Narratives & Accountability

If a person intends to be truly fair, they don’t judge a situation only by one snapshot – even if that snapshot is the result of the situation.

This starts with little children fighting. If an adult steps in and wants to make peace without enquiring about what happened, this might stop the fight, but it won’t create peace. It will certainly not be just.
It would be important to know the roots of the conflict. Was it about jealousy? Was one child hurting the other child in one way or another? Who would be the winner if a situation was stopped at a certain time? How important is it to watch the conflict parties after the verdict is spoken?

If we look at the story in the Bible where Solomon spoke the verdict in the case of a dispute of two women claiming to be the mother of a child, truth came out when Solomon decided to cut the baby in half. Immediately, the true mother said that she would rather lose her child to the other woman than seeing it dead. Solomon recognised this reaction and returned the child to his mother. (See 1 Kings 3:16-28)

In other cases, there might be dishonesty and acting involved in claiming to be on the same level as the adversary – knowing exactly that any verdict that is conceived as “fair” from the outside will be a win for that party.
Again, a simple example. One child has done some household chores and was given chocolate as a reward. Another child tries to take it away from him. The first child defends his chocolate when an adult sees the fight that is going on. To stop the fight, the chocolate is split in two equal halfs. Each child gets the same amount. Is this justice? Is this fairness?

Moving on to situations that are not so obvious. High profile frauds, for example. The crux here is often in the communication and the processes. It is certainly no coincidence that the last few decades have seen many politicians and powerful people having close relations with media.

Criminal cases are named in a way that supports a certain narrative which then forms public opinion.
The current example in the USA where some journalists talk about the “Hush Money Case” and others about the “2016 Election Interference Case” shows how naming a case can focus on a snapshot (paying money) or on the intention behind the action (coverup for a higher goal).
Similar examples can be found in diverse areas of public life, including the many cases of cover-up of child sexual abuse. While the action can’t be undone, it has to be put in the wider context. If the coverup and its processes behind the scenes are not part of an abuse case, the narrative is reduced to a snapshot which then mis-forms the public opinion.

Pope Francis recognised the wider picture when he said in 2018 that he supported “implementing zero tolerance and ways of making all those who perpetrate or cover up these crimes accountable.”[1]

Sometimes, accountability takes a while. Sometimes, people give up on the way. However, giving up when it comes to justice means that the perpetrator wins and might continue with the same crimes.

The other day, a young man told me how he learned to stand up for his actions. When he was a child, he once did something wrong and quickly climbed a tree so that his father would not spank him. The father realised what was happening and told him that he wouldn’t escape accountability. The father sat down underneath the tree for hours ready for the boy to come down. Eventually, the boy came down, received his punishment but afterwards also a loving hug from his father.

Forgiveness is important, but it has to follow accountability and repentance.


[1] NBC Article