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Accountability Time

January 16, 2022

I have served with several inner city feeding programs over the years, and while they all provide nutritious food for their hungry guests, they vary in the way they offer welcome, and the chance to dine with dignity. The self-image of the folks living on the street must be constantly undermined, all day long. No one wants to get to the point of having nowhere to live, no way to pay for meals, but it happens. 

One organization we worked with for a time took pride in serving over 300 people in two hours. Impressive, but that frantic pace meant food was hurriedly heaped on plates, salad and rolls balancing precariously on top of meat and vegetables. There wasn’t room to serve everyone in one seating, so halfway through, the first group had to gulp and go, to make way for the second shift. 

The most uncomfortable part of the evening was when the head of the organization took the mic and declared it “accountability time.” He would roam around the room, asking people point blank to tell the group what they had done to look for work that day. Over and over, I witnessed embarrassed men and women mumble excuses for not landing a job. Admittedly some of those excuses weren’t very plausible, but even those who were trying, were apparently not trying hard enough. “You filled out applications for two hours today? What did you do with the other six hours?” the host would demand. That was met by more mumbling, and staring down at feet. I do believe this mission means well, but I think here they really miss the mark.

So what is an appropriate way to ask for accountability, for ourselves and others?

I think relationships are at the heart of it. Back in school, while I would of course produce some work out of fear of the teacher’s wrath, I only blossomed (and turned in more and better work) when I liked and respected my instructors. We are most successfully accountable to those who truly care about us, and are invested in us. We want to make them, and ourselves, proud. And so we give our best effort. 

Aiden and Peter are reaching the ages when they are being held accountable--for their behavior, for their schoolwork. And they fall short of our expectations, sometimes, because they are still little guys. But their parents consistently show them such love and acceptance that they are blossoming. They like who they are, because they know they are cared for, and make good choices as a rule. 

We none of us know where life’s path will lead us. We are, all of us, just one streak of bad fortune away from eating meals at a soup kitchen. But there is a gift we can give each other, a life-saving gift. We can give one another respect. And from there, we can nurture the relationships that create accountability, naturally. That bring out the best, in all of us. 

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    I am an author (of four books, numerous plays, poetry and freelance articles,) a director (of Spiritual Formation at a Lutheran church,) and a producer (of five kids).

    I write about my hectic, funny, perfectly imperfect life.

    Please visit my website: www.eliseseyfried.com or email me at eliseseyf@gmail.com.

     

     

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