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WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU GET REAL, GET HONEST, AND GET ACCOUNTABLE
By CRAIG GROSS, ADAM PALMER
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Craig William Gross a/k/a Craig Gross
All rights reserved.
ACCOUNTABILITY IS GOOD
It was a brisk morning in September 2011 when about a thousand people descended on Zuccotti Park in the Wall Street area of New York City. They came together to protest the ever-widening gap between who is considered rich and who is considered poor in the United States. Fed by the fires of social media and the general outrage of the average American, the gathering took on the name Occupy Wall Street and blazed into a full-on protest with thousands of participants.
If you want to know how the world feels about something, you turn to Twitter, where news breaks fast and where activist cries get picked up and repeated. At any given moment, the social media network sparks to life with quick-fire conversations about news as meaningful as the death of Osama bin Laden or as banal as the latest Justin Bieber video. Usually the most newsworthy items float to the top, however, and a movement like Occupy Wall Street was destined to do just that.
For those not familiar with the Twitterverse, one of the user-created functions is called the "hashtag." You create a hashtag by putting the hash mark (also known as the pound sign, "#") in front of a word or set of initials. Someone else sees the hashtag and starts using it. The more people who use a specific hashtag, the more popular the topic attached to that hashtag becomes.
The Occupy Wall Street protestors immediately began using the hashtag "#OWS," increasing the publicity of their movement and initiating a global response. Within a few weeks, similar protests began forming in cities across the United States and then across the world, and "#OWS" became one of the most popular hashtags on Twitter, being used once in about every five hundred hashtags. (For context, Twitter has about 175 million registered users, though many of those are people who don't necessarily make the most of the service.)
Now, whether you agree with the Occupy Wall Street movement or not, it is impossible to ignore that it became a worldwide symbol, a judgment on the rampant and unchecked greed in our financial system.
In other words, at its core, it was a call for accountability. I'm just glad there was no Occupy Craig's Front Lawn in protest of all my misdeeds. But even if that ever happens, we should all be held accountable.
With alarming frequency, we get news story after news story where someone in a position of power—say, some tyrannical dictator, toothy politician, or cynically underachieving CEO—abuses that power for his or her own good. And inevitably, as was the case with the Occupy Wall Street movement, the response is a clarion call from the media or from random people on the street that such a person be "held accountable" for the wrongdoing.
They oppressed or massacred thousands of people? They should be held accountable.
They bilked taxpayers out of millions of dollars? They should be held accountable.
They knowingly sold faulty mortgages destined for collapse in order to line their own pockets? They should be held accountable.
Obviously, such examples are legion, and in each case, I couldn't agree more—people who willfully hurt others for their own personal gain should be held accountable. That goes without saying.
But I suggest we take it further: we should all be held accountable.
Because accountability is a good thing.
Isn't Accountability a Little "Big Brother"?
I travel a lot talking about pornography, specifically Internet pornography, and the detrimental effects it has on people—both the people who use pornography and the people who make it. And because I talk about it a lot, I also wind up talking about the need for accountability on the Internet.
If you have a problem with—and by "problem with" I mean "insatiable, life-derailing thirst for"—pornography, one of the best ways you can help yourself manage that problem is by inviting someone else into it. Not to share the problem with you and get themselves addicted, but to keep tabs on you. As I mentioned in the introduction, a few years ago our ministry created free accountability software called x3Watch to help you do just that—you install it on your computer or your smartphone or your Internet-enabled music player and set it up so someone you trust, like your spouse or good friend (or both), can see a record of your online activity.
The mere knowledge that someone else will be seeing where you go online—will be virtually looking over your shoulder as you browse the Internet—is a huge deterrent to leaping down the rabbit hole of porn. It just works.
But whenever I talk about Internet accountability, inevitably I run up against this charge: "Isn't that a little too 'Big Brother'?"
And it isn't just from regular opinionated Joes on the street either—I heard this phrase directly out of the mouth of none other than Dr. Phil himself. He had a couple on his show who uses x3Watch, and as they were describing it to him, he asked that exact question, invoking the terrifying term Big Brother. That phrase is on the lips of a lot of people who don't understand accountability—maybe even yours. Maybe you think, Accountability? Isn't that a little "Big Brother"?
You know what? In a lot of cases, the answer is yes.
What is Accountability?
Before we go any further, we should probably push Pause for a moment and talk about what exactly I mean when I use the word accountability. There are a good number of possible definitions you could have in mind, so let's establish our definition while we're still in the early goings of this book.
When I say we all need to "get accountable," I mean we need to live our lives out in the open, simply and easily, with no fine print or legal jargon.
Perhaps you hear me tell you to get accountable and you think that just like corporate finances should have an overseer to help eliminate funny business or an out-of-control dictator is held in check by the United Nations Security Council, accountability provides you with an outside source of authority to help keep your life in line.
