight I realise that I didn’t really play much as a child and instead immersed myself in books, church activities and adult conversation. The times when I did leave the nest were very short-lived as the burden of responsibility would scream my name invariably drawing me back home.
At the age of about 23 I finally left #home. We had moved back to Zambia after living in Sydney during my high school years. After another four years back in Zambia I headed back to Australia this time determined to never go back. I was filled with guilt for leaving mum (who represented home for me) but also determined to find my independence as a young man. I needed to find a place that was far enough that the beckoning of home would be impractical to submit to and Australia seemed ideal and was also the only other place that felt close enough to home. I assured myself that mum would be okay because she had grandad who she was very close to. This consolation was stripped away from me a few days before I was due to leave for Australia when we received the harrowing news of my grandparent’s murder at the hands of a serial killer. Was this some kind of sign to not leave or karma for my selfishness? Mum insisted that despite the terrible circumstances I had to leave. Her concern was ultimately that I find my independence and go to a place where there were more career opportunities. Saying goodbye to her at my grandparent’s graveyard was one of the worst experiences and certainly did little to assuage the already present guilt I felt for leaving. The image entrenched in my mind as I left for Sydney, was that of mum weeping over her dad’s burial site at the loss of both her parents as well as her first born child.
I believe that my early relationship to ‘home’ is another huge factor in my relational patterns. I have struggled to maintain a healthy balance between independence and interdependence. The beginnings are often exciting and inviting and warm. After a year or two I find myself wanting to experience some independence or freedom and generally this is not received well. I may go out and enjoy other hobbies by myself or go and hang with the guys, but I can never fully enjoy those things because I hear the loud voice of responsibility calling me to come home. It is no surprise then that this has often marked the beginning of much of my relational conflict. I end up feeling resentful and consequently never really enjoy being ‘home’ either. The feeling of responsibility becomes the antithesis of #passion and #desire and so even though I may be ‘home’ I am not really present in a way that is healthy. I feel as though the child in me wants to go out and play knowing that ‘home’ will be okay with that and will be there when I get back. More often than not I have found myself in relationships where the needs of home are such that my longing for independence ranks relatively lower on the scales.
I wonder whether this may explain why people in relationships #cheat. Do partners who feel like this turn to others with a child-like rebellion? “If you don’t let me go and play I’m just going to ‘sneak out’ instead”. Does this give insight into why we can at times be mean to our partners and end up arguing over petty issues that have little to do with what’s actually going on beneath the surface? Is this possibly one of the reasons that sex can become so monotonous, dutiful and disconnected? And returning to the original question, is understanding the genesis of these issues enough to acquit me of any accountability for my actions and the impact they have on others?
I think the contrary is probably truer. Understanding what drives our actions is helpful but at the same time does not negate the need for us to take stock of how we impact others. In fact, the more we understand, the less excuse we have for repeating our maladaptive relational patterns. Am I suggesting that understanding is the antidote to hurting people? By no means! One has to have an #awareness of the extent of the impact in the first place. Secondly, there needs to be an acknowledgement of one’s contribution to the pain caused and finally one must care enough to be #committed to restitution. Genuine #restitution is characterised by a desire to journey with the hurting individual to ensure that they reach a place similar or better to the one they were at prior to the event/s that caused the hurt. It means that saying #sorry is not enough. Verbal apologies are often ways of avoiding having to face the reality of the situation. “I’m sorry” can be a strategic way of putting an end to #dialogue. Perhaps a more effective response would be “help me understand what that was like for you” and having understood something of the damage caused “I am committed to working together with you to get to a place where this is no longer a paralysing reality for you”