This past week in our class exploration of Trust, we come to the third of the seven attributes of trust defined by Brené Brown in her book, “Rising Strong”. It is the“a” in the “BRAVING” acronym; Accountability.
According to Brené, Accountability dictates that one owns their mistakes, apologizes and makes amends. Naturally, it’s easy to apply this standard to others, but in a true spiritual practice, we need to also, and firstly, apply the standard to ourselves.
The words “I’m Sorry” can be one of the greatest challenges in relationships. In order to dig into this a little deeper, I drew upon the book, “Why Won’t You Apologize?” By Harriet Lerner, Ph.D. While Dr. Lerner shares so much wisdom about what constitutes a good apology, why some apologies fall flat, and shares some unique ideas about forgiveness, in class we stayed focused on how accountability affected the ability to give, and receive, apologies.
First and foremost, when both expecting an apology and giving one, it’s important to have a clear idea of everyone’s true accountability in a situation. In the middle of an emotional storm, we may dump too much responsibility on someone, and expect an apology for things that far outweigh that person’s true accountability. When we do that, they simply cannot listen, much less apologize. As Dr. Lerner says, “It’s incredibly difficult to listen to someone’s pain when that someone is accusing us of causing it. We automatically listen for and react to what is unfair and incorrect.”
When emotions are high, listening is a huge challenge. But, Dr. Lerner continues, “To listen with an open heart and ask questions to better help us understand the other person is a spiritual exercise, in the truest sense of the word.” Only after both parties truly listen can we sort out the issues of accountability. Only then can a sincere apology be offered.
“An authentic apology doesn’t mean that we passively accept criticisms that we believe are wrong, unjust, and totally off the mark.” Dr. Lerner clarifies. And, “A sincere apology means we are fully accountable for the part we are responsible for, and for only that.”
In our yoga practice, we can use the practice of detachment to help diffuse the emotions that cloud clear view of accountability. Detachment is mentally stepping away from an emotionally charged situation and viewing it as though it were happening to someone else. Yoga teaches us that we are not our minds, our emotions, or the events that we are living. We can be the observer of these things. We can tend to ourselves much as we attend to a friend or a child.
Perhaps the next time you feel triggered by someone else’s less than graceful actions, and immediately begin crafting your bid for an apology, let the emotions calm a bit and take a step back. Imagine that you are observing a friend navigate this situation. Is there a possibility that the accountability is not truly as they see it? Could their actions, or lack of actions, have contributed to the situation? Could they be interpreting someone else’s actions or motivations incorrectly?
Practicing detachment can allow us to diffuse difficult emotions long enough to ask the questions, as Dr. Lerner suggests. Asking questions and accepting the responses can help clarify issues of accountability. Once true accountability is established, an honest apology can be offered, because the giver isn’t expected to bear an unfair amount of burden. The recipient, having also owned up to their share of a misunderstanding, feels better having received an honest, rather than a grudging or coerced, apology.
Every time we step onto our mats and begin the process of observing ourselves, we strengthen our skill of detachment. As we step off the mat and return to our daily lives and challenges, this skill will be useful. Detachment may be a stepping away from emotions, but it doesn’t mean a lack of love or empathy. Detachment, because of the power of it’s results, can be the greatest gift of love we give ourselves, or others.