Entry 52

Taking responsibility #Responsibility/#Accountability

A vigorous debate with one’s own nesting partners¹ can fortunately more often become a source of new insights in ethically conducted multiple relationships than develop into a stress test. If, right: If one is willing to expand one’s point of view.
Anyway, this is what happened to your seasoned expedition leader Oligotropos recently, when I tried to distinguish between “responsibility” and “accountability” in a conversation.
Both concepts are very important to me – and therefore (I just looked it up myself!) they appear in my articles explicitly mentioned already at a very early stage, immediately in the first paragraph of Entry 3, which deals with the “Basic Values” of Oligoamory.
Back then, as now, I am also still amazed at how little accentuation is given to both “responsibility” and “accountability” in the preconception of Oligoamory – that is, in “classical Polyamory“: In the index of one of Polyamories’ basic publications “More Than Two – A practical guide to ethical Polyamory” by F. Veaux and E. Rickert, for example, both terms actually do not appear at all (!!!). And neither of them is mentioned on either the German or the English Wikipedia article about Polyamory.
As an avid reader, which I am myself, I know of course that these two values are nevertheless tacitly contained both in guidebook literature as well as on Wikipedia. For it is difficult to write about commitment and honesty (values that are explicitly mentioned) without implicitly including responsibility and accountability in terms of personal integrity.
However, the immediate absence at first glance is something that continues to give me headaches regarding the “Archipelago of Polyamory”: Because in this way it still seems to me too easily possible that especially these two values might slip too quickly into the “blind spot” (or rather that they have already arrived there). And that’ s the moment when I, as the author of this bLogs, start to put a bold question mark behind the additional predicate “ethical”, if any lifestyle of multiple relationships wants to excel with it (nevertheless).

Here at home we talk a lot about responsibility and accountability – sometimes passionately – as you can tell from the first sentences of this Entry.
I myself, as a relatively liberal-minded person, therefore usually emphasize very strongly accountability – especially in the meaning of self-responsibility: Whoever regularly reads this bLog knows that I consider self-realization and self-knowledge to be among the most important goals of unfolding one’s personality – and if such a path is not to be lost in egomania or even narcissism, then it is of course important that it has to be accompanied by conscious and healthy self-responsibility. Self-responsibility, which also exposes the limits of one’s own behaviour and enables self-criticism: That one does not always succeed in everything perfectly and flawlessly, that one is a quite fallible human being – and that it sometimes takes more than one attempt (or a completely new approach) to progress further on the “path of the greatest courage”.
In this way, by giving a very high priority to the “unfolding of the Self”, I occasionally run the risk of putting this “responsible Self” at the very top, from where everything else emerges. Hence also the “extent of accountability”, which I myself assume to bear…
Well – and this is where it is sometimes beneficial to be “calibrated” a little bit by the contact with different points of view of other people.

In response to my position, e.g., my nesting partner argued that “responsibility” was an absolutely independent value that certainly did not have to “emerge from anything else”.
By the way – the reason for our talk was a scene in a TV series in which a depressed father attempted suicide after the death of his son – with the consequence that he would have left his financially dependent wife and two other children behind. And although the television scene seemed to be “predesigned” in a rather polarizing way, it directly referred with its “moral dilemma” to highly topical questions of the modern ethics debate, e.g. on issues such as euthanasia or legal custody – and thus precisely to the always associated questions of “responsibility” and “accountability”.

In the course of the following conversation, I realized that I should have read my own bLog more thoroughly myself…
…because in Entry 42 I am quoting the famous sentence of the author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry by which the fox in his story reveals an important truth to the little prince: “You are responsible for that what was entrusted to you and for those whose trust you gained.” ²
Magnificently, Saint-Exupéry succeeds with this “truth” in pointing out, strictly speaking, that responsibility arises from accountability, and again accountability from responsibility as well. Thus, none of these values precedes or underlies the other, but they are always mutually interconnected.
Therefore, in oligoamorous relationships, which should be ethical, we always need both.

According to Wikipedia, responsibility is “in general the (voluntary) assumption of obligation(s)”. What Wikipedia calls »obligation« is essentially what I call »commitment« in terms of human relationships: This valuable blend of reliability and integrity. And since I have been defining integrity since Entry 3 as a condition in which “an individual’s actions are based upon an internally consistent framework of principles“, a value system, hence some kind of ethics, is indispensable for this.

At this point, some very subtle contemporaries might point out that a dilemma would arise exactly in this situation: In particular, my reference to the “personal value system” would be particularly delicate. What would happen if someone took the personal values of his*her megalomania or an exaggerated ego as a basis? For even then such a person could still act reliably selfishly for its environment and its actions would always be coherent (consistent) with the own egocentric thinking.