However, those are imperfect analogies, because those are more like policing people or installing a bunch of rules to follow.
That's not what I'm talking about.
We'll get into this more later, but the kind of accountability I mean isn't a police force or even a strict teacher who threatens to crack your knuckles with a ruler if you step out of line. What I'm talking about is a deep relationship, a support system.
Think about diving. Not like diving off a board and into a swimming pool, but diving into the ocean to explore. Now think about how far you can get if you just hold your breath. Even if you're a champion breath-holder, you can only give yourself a few minutes underwater before you have to come up for air. That means you have to stay pretty near the surface, doesn't it?
So on your own, you can't go very far.
Now think of accountability not as a policeman who tells you to get out of the water or as a boundary line that barricades where you can go, but as the scuba apparatus you wear on your back. It's the air you breathe underwater, allowing you to go farther and deeper and explore more than you ever would be able to on your own.
That's what I mean by accountability. It's a support system.
But all metaphors and analogies ultimately break down, and such is the case with this one. I don't want you to think of yourself as all alone down under the water, in the big, cold, lonely ocean, with no one around but a few schools of fish and the occasional life-threatening shark.
How about this? What if, instead of imagining yourself diving in the ocean with your own scuba gear strapped to your back, you picture yourself down there with a close friend, a relative, or your spouse? Now that you have that picture in your mind, imagine that the people diving with you are the ones with the air tanks strapped to their backs, and anytime you need a puff of air, they offer you their mouthpiece and let you breathe in that life-giving oxygen.
In other words, without that person or those people around you, you would drown.
One more example, and this time I'll borrow a classic word picture about heaven and hell. The story goes that some fellow was given glimpses of the afterlife. The first stop was hell, where, instead of a lake of fire and poor souls being tormented by red underwear-clad demons with pitchforks, our observer saw a lush banquet table, full of delicious and appetizing foods of all kinds. It was a long, straight table, with chairs on either side, and seated in those chairs were all the people who'd been sent to hell. The obvious intent was that they were to eat their fill.
However, there was a catch. The food could only be eaten with the silverware provided—no hands or face-plants like you see in pie-eating contests at fairs. Ordinarily, this would not be a problem, right? Just pick up your knife and fork and go to town. Except the forks and knives and spoons all had extremely long handles, making it impossible for the banquet participants to feed themselves. Their arms were not long enough, and no matter how much they twisted and turned and contorted their necks and heads, they couldn't get the food into their mouths.
Anticipation quickly turned to frustration, and frustration was followed by anger as all these revelers in hell had to deal with squashed hopes and the realization that food and satisfaction would always be out of reach for them. Forever.
Then our observer was transported to heaven, and you know what he saw there?
The exact same setup.
Same table, same food, same chairs, same forks, same knives, same spoons.
Everything was the same, with one small, crucial, critical difference: everyone was feeding the person across from them.
Instead of being focused on themselves and finding frustration at the ends of their eating utensils, the people in heaven were focused on those around them and, in meeting the needs of others, found their own needs met. They were taking turns and taking care of one another.
When I talk about accountability, that's the mind-set I'm talking about.
What's Wrong with That?
Now that we're moving forward with a clearer idea of this concept of accountability, let me add a little bit to our previous discussion about accountability seeming to be like "Big Brother." I'll answer that question by asking another one: what, exactly, is wrong with letting someone else—someone you love and trust—know what you're doing and where you're going? I'm not talking about the kind of accountability that gets its own hashtag and is broadcast to the world, or the kind of accountability that is performed by some shadow government lurking in the dark corners of your web browser. I'm talking about letting in someone who has a vested interest in seeing you live the full, honest life you want to live. I'm talking about incorporating an accountability partner into your world to help keep you pointed in the right direction.
That's a great thing!
Accountability has nothing to do with exposing all your privacy to the entire world. In fact, it's the other way around. When you get accountable, you let just a few people into your personal world, and then you have the opportunity to be as open with everyone else as you care to be.
By the way, I hate to spoil this for you if you don't already know, but nothing you do on the Internet is private. Your computer's network card has a unique number assigned to it, your Internet connection has a unique address, and everything you do very well may be logged and cataloged by the company that provides your online access. If you visit a website, the owner of that website can find out your physical location, exactly what time you visited, how long you spent at the site, and all the different pages you went to on that site. If you clicked a link to get to their page, they know where that link was located, and if you clicked a link to leave their page, they know where you went.
Just so you know: plenty of people, almost all of them complete and total strangers, know what you're doing online. And if that's the case, what's wrong with opening up your online world a bit and letting a couple more people into the loop? Except these aren't anonymous people on the other side of your computer; these are people you know, love, and trust. How can that possibly be bad?
