Where’s the Line between Acceptance and Accountability?

Figure with a key chasing a figure with a keyhole in backPeriodically I’ll get into a discussion about the question above. My dear friend Cecelia and I used to argue (sort of–she’s too nice of a person to really get into it) about this issue. She’d say, “I think you need to accept people the way they are” and I’d say, “But Cecelia, then how will they ever change?” We would have this discussion in particular about a mutual friend who . . . well, I won’t give any details. Suffice it to say that what Cecelia thought of as harmless eccentricities I thought of as remediable faults. (Not that I was being judgy or anything.)

This issue has come up recently in other conversations I’ve had.

It’s a classic fine-line, on-the-one-hand-and-on-the-other subject. So, to take a common example of faulty behavior, what do you do about someone who is always late? If it’s your child, then you take action. (I hope, anyway.) One woman told me about her daughter’s constant tardiness in kindergarten that sometimes caused her to miss the bus and have to be driven to school. This woman decided that she was doing her daughter no favors by indulging this behavior, so she told her that the next time she missed the bus she would a) have to stay home, b) not be given an excuse, and c) have to do chores all day. Sure enough, the daughter missed the bus soon after that. (It has always astonished me that you have to actually carry through on your threats–shouldn’t the threats be enough?) She spent the day with her mother riding herd on her with various tasks. The daughter never missed the bus again.

So that’s pretty clear cut. Where things start getting fuzzy is in other relationships. Let’s just stick with the lateness issue right now, shall we? Our family is pretty prompt, and if we’re meeting up for a restaurant meal and someone’s late we have an unspoken agreement that we’ll just go ahead and order when most of us get there. No one gets offended. Same thing with my wonderful Bible study group. We have a very strict timeline set for us by the organization, so there’s no way that I’d ever say, “Let’s give it a few minutes and see if anyone else is coming.” No. We get started, and if people come in late they are warmly greeted and told where we are in the lesson, but I don’t hold the people who are on time hostage to those who come in late. (I hate that sort of thing anyway. When I teach a class, I make it very clear that I’m starting it on time even if no one’s there but me.)

What if you’re in a situation with a group of friends, though, and one of them is always late? Or doesn’t fulfill her obligations? What then? I have no perfect answers here. Again, the line can get pretty fuzzy. If you know that a friend is having an affair, I’d hope you call her out on it. But where’s that divider between sinful and just sort of irritating? How do you decide, and then how do you respond? I do think that part of the answer has to do with your own self-respect. I’ve tended to be such a wimp about thinking that people are going to be mad at me that I’ve sometimes let behaviors go by without rebuke. But I’ve gotten better about this since last July, which was when I started posting about the upcoming election. Somehow I got over my fear of people being upset at my opinions. In fact, as I sit here writing this, I’m kind of amazed at the change that’s taken place.

But back to the question: How do you respond to others’ faults, especially when those faults have an impact on you? I think the whole issue boils down to choice. If I sigh and knuckle under, resigning myself to being left in the lurch once again, then I’m letting my friend, or my boyfriend (back in the day), or my family member, take advantage of me. I’m doing myself no favors, but I’m also not doing them any. So I need to decide what to consciously let go and what to deal with. I’m fond of saying (and have perhaps already said on this blog) that all human relationships are the same at bottom, with the variations built on top of that foundation. So a boyfriend/girlfriend and a soldier/commander are very different in their structures, but the foundation is the same. If the boyfriend takes advantage of his date, or if the commander is cruel, then the other person involved has to decide how to react. (And don’t we all know someone who put up with unacceptable behavior while dating, only to pay the price later on, in marriage?)

You have to decide ahead of time how you’re going to react and then follow through. Or deliberately decide to ignore certain behavior. And then there’s a whole other issue about your acceptance of or improvement of yourself. But we’ll leave that vexing question for another day.

Are you perhaps accepting the unacceptable? How could you change that behavior?

Share with friendsShare on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Leave a Comment