People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can't find them, make them.



If I even hint that people have more to do with creating, allowing, or promoting what happens to them than they ordinarily think, some people immediately take the defensive. "You mean this is my fault?! Is that what you're trying to tell me?"

No, that's not what I'm trying to tell anyone. That's the dark side of accountability--fault, blame, guilt. It's also the inaccurate side, a misuse of the concept. It's as though I gave someone a hammer and, instead of using it to hang pictures, the person used it to smash frames and then told me, "This hammer was a lousy thing to give me."

The light side of account-ability is realizing a simple fact--we are far more powerful than we generally like to admit. If we can see, for example, that we had a hand in creating, allowing, or promoting something we don't like in our life--even a life-threatening illness--we can also see how we have the power to get rid of it.

The word accountability comes from an ancient Roman term, which meant "to stand and be counted." I'm merely suggesting you might want to stand more and be counted (account-able).

Take a look at what you're happy with in your life--the people, the objects, what you've learned, all you've accomplished. The idea of accountability says you had a hand in all that--that you created, promoted, or allowed all of the good in your life.Let's take a look at creating, promoting, and allowing.

It is the commonest of mistakes to consider that the limit of our power of perception is also the limit of all there is to perceive.


Create. You saw it, you wanted it, you went out and got it. Simple creation. Maybe after you got it you didn't want it as much, but you got it nonetheless. It was your doing. If you saw, say, a Picasso reproduction and wanted it for your living room--you saw it, you bought it, you hung it in your living room. Creation.

Promote. Here you were a co-creator. Someone or something else was involved and together you created it, but it might not have happened if you did not have some outside influence. A friend has a Picasso hanging in her living room and offers to sell it to you. You think, "Not bad. Sure, I'll buy it." It ends up in your living room.

Allow. More subtle still. In these situations, you could have said, "Stop" or done something earlier on to avoid it, but you didn't. The same friend gives you the Picasso for your birthday. You think it's all right, but not what you would have chosen for the living room. You do, however, have that bare spot on the wall. It's been bare for months. You can't say you don't like it, because that's not entirely true. Besides, it might hurt your friend's feelings. And you can't say you have no place to hang it, because that's obviously not true either. So, accompanied by feigned squeals of delight, the Picasso ends up in your living room. And, over time, you've grown to like it there.

If you look at everything you like in your life, you'll find you had something to do with getting it--even if it was a passive act of allowing it to happen.

Now, apply these same concepts to little things in your life you don't like. Start small, now. Don't immediately stalk the great tragedies. That's one of the best ways of dismissing a new idea without having to fully explore it: apply it to the most challenging situation you can imagine and see if the concept holds up. It probably won't. It's as though we were newly introduced to math and an older relative suddenly gives us a problem in trigonometry: "Here. See if your math can solve this." Eventually it can, but right now we're at nine minus six equals three.

When a man blames others for his failures, it's a good idea to credit others with his successes.


So start with, say, the pictures on the walls you don't like. How did they get there? Why are they still there? You probably participated to some degree in creating, promoting, or at least allowing them to be there. If it's your apartment and the pictures are still there five minutes from now, you are allowing them to remain by not taking them down.

Every so often we like to pretend we are the victim. We had nothing to do with it. We didn't want it. It just happened. That, in fact, is a good definition of a victim: a person to whom life happens. As someone said, "There are three kinds of people in the world: the ones who make life happen, the ones to whom life happens, and the ones who wonder, `What happened?'" Victims fall (after slipping on a banana peel left there by some inconsiderate person) into the latter two categories.

Being a victim can become a habit--also the source of some of our best anecdotes. Most stand-up comics make a living from it. Stand-up comedy is mostly one "victim story" after another. Rodney Dangerfield has gained enormous respect telling stories about how little respect he gets. Victim stories can be fun--although the victim may not think so (until much later). Here are some victim stories, taken from actual auto insurance accident reports:

Coming home I drove into the wrong house and collided with a tree I don't have.

The guy was all over the road. I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him.

In my attempt to kill a fly, I drove into the telephone pole.

I had been driving for forty years when I fell asleep at the wheel and had the accident.

To avoid hitting the bumper of the car in front, I hit the pedestrian.

An invisible car came out of nowhere, struck my vehicle, and vanished.

The indirect cause of this accident was a little guy in a small car with a big mouth.

The telephone pole was approaching. I was attempting to swerve out of its way when it struck my front end.

The pedestrian had no idea which way to run, so I ran over him.

I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law, and headed over the embankment.

Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.


Note the lack of accountability in these. That may be one reason they're so funny--we remember the lame excuses we've invented in the past. "The telephone pole was approaching," indeed.

It's fine to tell victim stories, but when we start to believe them, we get into trouble. Inherent in that belief are the underlying beliefs, "I have no control over my life," "I can't have things the way I want them," and "I'm not worthy of what I want."

Take a look at some occurrence--small, now--that you felt victimized by. Tell yourself the story as though you were telling it to a sympathetic friend, with all the bitter details.

Then take a look at the same story, and see if you can find some areas in which you were accountable--areas in which you helped, even in some small way, to create, promote, or allow whatever happened. You'll probably start seeing glimmers of, "Well, if I had followed my instinct and done this, the outcome would have been different." Or, "I made it even worse by . . . ." Or, "I could have left half an hour before."

