Before I begin with this week’s post, allow me to define what I mean when I say “accountability.” I am referring to an act in which a person accepts responsibility when their actions or words hurt another person. Accountability requires both the admission of wrongdoing, and the acceptance of criticism and/or consequences as a result.
It seems that too many people today have assumed the privilege of being immune to accountability. We see this in politics where the leaders of our country get away with things that we would be jailed for, in the Church where child molesting priests are routinely protected, and with people who say “whatever, it’s just my opinion.” This last one is what I would like to focus on.
If you say something that offends, you do not get a free pass by stating that it’s just your opinion. You have to defend that opinion, and if you cannot defend it, you must accept accountability. I have had to do this, as have countless others; it is not acceptable to avoid it. I make it very clear in my personal and professional life that I am an advocate for LGBTQ rights. The principle of accountability is especially poignant for those against these rights.
When you condemn homosexuality, you hurt people. Individuals who are LGBTQ did not ask to be outcasts, they did not ask to be shunned for being themselves. Having been told to “be who you are” throughout their childhood, they are now discriminated against and denied certain rights for practicing what they were taught. If you choose to voice anti-gay sentiments, you must allow yourself to be held accountable. It is enough that your view is ill informed and narrow, do not also assume that you may avoid being held responsible by identifying that view as an “opinion.”
When I put this argument forward, some people come at me citing their right to free speech. We absolutely have that right, and no reasonable person would suggest that we shouldn’t; but the right to say what we want does not legitimize our words. I see this fallacy committed all the time, where people equate their right to free speech with the legitimacy of their opinion. Regardless of what you were told in grade school, I am telling you right now that an opinion can most certainly be wrong. An opinion that homosexuality is unnatural, for example, fails to acknowledge all that we know about nature, animal behaviour, human interaction and social discourse, science, history, and cultural/sub-cultural patterns. The opinion that homosexuality is unnatural is not simply misinformed. It is wrong, and those who espouse it must accept accountability.
Added to this problem of accountability is the issue of anonymity. I am told that in the gaming community homophobia and verbal abuse are all too common. This is also true of social media sites like YouTube, where anybody can create an account under a pseudonym and say whatever they please with complete immunity. I will first say that I do not have a solution for anonymity. Social media is, and should be, available for all and there certainly cannot be multiple users with the same name. This is where personal accountability comes in. People of all ages understand the basic principle of kindness, they understand that hurting others is wrong. What they may not understand is that when we hurt others we contribute to a discourse that systematically dehumanizes those around us and causes pain, suffering, and all too frequently, death. This discourse hurts us all. The people effected by slurs like “fag,” “queer,” “fruit,” and “homo,” are not isolated pods living in caves somewhere. They are all around us, they are part of our community, they are our neighbours, relatives, brothers and sisters … they are fellow human beings. To demean with immunity, and without remorse, reflects a truly troubled mind.
Simply put, accountability is of fundamental importance in today’s cultural landscape. We are social animals, and we have a responsibility to each other. We have a responsibility to cause the least amount of harm, to stand for those who are being persecuted or downtrodden, and to hold ourselves to a standard by which we conduct ourselves with integrity. Should we decide not to operate in this fashion, our cultural systems will collapse, and our species will soon follow.
All views are not created equal. Some are right and some are wrong. It is important to strive to be right while accepting accountability when we are wrong. If we can accept this principle, I truly believe that our cultural paradigms will further change in ways that are embracing and welcoming, rather than condemning and exclusionary.