A friend said to me, ‘Being accountable to yourself is like herding cats’. Not having ever attempted to herd cats, I didn’t know what he meant, and imagined myself on the steppes of ancient Spain herding cats, gathering my drifting kittens with a miniature crook with a hot-pink-fuzz-ball hanging from the end of it, not unlike a modern cat toy. My friend snapped his fingers, waking me from my fantasy, and told me what he meant: Being accountable to yourself is hard, nearly impossible.
I can see how it’s true, for me at least. Almost always, I’m lenient with myself. For example, if I say to myself that I’m going to clean the toilet by week’s end, and it’s Sunday and I don’t have bleach or brush or inclination to get on my knees and scrub, I’ll say to myself, It’s OK. Do it next week. Besides, you live alone. If you’re OK with a dirty toilet, I’m OK.
On the other hand, if I had a roommate, I would be much more inclined to clean it. Because if I didn’t, they would make a hullabaloo, either by direct confrontation or by passiv-aggresiv methods such as buying bleach and setting it on the tank, and then asking innocently if I did my weekend chores, yet.
Basically, we will be much more flexible with ourselves than we will if others are involved. I will bend over backwards for myself, accommodating excuses, alibis and rationalizations like I’m the 4 Seasons of Enablement. I’ll let a hideously stained toilet be hideously stained. One and only one thing will prompt me to act. Company. The threat of company using my disgusting toilet makes me feel ashamed. Alone, there is no shame. Or not as much. Hence, being accountable to only yourself is as hard as herding cats.
Of course, there are instances of prodigious self-discipline. But then the question is: what aren’t you doing? You may be head of the neighborhood council, the most active employee at work; your home and lawn may look immaculate, the ledger on your budget may be as balanced as a Soviet gymnast, and yet- you’re still avoiding whatever it is you’re afraid to do. This much-feared task might be easier and less significant than all the other stuff you’re doing, and yet: you resist and it persists. I find when I’m “being hard on myself”, I’m actually compensating for not doing whatever it is I’m supposed to do, which is usually not all that impossible, just unpleasant.
No, I need other people. I need to tell somebody, ‘My toilet is stained yellow. The inside of the upper rim is unmentionable. I’m gonna clean it this week, I swear!’
Now, if they’re a good friend, they’ll hold me accountable. And later that week when they ask me if I did the thing I said I was going to do, either I’ll say Yes thanks for Following Up, or No but I Swear I’ll do it Tomorrow or, admittedly, Why don’t you mind your own Fucking Business! (Sigh).
Of course, the ‘toilet’ we’re discussing is a metaphor for any shitty situation we’re avoiding. I’m speaking from experience. I practice evasion like a cat purrs. It’s easy, since I tend to live alone (with my problems). Practically the only way I can stop hiding and start cleaning life’s toilets is to invite people inside my head, have company, share problems with other people and become accountable to them. It’s like herding sheep, which we can imagine is much easier than herding cats.
But really, I do have to clean my toilet. This week I swear.
PS- extending this to relationships, it seems the ideal partner would want the toilet just a little cleaner than you do.