By Ray Arata | Founder of Better Man Conference | July 28, 2022

If you want to hold people accountable, you need to hold them.” – Anonymous

In Showing Up: How Men Can Become Effective Allies in the Workplace, I introduce the six principles of heart-based leadership, one of which is Accountability. It follows emotional literacy, vulnerability, authenticity, and inclusivity and is followed by LOVE. Love influences accountability; we need to love one another despite our mistakes. We need to love ourselves enough to forgive ourselves for our own transgressions and resolve to be better. We also need to step into the space of forgiving another.

I define Accountability in the following manner: To take full responsibility for one’s words, actions, and consequences, intended or not. The road to being an ally and inclusionary leader is fraught with challenges and one will make plenty of mistakes on the way. When cancel culture rears its ugly head, no misstep goes unnoticed or, in recent years, unpunished – especially when it comes to men. Some mistakes are egregious, some are minor; regardless, the cost can be too high a price for any man contemplating his own sense of accountability.

Four years ago, Morgan Spurlock, the once famous director of ‘Supersize Me ’ realized he was as fallible as the many famous or powerful men who had been called out for their behavior towards women. He wasn’t an innocent bystander and was part of the problem, so he sought to take accountability by owning up to his past indiscretions. The result? For all intents and purposes, he was canceled. His movie deals vanished and his once thriving production company was reduced to nearly nothing.

Spurlock’s attempt at atonement left no room for a way forward, not just for him but for other men as well: no forgiveness, no redemption. The unintended consequences? Many other men with varying degrees of indiscretions in their past took a cue from the situation and chose(and continue to choose) to remain silent. This current dynamic needs to change. In no way am I condoning Morgan’s behavior or making light of the impact that others experienced. Moreover, there are certainly men who consciously misuse and abuse their power and MUST be held accountable for the impact of their behavior. These men need to pay the consequences. But it is my belief that there is a large number of men who, if given the opportunity, would take responsibility for the impact of their behavior and language if they knew there was a way forward. In order for this to happen, there needs to be a roadmap for accountability, responsibility, learning, and forgiveness. As I have said many times, the road to allyship will invite mistakes. What is most important is what we do after having made a mistake. If men are aware that there is room for mistakes and a path forward, it can and will alleviate the fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. 

In my work with men as allies and inclusionary leaders, they often express a fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. But silence equals complicity and it is not the proper way for allies or leaders to behave. I teach men to feel the fear and to step into action as an ally, and when necessary, to take responsibility for the impact, their bias, and their unexamined privilege. I encourage them to be willing to be held accountable for their language and actions and the consequences others have experienced as a result of their language and/or actions.

In addition, I encourage men to forgive themselves and to resolve to be better by working on addressing their bias, privilege, and emotions, and reject the man box playbook. When I have spoken to individuals who herald from historically marginalized groups, they share with me that if a micro-aggressor takes responsibility for the harmful impact that they have caused, heartfully apologizes, and resolves to shed light on changing their outdated behavior, they are open to giving these allies and leaders another opportunity to forge a better relationship through their new actions and language.

In 2018, a man who I looked up to and learned from, who for decades had been a leader in the field of guiding men on how to do and be better, was accused by a former student of being homophobic, transphobic, and engaging in explicit sexual talk. The result? This man who was so admired by many was canceled. He lost everything. He was later vindicated, but the cost of the accusations, however baseless, was severe. 

Ever since that event, I have stayed in touch with this man and we have maintained our friendship. I was curious about what he had learned personally as a result of what happened. My hope was that there would be value for the Better Man audience to hear. He said, “If you are going to hold somebody accountable, you have to hold them.”

I took a moment to take that in and realized that what he had articulated was spot-on. Accountability requires love. We have to love somebody enough to hold them responsible to hold them accountable for their actions with the possibility that they can regain trust and connection and rejoin a community. This is the hero’s journey. This is what they write about in the movies. This is the fabric of what it means to be human; to fall from grace and to make your way back.

We need to illuminate a way forward that assures men that taking responsibility for their past words and actions yet do not lead to eternal castigation. I’m not suggesting men need to be coddled or handled with kid gloves, though I do think there is something to be said for holding one another. Just like when we were children and our parents asked us to fess up but still loved us in spite of being angry and perhaps punishing us to a degree commensurate with our behavior, we need to make space for mistakes – so long as people are willing to own them and commit to doing better.

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