But this whole topic covers so much more territory than just the Internet and is about far, far more than pornography. That's a starting point, but it isn't the whole point. The whole point is this: if accountability works online, it will work even better in the real world.
Accountability isn't about embracing Big Brother—it's about seeking a holistic life, removing the boundaries of compartmentalization, and engaging every part of your lifestyle with every available part of the world around you. You may not struggle with pornography in the slightest, but I know you have some sort of weight that holds you down, something in your life you wish could be either removed or improved, and accountability will only assist you in that goal.
How does it help? You may be surprised.
My Road to Accountability
My own experience with accountability started in my teenage years, the summer after my sophomore year in high school, when my youth pastor, Tom, sought me out and asked me if I wanted to start meeting with him at McDonald's before school on Wednesdays. I initially balked at the six o'clock meeting time—any time before noon is early for an adolescent male—but after thinking it through I began to see how this could be beneficial for me and agreed.
See, as an outgoing, fun-loving fellow, I had plenty of friends at the time, but they were just pals and acquaintances, the types of guys I could talk about girls with or go see a movie with or just hang out with. Do all those normal teenage shenanigans with.
What I was lacking was a person I could really open up to. But not only that—I was also lacking the ability to open up. I didn't know how to do it or how to even go about doing it, and sometimes I didn't even know I needed to do it.
Then Tom came along with this opportunity to start meeting with him. I took him up on his offer, and not long after that, we started our weekly meetings under the golden arches. Finally, at long last, I had a person in my life I felt I could share real stuff with—stuff about my faith, about my doubts and fears, about my dreams for life and what those looked like. About the struggles and temptations I had as I stepped into adulthood, and how well or poorly I wrestled with those struggles and temptations.
Even better, though, was that I now had the opportunity to listen as Tom shared with me some of the challenges he had in his own life. Maybe it sounds weird, but I didn't feel like he was unloading on me or using me as an ear to vent into—he was just trusting me with a small part of his inner world, a part that I was old enough and mature enough to hear about. He was showing me the flip side of accountability—it's not all about talking; it's just as much about listening.
There I was, a teenage kid, awed and amazed at Tom's ability to listen to me as I poured out my heart and his willingness to share a little bit of his heart with me. I couldn't believe it. I had mistakenly thought adults had it all together. You can imagine the paradigm shift I underwent the first time I heard Tom talk about some of the challenges he faced in his own life. Here was a guy who had progressed much further in life than I had, who had his career and life plan figured out, and he still had struggles.
It was liberating.
From Accountability Partners to Group
Tom and I continued to meet together, one-on-one, through my entire junior year. The following summer, though, he suggested an addition, mentioning the possibility of bringing in my friend Jake and turning our weekly meeting into a full-fledged accountability group. Jake and I knew each other really well, and though we'd had some deep talks before, we'd never dived as deeply into each other's stuff as we probably should have or could have. But now we had a great opportunity to be intentional about just that—all our normal small talk and goofing around could come at another time; now we had a guaranteed hour, once a week, to get down to business.
Senior year began, and Tom started mentoring Jake and me in how to keep each other accountable. He taught us what accountability should look like. He taught us about treating each other's struggles with love, respect, and grace.
He taught us that accountability is not about sitting across from someone as a judge, but about sitting next to him as an advocate.
And you know what? It worked. Jake and I graduated and went on to college. We became roommates. We eventually got into ministry together. We met a couple of girls, fell in love with them, and then married them and started our own families.
Tom was in both our wedding parties.
And now, twenty years later, Jake and I are still doing this, still hanging out once a week (though now on the phone) and getting into each other's worlds. We've been at it for twenty years, and our lives have been irrevocably changed for the better because of it.
Accountability is not easy, and it doesn't come naturally. But in the long run it's incredibly necessary, and when you do it right, it's nothing but good.
The Benefits of Accountability
There are far more benefits to accountability than we can list here. But one of the greatest benefits that comes from being accountable is the ability to live a life unencumbered by many of the unnecessary weights we add to it.
We come into this world with nothing in the way of material things—just our own skin and internal organs and the factors of the environment we are born into. A mom and a dad, or just one of them, or none. Brothers and sisters, or just a brother and a sister, or just one of them, or none. A lot of money, or a middle-class upbringing, or extreme poverty.
You get the idea. There are many intangible factors that contribute to who we are and who we become. And as we get older and more mature, we tend to start adding things to our lives to help us deal with those contributing factors. Maybe you grew up without money, so you add an unhealthy pursuit of material wealth in adulthood. Or maybe the converse is true; maybe you grew up wanting for nothing, and as a result you have experienced a form of emptiness and have since rejected material wealth, adding simplicity to your worldview.
Excerpted from Open by CRAIG GROSS, ADAM PALMER. Copyright © 2013 Craig William Gross a/k/a Craig Gross. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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