To help find areas of greater response-ability in the story, here are some clues:

  1. Go back in time. Usually we start a victim story at the point we can claim to be The Innocent. "I was just standing there, minding my own business when . . . ." If we go back in time, we often find the innocence fades. "I was all ready to go when Paul called and said he couldn't make it." If we go back in time, we might discover we canceled an appointment at the last minute with Paul the week before, or Paul had a history of being unreliable, or Paul had mentioned something else might come up. When we go back, we usually find we had some information or experience that takes the bloom off our innocence.

  2. What were you pretending not to know? We all have an inner voice that gives us direction. Some people are more in touch with their voice than others are. It's not necessarily the loudest voice "in there," but it's consistent, and usually correct. (I call it the Master Teacher.) Often when something bad happens, people will spontaneously say, "I knew it!"--a highly accountable statement. But then they immediately revert to blame, accusations, and other forms of playing victim. What did our Master Teacher tell us about the situation? It might have been "Don't go" or "Be careful," yet we went and we weren't careful and--voil--a victim story. Not that you should follow every voice inside your head, of course. If, however, you get a message from yourself, it's certainly worth checking out. Also, as you learn to listen to your Master Teacher, you'll be able to distinguish it from the voice of your lust, the voice of your discontent, the voice of your fear, and so on. (More on how to call upon this helpful inner voice later.)

    I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle.


  3. What thoughts did you have about the situation? Did you, perhaps, through worry or doubt or unwillingness or some other negative thinking, contribute to what happened? Let's use the example of Paul canceling at the last moment. Maybe you had the thoughts: "I'm not sure I want to go to this place," or "I don't know if I want to spend time with Paul," or "I don't feel like going out," or "I wish I could watch TV tonight." Sometimes we think something, our wish is granted, and then we complain because we got what we wanted. The same is true of wanting to do something so much that our unworthiness surfaces. "I really want to go with Paul, but maybe I won't be good enough company for him," or "I never get to go to places with people I really want to, like Paul," or "If I were Paul, I wouldn't go out with me." Remember: what we fear can come upon us.

Are there some situations in which we really are victims? Of course. There are evil, destructive, deceitful people who will manipulate you into giving them what they want by promising whatever they think you need. In trusting, you get taken; by risking, you get took. Sharks are one of the dangers of swimming in tropical waters.

It is true that I am carrying out various methods of treatment recommended by doctors and dentists in the hope of dying in the remote future in perfect health.


I am suggesting, however, that we have more choices than we realize in situations we would normally think of as choiceless. We are more powerful than the persona we've been programmed to believe is us.

The more you can look at all the incidents of your life--good and bad--from an accountable point of view, the more you'll reclaim the power you've given to the illusion of "random" situations "out there."

Remember the three magic words: Create, Promote, Allow--C. P. A.--Account-ability.

Continue exploring the concept by considering more and more important situations with the question, "How did I create, promote, or allow what's happening here?" And, "How can I create, promote, or allow more of what I want to take place?"

If you have trouble, consider it a creative puzzle-- "What if I were accountable?" Also, be willing to know. The willingness to know creates the opportunities to know.

There are three aspects to accountability:

  1. Act-knowledgment. We simply acknowledge that we had something to do with the situation. We "act knowingly." We may not know all that we did--consciously or unconsciously--to set it up, but we're willing to take a look and, when we find some way we were accountable, to acknowledge it. This is not blame, criticism, condemnation, or guilt. (I'll get to guilt in a moment.) It's asking a simple question: "This happened to me, so if I had something to do with it, what was it?"

  2. Response-ability is the ability to respond. How could you have more effectively responded to the situation? What effective responses can you take now? Realize that in any situation there are response options that will either lift you higher or drag you lower. Why not take the uplifting ones? Sometimes the response is physical; sometimes it's a change of attitude; sometimes it's both. You always have the ability to respond in an elevating way. Response-ability is not blame. People often ask, "Who's responsible for this?" in tones that clearly mean, "Who's to blame for this? Whom can we punish?" That's not how I use it here. Response-ability is simply looking at the response options available, and being willing to choose uplifting ones.

  3. Corrective action. If we learn something, but it doesn't lead to a change in behavior, then we haven't really learned it. It's still a concept. It may be a nice concept, a well-thought-out and brilliantly described concept--but a just concept nonetheless. When genuine learning takes place, so does a corrective action. If we say, "Yes, we understand hammers are to be used for hanging pictures, not smashing frames," and we continue to smash frames, we haven't learned. We merely comprehend. To become truly accountable, one must be willing to take corrective action. We don't make plans with Paul, or next time we make plans with Paul, we have alternate plans in mind. Either of these would be corrective action.

The price of greatness is responsibility.


To make plans with Paul and fully expect him to be there is (multiple choice): (a) unreasonable, (b) dumb, (c) an indication we haven't learned, (d) evidence we're not being accountable to ourselves in relationship to Paul, (e) all of the above.

Corrective action incorporates forgiving yourself and others. It also includes making amends. If we spill milk on a friend's floor, we can acknowledge we did it, we can take responsibility for it, but--to be truly accountable--we take corrective action: we clean up the milk.

As you continue to examine more and more important and "impossible" ("I couldn't possibly have had anything to do with that!") areas of your life from an accountable point of view, you'll start to get a sense of how powerful you truly are.

We use that enormous power to create--consciously and unconsciously, positively and negatively. As we look at our role in creating our life to date and see how much more we had to do with it than we thought, we can be more and more aware of our creative action. Then we can use it in more and more positive ways--such as healing.


Purchase the book from Amazon

Copyright © 1988-1996 Peter McWilliams & Prelude Press, Inc.

This site maintained by
site credits