a terrible epiphany and recognizing my failure to accountable
March 2, 2016
So…. I just wrote this post about rethinking community. And in writing the post I came to an uncomfortable realization. Something I’m not particularly happy about but need to face head on anyway.
One of the main things in that post was about how contemporary ideological movements/communities tend to disavow structure, which just ends up in the leaders of the community not being formally recognized, rather than there being no leaders at all. And without the formal recognition of leadership, it becomes very very easy to dodge accountability for what you do as a leader.
If I can recognize that activism has a reputational economy and that reputation is connected to prestige. Prestige: “the sharing of expertise or know-how to gain respect” is connected to social status: “social rank, which we conceptualized as the acquisition of (a) perceived influence over others (Study 1), (b) actual influence over others’ behaviors (Study 1), and (c) others visual attention”1.
If I can recognize this, then I also need to be more honest about my social rank and/or social status. As much as I can disavow communities ties and claim that I’m not a part of any of them, this doesn’t really make a difference for how other people perceive my influence within the types of communities that I regularly talk about. Its sort of a trap of identity-based communities. While I do nothing active to participate in teh ~trans community~, this doesn’t change the fact that most people will consider me to be a member of it – regardless of my direct involvement. Who I am determines my membership, not what I do.
As such, regardless of my intention or desires, I do have some kind of social rank within teh ~trans community~ (amongst others). As a result, people either perceive me as being influential or, in reality, I am influential. If I want to be honest, I have to recognize that both things are true. People do perceive me as influential and I am, in actuality, influential.
And this influence isn’t about how many followers I have, since I don’t have that many relative to other ‘leaders’2. But I cannot deny (and neither do others) that my ideas are influential and they spread far and wide. I mean… I’ve noted how certain concepts and frameworks that I’m well-known for have been showing up in places – without credit or citation. That people who don’t even like me use some of my ideas within their theorizing.
Despite my… internal disgust with conceptualizing myself as a ‘leader’ (most likely a ‘thought leader’?), it is (and has been) disingenuous for me to deny this reality.
This unwillingness to recognize and accept this reality has also meant that I haven’t been accountable in the ways that ‘leaders’ ought to be accountable. What I write has consequences that reach much farther than I’ve been willing to acknowledge. Some of these consequences are good. But some are bad.
Either way… I need to make myself more open and accountable and responsive to criticism. Leaders, formally recognized or not, are accountable to their communities. We should be. We are.
God. I know I’m really onto something important here because I cannot express how deeply uncomfortable writing all of this is for me. So much of me wants to… abstract this problem and distance it from myself. Which of course is exactly the problem.
I’m not quite sure how to move forward with this new realization. I think the first step, for me, is that – regardless of how tedious and annoying I find it – I need to begin responding to criticism I see of my ideas and posts. Responding in good faith, even if they critiques aren’t in good faith. Additionally… I do think it’ll be imperative for me, going forward, to be much more open to explaining myself.
In general, people should expect to see me engage with people in a very different way than I’ve been doing for the past few years.
As a sidenote: I’m not talking just about accountability in the sense of me doing harmful things (ie, callouts). I’ve already mentioned that I don’t intend on defending myself against any of these types of things. But there is more to accountability than just performing contrition. One of the things I personally think that matters for accountable leadership is transparency. And this is definitely one area that I’ve been dodging. There are others. I’ll keep thinking on this problem and figuring out a way to navigate it.
In any case, its time for me to stop pretending like this isn’t a real thing. Because it is. And my accountability dodging has been contributing to the exact kind of community dynamics that I’ve been criticizing.