What Happens When We Mess Up? On Apology and Accountability (#WhatsGoodMan Episode 7)

True accountability is not only apologizing, understanding the impacts your actions have caused on yourself and others, making amends or reparations to the harmed parties; but most importantly, true accountability is changing your behavior so that the harm, violence, abuse does not happen again.
-Mia Mingus (who is not IN this episode, but is quoted; more here)

As we approach the end of our first season, this episode is about diving into what accountability means, especially in practice, in real-life situations. That’s a huge subject, of course, and touches on issues like apology, restorative justice, transformative justice, “cancel culture” and a million other things. One episode isn’t really enough to cover all that, but we hope it’s at least a step on a longer journey.

Here are a few of the resources we mention in this episode:

Huge thanks to our guest as well, Russel Balenger of the Circle of Peace Movement (TCOPM)!

As always, if you like it, please subscribe (on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, all the usual platforms). If you really like it, please feel free to leave a review, and spread the word- share a favorite quote, or ask a question, or just share the link; we’ll be using the hashtag #WhatsGoodMan on Twitter and IG. Find our previous episodes here.

Finally, a quick reminder: we’ve created a gallery of all the quote images we’ve shared on social media; feel free to share them too!

Here’s the transcript:

“What’s Good, Man?” Episode Seven: What Happens When We Mess Up?

tony: What happens when we mess up?

Kyle: OR: What happens when we fuck up?

Welcome to “What’s Good, Man,” an ongoing, open conversation about men, masculinity and culture.

tony: We are your hosts. I’m tony the scribe, a writer, rapper and activist in Minneapolis, MN.

Kyle: And I’m Kyle Tran Myhre, also known as Guante; I’m also a writer, rapper and activist in Minneapolis, MN. We start every episode with three notes. First, this show is about masculinity, but it’s for anyone interested in that topic: cis men, trans men, people who don’t identify as men but have some kind of relationship with masculinity, and beyond.

tony: Second, this show exists because we listened to people, especially women, in our lives who told us that men need to speak up more about these issues, especially with other men. But we also know that “men speaking up more” isn’t always the answer. So we’re going to try and strike a balance, and be intentional about what stories are ours to tell, what topics we want to address, and how we want to address them.

Kyle: Finally, we’re not experts. We’re just rappers. We both have experience as organizers and educators around these issues, but we don’t have all the answers. We’re here to work through this stuff with you. Because we still have a long way to go. So let’s get into it. What’s good, man?

Tony: All right. So jumping in, we’ve got a long show ahead of us today. So what’s your strong/weak? What you’ve got going on? 

Kyle: Haha don’t tell people we have a long show ahead of us. It’s gonna be a great show. It’s going to be super engaging. It’s not fun, it’s not entertaining, but it’ll be very engaging. 

Tony: It’ll be fun and entertaining, but I’m still nervous.

Kyle: So strong/weak. So yeah my voice is a little messed up, but I think that’s more part of the strong than the weak. Just had a whole day of facilitating workshops and performing at Cristo Rey High School here in Minneapolis. We were actually talking with a bunch of high schoolers around Hip Hop history. 

Tony: Oh hell yeah.

Kyle: What is your earliest memory of Hip Hop? What are you listening to right now? And trying to connect some dots between where they’re at now; with their earliest memory was usually like, you know, Biggie and Tupac. Yeah. And then going back further, like, do you remember MC Hammer? Do you remember Run DMC? And then going all the way, all the way, all the way back.

Tony: That’s pretty old school for a bunch of high schoolers now, though, that they know 2pac? 

Kyle: Yeah it’s a really cool kind of timeline activity. But anyways. And then had a gig the same night. So it messed up my voice pretty bad. But it kind of feels good. You know, it feels like in this world of ours as artists, it feels like I’ve paid my dues and my body is paying the price now. It’s such a masculine way of looking at work and worth. But like, that’s like where my brain is at. And then for my weak, I guess, we’re recording this at a time of the year that is very, very busy. And, you know, busyness, in and of itself, I think isn’t good or bad; it can be stressful. It can be fun. But I think the issue is that I have bigger, long term projects and I can see them like, floating above my head in little bubbles, but I can’t reach them, ‘cause I got just everything happening day to day, hour to hour, every single day. And I have not learned yet in my life how to figure that out, how to balance that.

Tony: Well, you probably can’t, right? Like, it’s probably not like a thing that can be figured out exactly.

