The Path to Accountability

What has been most noticeable over the last year is the major lack of accountability by individuals in the banks, government, property development, financial institutions and public bodies. Not one individual has stood up and admitted to the avarice, greed and depersonalising of staff members and customers that were part and parcel of their professional practice. Many of these individuals have attempted to hide behind the system – politicians are amazing at doing it – but it is not a system that neglects people, it is individuals. The whole sad lack of accountability is crying out for an explanation. Why would so many individuals who are well-educated, in status positions and possessing considerable political or financial power not own up to their very serious misdemeanours? It is not that those individuals – incidentally, mostly male – lack intelligence, but they certainly appear to lack maturity. The wonderful 12th century poet and mystic, Rumi, puts it well when he said ‘a person only become an adult when he takes responsibility for self and his own actions’; if it were only so we would emerge from the economic recession much more quickly. The danger now is that if accountability does not emerge, the economic recovery that is slowly emerging will be built on the same defensive emotional/social foundations which led to the economic crash. I have found little evidence in the analysis of the causes of the recession that point to the very powerful emotional process that underpinned the economic collapse.

What is important to appreciate is that these powerful emotional processes are peculiar to individuals and whilst at an external level we can point to the avarice, the greed, the self-centredness, the depersonalisation, the target-fixated mentality, the betrayal of trust, there are deeper emotional realities to be detected. Unless these deeper more hidden realities are identified by each of the individuals who were exploitative and reckless with the ‘widow’s mite’, there will be no emergence of external accountability. When these individuals fail to examine their professional behaviour and do not come to realise that their ‘unprofessional’ conduct mirrors a deeper dark reality of personal insecurity, they will continue to blatantly rationalise their actions. When individuals do not have a consciousness of unresolved inner turmoil, they are unconsciously and automatically in defence and this defensiveness manifests itself in denial. Denial is a very powerful unconscious defence and arises from deep personal insecurity. Unless the confused identity that lies at the heart of the neglect of others is resolved, no external accountability is possible. The most common confusions that exist are the confusion of one’s self and worth with such externals as power, wealth, status, success, prestige and work. Behind these projections lie fears of rejection and failure. Internal accountability is about becoming conscious of these inner unresolved conflicts and making new and mature responses to resolve them; when deep-seated and particularly when denial is present, professional psychotherapeutic help is required.

In terms of the prevention of the greed, avarice, bullying, depersonalisation, betrayal of trust and addictions to success, power, status and wealth that have haunted our society in recent years, it is vital that individuals who have positions of power – parental, political, educational, occupational, social, religious – be provided with the opportunities to closely examine their behaviour so that their inner turmoil is not projected onto others. In other words, personal development needs to be an integral part of professional development. The latter notion is not a benign issue but one that is critical to human well-being. Professional training courses need to incorporate examination of and deepening of personal maturity; too long it has been assumed that education and status equals personal maturity but the reality is that age, status, education, gender, wealth are no indices of maturity. What are indices of maturity are a solid sense of self that is not tied to anything outside of self and a separateness and independence in one’s relationship with others, work, creativity, wealth, productivity and success. Bill Gates believes that the greatest impediment to progress is success. However, it is deeper and more complex than that; the greatest impediment is a lack of regard for self, a lack of confidence in one’s intelligence beyond measure and the illusion that something outside self will resolve one’s inner turmoil. Internal accountability for our own insecurities is the sine qua non of accountability for the external actions that have so belied the trust that is inherent in professionalism.

Dr. Tony Humphreys practices as a clinical psychologist and is author of several books on practical psychology including Whose Life Are You Living?