Many definitions and concepts change over time, depending upon the variables present with each the situation. The understanding of accountability is one of those very words that can invoke a myriad different thoughts, feelings, responsibilities and defenses, yet it is something that is prominent in so many personal and spiritual paths.
Of course various spiritual paths have differing definitions for such concepts, as definitions change and adapt to the culture of the specific religious community.Within the general Pagan community it appears that accountability has many varied definitions based on tradition; each path frames its role very differently within their own spiritual framework. There are often general discussions of agreement concerning the accountability to gods and spirits, but the same level of universal importance isn’t shown when it comes to the ancestors, physical communities, politics, or interpersonal relationships.
As intersectional threads are woven into our communities, variables of accountability start to shift and shape to the many different hues of our connections.
Therefore something that would otherwise appear to be a simple concept of integrity and responsibility starts to take shape very differently based on the characteristics of the community itself. And while we tend to be more in tune with our individual accounts of what we think personal accountability should look like, community accountability seems to be such a vast and vague concept that we have yet to really start those conversations within the Pagan community in general.
There are some very important lessons we can learn from the mundane structures of organizational accountability processes, especially in our time of evaluating how to best be a community and serve that very same community.
First let’s take a look at personal accountability and how that feeds into a larger ideal of community within Paganism.
In the Forbes article Personal Accountability and the Pursuit of Workplace Happiness, the writer defines personal accountability in an expansive way that can be relevant for different people. “Personal accountability is the belief that you are fully responsible for your own actions and consequences. It’s a choice, a mindset and an expression of integrity. Some individuals exhibit it more than others, but it can and should be learned as it is not only the foundation for a successful life, but also a prerequisite for happiness.”
As many different traditions and paths have ethical guidelines that support a spiritual view of integrity, this appears to match to what many Pagans connect. Some paths choose to embrace ethics within their practices, like with the Wiccan rede, laws of Ma’at, Mos Maiorum, or other such systems of guidelines, and others have a less formal construct of engaging with Western concepts of what is considered morality.
With the ongoing challenge of coalition building within the Pagan community and within society at large, coming to shared agreements on concepts such as accountability as a larger community can seem quite impossible. Whether that is the direction we should be going or not is one that can be debated, but the potential impact of such conversations around accountability have a place in our ongoing work together.
After attending a recent training with Dr. Melanie Tervalon, I began to look at the work of cultural humility as a marker for how we engage concepts of community accountability beyond the dichotomous framework of “right and wrong.” Tervalon is a renowned speaker, physician, educator and community activist. As the co-founder of the multicultural curriculum program at Children’s Hospital Oakland, she co-created a curriculum that would become the basis for cultural humility training around the world.
The phrase “cultural humility” came from her work in developing a system of accountability to expanding our capacity to navigate relational interactions and systemic structures. While her work was pioneered during her time as a physician at Children’s Hospital in Oakland, California, the program has gone on to become the foundational work from which we build on to understand the intersections of culture, relationship, accountability, and self-evaluation.
The three dimensions of cultural humility include: lifelong learning and critical self reflection, recognize and challenge power imbalance, institutional accountability.
What immediately impacted me upon exploring the correlation between Tervalon’s work and the continuous need for accountability in society was institutional accountability being at the forefront of how we engage in the practice of humility. Personal accountability and critical self reflection is not enough in isolation without exploring power imbalances as it relates to accountability.I reached out to several community members to explore what community accountability meant to them and how they relate accountability to wellness within the Pagan community.
Community accountability is teaching what is right, doing your best to follow what you teach, and accepting where you have gone astray. We all teach, even when we aren’t in a leadership position, because we all have something to offer, and we all stumble. Accountability comes in accepting our flaws, doing what we can to fix whatever errors we’ve made, and making amends, apologizing, whatever is necessary to ease that situation, even if it can’t be returned to where it was.
I feel like we’re always growing in our interpersonal relationships. And as community we should be focused on building strong relationships, even with those who we may not immediately gravitate towards having a friendship. Looking out for each other‘s wellness becomes, I think, a part of the entire community; particularly for those we have stronger relationships with.