At first glance, this seems possible.
However, at the end of Entry 7, I am quoting Ezra Taft Benson, who said “You are free to choose, but you are not free to alter the consequences of your decisions.” Mr. Benson points out with this interesting sentence, that – especially concerning our participation in human relationships – there are always factors which are greater than “just” ourselves. And so we need a wider focus.

Which brings us back to the roots of conducting ethical multiple relationships: Because the idea of “Polyamory” was originally designed to give a philosophical/conceptual home to (multiple) relationships, which emphasized love as a binding feature (in contrast to primarily or exclusively sexual interest!).
Since in the case of mainly or exclusively sexual interest of more or less promiscuous nature, the aspect of sustained relationship conduct in the medium or longer term can be bypassed relatively easily: “One-night-stands” come to mind, casual dating or swinger arrangements [And when in these contexts there is talk of “responsibility”, one usually appeals to a responsible exercise of sexuality with regard to STDs or contraception].
At the moment when “love” (“a powerful sensation of deep and intimate connectedness”) enters the picture, this is no longer possible, because from that point on there exists not only “myself” – but also “someone else”.
According to Ezra Taft Beson, up to this very moment I have freely made my own decisions, my choice, according to my personal standards – but the execution of my free choice has now led me into a territory where exactly what I have chosen will have consequences that will elude my personal “sovereignty” from this point on…!
By the way, this is the magic moment, which I describe in my Oligoamory again and again as the “experience of more than the sum of its parts”, because especially the establishment of relationships with other living beings (pets, children, companions, significant others) usually has this effect.
And that is a good thing, a very good thing indeed, because this magical moment automatically assigns to “the other beings” an inherent and inalienable (life) value of their own, which exists beyond our own means of control and disposal.
And merely personal accountability is thus transformed into collective responsibility.

I consider it unbelievably exciting that an “ethical system” and an emotional contract are always established in this way whenever living beings enter into a relationship based on mutual love.³ Because the “more than the sum of its parts” is a beneficial bonus effect that appears every time without further ado in any case.
I write “beneficial” since we need this “more” right because of our own fallibility and the limits of our own perception, which would otherwise leave us at the very risk of becoming egomaniacs or narcissists at worst: In Entry 11, for example, in which I portray us as “heroes in our own (life’s) movie”, it becomes clear that despite “very good personal reasons” we may very well have the ability to cause unintentional suffering to others because we tend to favour our own needs. And in Entry 26 I quote Jesper Juul, who also mentions “responsibility” as one of the most important basic values of every relationship – but I concede there that this would require the courage for a profound kind of self-awareness (on which most of us would have to work hard).

But because we humans – as I last emphasized in the previous entry – are deeply social beings, we will most likely nevertheless regularly ” engage in relationships”. Which means that we will always take on long-term obligations, responsibility and commitment, where it is desired that we will reliably and predictably provide for them.
And yes: If we agree because of our love that the other living beings involved in our relationships have “an inherent and inalienable (life)value of their own”, then it is simply no longer possible to “chuck it all in” merely at our own discretion, if we no longer want to bear this responsibility.
According to Ezra Taft Benson, at such a moment we must rather face the “consequences of our choice” ( meaning our voluntarily surrendered personal total freedom!) and work together with all those concerned to find consensual solutions. Which would mean, for example, amending, renegotiating or even dissolving the existing emotional contract by universal consensus.

Do you think this is too hard? Would I be giving now too much priority to responsibility – once I have assumed it – over personal accountability?
I don’t think so, because personal accountability in my reading means precisely that we are able to recognize when and why we are responsible for “that what was entrusted to us and for those whose trust we gained” – and how all that has become a part of ourselves as a result.
I am also glad that I have already laid down in the last paragraph of Entry 5 the purpose for which responsibility and accountability may never be misused: As an opportunity to establish self-sacrifice and subordination for the sake of a community as an unassailable good and hence to prevent the possibility of change and freedom of decision from the outset.

From now on, in my world responsibility and accountability walk hand in hand; they have the same relationship to each other as we have to our loved ones: To temper extremes, to complement each other, and to potentiate each other when they are combined.

¹ “Nesting-Partner”: In multiple relationships a term for the people with whom one shares “a nest” – i.e. lives closely together and spends a lot of everyday time as well, e.g. in a shared home.

² “The Little Prince” ; Chapter XXI; “Friendship with the fox”.

³ Since, for example, as far as pets and children (or other dependent living beings) are concerned, the question of reciprocity – and above all of eye level or voluntariness – cannot always be answered unambiguously, in these cases it must always be examined particularly carefully how “love” is involved in these relationships – and whether an equal expression in a jointly constituted value system is actually possible!

Thanks to Susanne Jutzeler, suju-foto on Pixabay for the photo!