04 April 2014


One of my dear old friends from college recently posted a link on Facebook to a weight-loss program that she had been following that had yielded excellent results. It's a virtual (i.e., totally online) program that one follows at one's own convenience, with e-mail support and guaranteed results. I thought that sounded good, so I looked up the website.

First of all, this particular program costs $100 a month - far out of my budget for a virtual weight loss program. (I could join the fanciest gym in the county AND enroll in Weight Watchers for less.) But more disturbingly, at least to me, the program publicly posts before-and-after pictures of its participants, in their underwear, identifying them by full name. Ugh, I thought; I don't want the entire internet to see me, overweight, in my underwear. Is nothing private anymore?

But the website touts this as an advantage of its program. Knowing that the world is following your progress, goes the reasoning, provides accountability. You won't want to fail if the whole world is going to see your failure.


I quit a weight-loss group on Facebook a couple of years ago after I discovered that, because it was an "open" group, everything I posted to the group page popped up in all my friends' news feeds. That's right. Everyone I know heard about every single workout and every calorie I consumed. Alarmed, I contacted the group administrator and asked her whether she would consider closing the group, so that only members could see the posts.

No, she responded. That would destroy an essential element of the group's success: accountability.

Since when do I have to be accountable to everyone I know for everything I do? Doesn't that put unreasonable pressure on a middle-aged working mom who is trying hard to keep other parts of her life running smoothly, on a daily basis, and might just want to lose a pound or twenty on the side?

I recently enrolled one of my daughters in a local SAT-tutoring program in my town. The kids attend a class once a week and then take home a practice test to complete during the week. Every Monday morning, the director of the program grades the practice tests and then e-mails the results - all the results, for all the kids - to all the parents. Thus, every week, tens of people I don't know are made privy to my daughter's results on her practice tests. Sometimes, she doesn't finish the tests because she needs help with them; on those occasions, a large ZERO under her name, highlighted in yellow, is e-mailed to all the parents.

I contacted the director of the program and asked why it was necessary for all the parents to see all the kids' scores on a weekly basis. Were the children not entitled to a little privacy as they learned?

Guess how she responded.

Accountability. Making everyone's scores available to everyone, she told me, promotes a "healthy sense of competition" that gives her program improved results.

I am completely uncomfortable with that. In choosing to enroll my daughter in a tutoring program, I was looking for gentle, encouraging help, not competition and public embarrassment. I looked around on the internet for a site where I could post a nasty review, to alert other parents to this feature of the program, but I couldn't find any way to give feedback in a public forum. It seems to me that the program needs to be made publicly accountable for its policies, don't you think?

We are all accountable to ourselves for our own actions, our shortcomings, and for our failure to make an effort when effort is required. We are also, on occasion, accountable to our families for our decisions, and to others whom we have wronged over the course of our complicated maneuverings through our lives. But I do not understand why I need to be accountable to the entire world for my appearance, or why my daughter needs to be accountable to people she does not know for her practice SAT scores. I think, at least in these two instances, the concept of accountability has been taken too far and has crossed the line into dangerous territory: motivation by threat of public humiliation. Do you agree?


Debra Rutt said...

I totally agree with you. This claim of accountability isn't really accountability - it's to scare people that if they are not perfect, they will fail. The only "people" I'm accountable to are my family and God. At work, I'm accountable for the actual work I generate and I keep my own values in check as I do that work.

Deb Lecos said...

It reminds me of the era when a scarlet letter was smacked on a "bad girls" chest. You'd think as a culture we'd move past humiliation as a motivator. Unfortunately it's so entrenched people actually ask for an ample serving or parade themselves on the internet. Blegggh. I'd rather learn how to inspire myself rather than show my ass in public as a cattle prod.

hbksloss said...

I agree with you. Accountability is about moving forward and accomplishing a goal. Certainly not at all about shaming anyone!