Accountability comes in how we speak about each other and the differences among us. Are we staying true to the ideals and philosophies we espouse when we see a community member becoming unwell? Are we reaching out and trying to help/aid/ally ourselves specific to the situation? If a person has become unwell, how is it impacting the community? I think this is the space where much growth should take place.
I think checking in, challenging thought processes, making sure physical health is being attended to, mental health is being attended to; these are all areas for growth. I miss having this in a community. — Traci
I believe each member of the community is responsible for the health and well-being of the community as a whole. As the community is only as strong as its individual members, if we aim to grow and maintain strong community, we must support those individuals who are marginalized and vulnerable. When we ignore bigotry and abuse, we become complicit in these behaviors, and allow them to undermine community well-being.
This also can impact the community’s standing in society at large, as harmful behavior of individuals is often construed to be representative of certain communities.
I believe that we can grow further, by increasing our insistence on intersectionality. For example, there are so many in the Pagan community who are on board with pushing back against misogyny and racism, but still make excuses for those who advocate transphobia.
I would also suggest we put more effort into reframing social justice and other issues impacting wellness as integral to spiritual practice. Many consider these topics to be merely “political issues,” and separate from the Mind-Body-Spirit connection. — Maeryn
Community accountability to me is being able to hold people within that community accountable for their actions, so for example, it would be if someone in the community was using the spiritual path to commit fraud or sexual abuse. Holding those people accountable to the damage that they can do to the perception of the spiritual path and also the mental processes of people around them is what is very important not only in a community but in our individual lives as well. People who allow things to slide when it can potentially hurt a lot of people or even if it has potential to hurt themselves are not self aware of their own actions and can be very potentially dangerous for themselves and people around them.
Honestly, you can always start small and grow the potential of helping others to be accountable. So starting on a small scale we could offer workshops or just general check-ins with your local Pagan community. There should be systems in place where people can go seek help that they need. For example, sometimes a lot of people don’t understand that their wellness has a lot to do with their mental state so being able to assess that and help with that I believe should be important within the Pagan community.
Also not with just mental wellness but, in general, health and financial wellness should be workshops offered within the Pagan community. I do know that some areas do offer things like that but they’re not widely and readily available for many pagans. I also believe that helping Pagan understand warning signs for different things can be life-saving. Having local Pagan communities post links for different resources can also help. Accountability starts with us as individuals. — Jara Lamont
There many reasons that the conversations concerning accountability have made their way to the forefront of Pagan circles again. It appears that these conversations become more prominent as incidents happen that skirt the grey areas around around legalities, infringement of the personal rights of others and protection of vulnerable populations, and just as any community is a microcosm of greater society, as movements find their way into our larger conversations they will often be reflected in our smaller communities as well.
We have seen this most recently with the way that the Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and trans rights conversations have also been topics of discussion within Pagan conventions and the interwebs.
Leadership within the Pagan community is another area that often sees conversation about the need for accountability and what it means to expect such things within our small, interconnected groups. Without a central body, institutional or organizational structure, conversations are often left dependent on the context of individuals involved, various structures, and subjective views on just how accountability might be applied to situations.
In Tervalon’s work, institutional accountability often means asking the hard questions involving our responsibility as a community to hold space for healthy, supportive, and humble engagement.
What does community accountability look like when violations happen? How do we engage people in measures to address unethical behavior, including abuse of power, sexual misconduct, financial abuse, racism, transphobia, physical or emotional abuses? Such abuses cause direct and indirect harm to individuals and the community at large.
Exploring the various processes that would be helpful to such our community could essentially be a part of the responsibility of this generation and our leadership. How can we build resources that allow us to support situations that need intervention in order to address them? Having resources for consent training, restorative justice, conflict mediation, cultural humility, and other such areas of need could be one of the major pieces in developing a sustainable and healthy community.
How can we remain restorative in our approach to one another’s wellness while also holding boundaries that keep others safe and whole?
Ignoring such things is not the right avenue to creating sustainable and safe places within our Pagan circles, groves and communities. In the aftermath of numerous Pagan community and larger society challenges that have contributed to individual and community harm, it just might be the time that we start moving toward an understanding of exactly what community accountability could look like.