Responsibility and Accountability

We often use the terms responsibility and accountability interchangeably. I have reviewed several dictionaries in an effort to discover differences between the terms and have found there is little distinction made between them. Indeed, they are often given as synonyms. For our purposes though it is helpful to define a difference.

When we use the term responsibility we are referring to what actually occurs out there in the realm of the physical world as we can observe it. If there is an action and it has an effect, the action is responsible for the effect.

If I reach for the phone and spill my tea, I am responsible for spilling my tea. If I say, "I didn't spill the tea," I am refusing to be accountable.

Accountability is a condition that is created in the interior of our relationships. It is a quality of the inter-subjective space constructed by the assumptions and agreements which build relationships. If I acknowledge that I spilled the tea, then I am being accountable.

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