|The Purpose and Philosophy of Self-Expression with Accountability
© 1997 Michele Toomey, PhD
The primary purpose of learning self-expression with accountability is to maintain our integrity. Integrity is by definition truth and wholeness. For the self to maintain its integrity it must be truthful and whole. This is not as simple as it sounds, however, because the self is, by nature, paradoxical, and the opposition and contradiction of paradox create a complex psychological system within the self. This complexity makes knowing our personal truth and maintaining our wholeness a very complex process. Indeed, if we are to be true to our nature and ourselves we must learn to handle our own complexity.
The traditional way of handling our complexity has been to simplify it by trying to eliminate the paradox. This is done by taking the paradoxical sets of opposite dimensions and traits of the self and defining one side of each paradoxical set superior to the other and then taking the position that the superior side should dominate and control the other. Consequently, the self is assumed to be at war with itself and the ability to control its inferior side is considered a sign of strength and an expression of self-control. A strong self in control of itself is, therefore, seen as the desired goal.
The self's paradoxical capacities and traits, needs and desires are therefore traditionally relegated to the following order: intellect is considered superior to emotions and should control them, literal external reality is seen as superior to metaphorical intuitive inner reality and should be in control of the self's perception. Aggression is seen as superior to yielding since aggressors win over yielders who are considered losers. Strength is assumed to be superior to vulnerability which is considered weakness. Independence is considered superior to dependence which gives power to another ... and so the ordering of inequality continues and the self's relationship to its own paradoxical power is oppositional, at odds, at war. This approach sets the self up to engage in ongoing power struggles with itself and of course, this approach gets played out with others as well. Interactions become contests that are won or lost, and the defeat of losing is an embarrassment and a failure.
Traditional values shaped by cultural norms dictate the unequal ordering that decides superiority and inferiority, and conformity to this predetermined ordering is expected. In general, cultures both differ and overlap in their approach to simplifying paradox, but let us use the position taken by American culture to illustrate our point. In our culture, all of the self's dimensions and traits considered superior are defined as male. Males therefore are associated with what are considered the self's superior dimensions and traits and as such, males are expected to possess these traits and are considered the superior gender because of this. They are to be strong, aggressive, independent, intellectual and adventuresome. Within the self, the superior male dimensions are to control the inferior female dimensions, except if the self is female, and then inferior female traits are to be in control. Females are to be weak, yielding and dependent, emotional and fearful. Females then come to be seen as an inferior gender controlled by dominant inferior female traits. Both genders, however, find themselves conflicted about their paradoxical nature and at odds with their paradoxical traits. They are in a power struggle with themselves.
Self-expression with accountability does not conform to this approach or this tradition. Instead, it assumes that all of our paradoxical capacities are equally desirable and equally legitimate and all of them are equally necessary. Further, it assumes that the relationship between these contradictory forces is one of interdependence that is to be expressed in reconciliation not conquest. In other words, the need to be open and vulnerable (considered female) and the need to be closed and protected (considered male) are both essential capacities that are appropriate at various times, but neither of them should dominate our personality. our capacities should be available to us not in charge of us. Being able to move back and forth between our paradoxical needs and desires, traits and abilities, is what allows us to be true to our complex paradoxical nature. Our personal truth is found in preserving the integrity of this complex nature not in eliminating it. Our female and male sides are not unequal and the female gender is not inferior to the male gender. Each gender has its own orientation to its own paradoxical nature, but neither is superior and both should develop their opposite sides.
To do this, we must allow ourselves to feel our own contradictions. We may be worried even as we are doing all right, excited even as we are somewhat afraid, unhappy even as we are glad. Self-expression with accountability must reflect our complexity. Vulnerability is an essential part of our paradoxical nature and to fear it is to fear ourselves. We can be both strong and vulnerable, courageous and overwhelmed, independent and in need of others, without risk. We are not only capable of handling the complexity, we are designed to in order to feel free.
By learning to process contradictory thoughts and feelings, with their contradictory needs and desires, we learn to be true to our paradoxical nature. An interaction within ourselves becomes a conversation about our contradictions, not an argument to silence them. Its purpose is for discovery of what's going on for us not for making judgments about it. As a result, with accountability we gain clarity and understanding of ourselves, which then leads to intimacy and wholeness, and our integrity is preserved.
This is also true of interactions with each other. We are able to get to know and understand each other when we ask instead of judge and then we can be intimate with not alienated from others. Intimacy is, I believe, the most fundamental human need. It allows us to be connected and to have a place both with ourselves and with others. Without intimacy we are alienated from ourselves and others, and this alienation, this sense of estrangement, leads to a sense of hostility, of anger and belligerence, loneliness and purposelessness, or fear and anxiety. In its most intense form, it leads to rage and despair.
Unfortunately, as a result of defining power as conquest, alienation is prevalent in the world currently, and in this last decade of the 20th century, violence, suicide, substance abuse, sexual promiscuity and abuse abound. There is little accountability for this destructive and hostile condition we find ourselves in, and there is certainly little integrity in it, either. We of the older generation are passing this legacy on to you and we owe you, our youth, more than this. It is to this end that teaching you self-expression with accountability becomes a central tool.
If we are to relate to ourselves and others with integrity and accountability, we must learn to relate with respect and fairness. Discovery for the purpose of clarity and understanding is far different from discovering for gaining the advantage so as to win and bring about another's defeat. If we are not preoccupied with doing ourselves or someone else in, or protecting ourselves from being done in, we will be free to explore ourselves and others and be enriched. Integrity and accountability become our beacon and our protection. They preserve fairness and create a climate for trust in which discovery and growth allow us to far exceed our previous limitations that were based on distrust and fear.
This approach to self-expression requires self-reflection and self-discipline, since we cannot express how we feel, and what we think, if we do not know and are too out of control to find out. We must learn to look inside ourselves with our mind's eye, using our imagination to help us search for our past experiences that are affecting our present ones. Reflecting on what we discover, we must then have the self-discipline to articulate the associations we have made and explore them. We can not just be shut off from ourselves or automatically overwhelmed by our past or just react to what gets triggered. We must seek to understand and care about what is going on for us, then we must learn to express what we've come to know.
Being accountable means looking inside ourselves and trying to discover what is going on for us. If we have hurt or offended ourselves or another, it means trying to discover how that happened, apologizing for the violation and then making a commitment to stop that abusive behavior. Self-discipline is required whenever we need to change a pattern of responding that has become both familiar and automatic. Accountability requires that any abusive pattern, either of ourselves or another, be changed. It is fair that unwittingly we bring the abusive pattern of conquest and control with us, but it is not fair that we continue it. Growth and change is expected in an accountable environment. Conquering is not. We are committed to teaching you how to grow and change so that you will be free to be true to your own integrity and complexity.
Conformity is never the point. Integrity is. The principles of integrity governing the inner world of the self will be discussed in detail at a later time. The essential theme of integrity, however, is fairness and respect. Truth is not in need of conquest or abuse. Truth frees and truth is not violating. If we can learn to be true to ourselves, we will be fair to and respectful of ourselves. Our complexity will be known to us and not feared by us. Relationships with others always reflect our relationship with ourself, so once fairness and respect governs our relationship with ourselves, it will govern our relationships with others as well.
Complexity is much more difficult than simple conformity, but it is also much more exciting. Excitement is a vital ingredient for staying engaged in life. It need not depend on the danger of warring parties. It can be kindled by the complexity of who we are and how we take full advantage of our potential for a full life. Self-expression with accountability is an essential tool for discovering our complexity and being true to it. We hope to provide you with this tool.