Kyle: I’m just trying to the level up. I’m trying to hit that stage in the game where it’s like, bloop, bloop, bloop, and I get to put a point into “long term planning.” 

Tony: Yeah that makes sense.

Kyle: How about you?

Tony: My strong is martial arts this week. So I got in a car accident a little while ago and my shoulder has been pretty messed up since then. And that was really bumming me out, particularly because martial arts is such an important practice of mine on a day to day basis. So this week, I finally felt like, totally back to normal. And I got to do some forms. And I went in and did some sparring. And that felt really good. I think a break… I was fighting one of my friends and he said that a break looks good on me. And that makes me feel really good. And it’s true. Like, sometimes you take some time away from something and you come back to it and you’re just kind of better, right? Like your subconscious has been doing the work while your consciousness wasn’t. And that’s super tight. So I’m feeling that martial arts super hard right now. 

My weak is probably just that I saw Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite and that shit was deeply, deeply disturbing. It was really good, right? But like, man, it just set my body into an anxiety spiral and like the first half of the movie is like super chill in comparison. But like the whole time, there’s just this deep atmosphere of dread. And so, there’s something there about just my body was like, this isn’t right. Like, I know he’s gonna go somewhere with this that I’m not expecting. And then sure enough, he does. And so the last half of the movie is just like adrenaline spiking the whole time, which is really great. But then I like went home and was like freaking out and super anxious. So I had to like pop some CBD gummies, brew some chamomile, and just like, chill out. And I did. So that feels good. Like, I was able to talk myself off the ledge, proverbially speaking. But it was still a lot.

Kyle: So to be able to have the kind of critical self-reflection to know where those feelings are coming from, even from media… it’s so easy to be watching something like “whatever it’s just a movie or TV show.” But like to be physically affected by something… Again, like for you, it’s cool that you recognize that. But also in terms of being artists, it’s like: how can you create something that has a physical impact on people? And that can be a good thing or a bad thing. Even driving here, you know, I was listening to Aesop Rock’s The Impossible Kid, and had to turn it off because I was worried I was gonna get into a car accident ‘cause I was like, zoning out on the lyrics. That’s a good album. 

Tony: That’s a really good album.

Kyle: That’s a very different example. But again, I’m thinking about the way that art has like, a physical impact on things; that’s cool.

Tony: Yeah, no, I think part of the work of being an artist is trying to open yourself up to be sensitive enough, right, that you can be deeply affected by art that you see or things that you see out in the world. And then you can figure out how to transform that. And I’ve never really agreed with the idea that, like the best art has to be born out of pain. 

Kyle: Totally.

Tony: I make better art when I’m happy than when I’m sad. I make even better sad songs when I’m happy than when I’m sad. But there is something about like, you have to feel shit in order to make good art, right? Sims from Doomtree said rappers are just professional feeling-havers who happen to rap. And I think that’s like such an accurate way of looking at it.

Kyle: Yeah. Actually, one of the previous guests on this show, Trung, is one of the best people I’ve ever heard talk about this idea of like, great art does not come from pain, which, you know, this feels like a tangent, but it’s also very much about masculinity, like the way that masculinity frames, you know, that creation has to come out of this like, manly suffering or whatever. Yeah, but then Trung was like, no great art gets made when, like, you have health insurance, and you are comfortable enough to have the time in your day to create stuff and like just that really basic stuff. So that’s really cool.

Tony: Hell yeah. OK, so let’s get into it. So today we are talking about accountability and apology and fuckups and all of the things that go along with that, right?

Kyle: Yeah. And I mean, that’s a topic that’s relevant to everyone no matter what identities we hold. But we also want to talk about it kind of through the lens of men and masculinity. Like, what happens when men, or when we, cause harm? When we mess up, you know, what happens next?

Tony: And again, we’re gonna try to keep it as light as possible. But it is heavy subject matter. And necessarily just because it’s like where we are in the arc of American culture, and in the conversation around masculinity, we’re gonna end up talking a lot about sexual assault and sexual harassment. So along with that, if you’re in the car or at home or, you know, on the bus or whatever, listening to this and you’re like, I don’t really feel it right now, like my body is telling me, I gotta turn this off. Like, turn it off. Come back to it, listen to it later. Check out the transcripts on the website, or don’t come back to it at all.. And do something else with your day. But hopefully we’re gonna have a conversation that isn’t just horrible. And that is healing for us. Right? Talking about how we do healing. That’s meta as hell. But anyway, that’s what we’re gonna get after.

Kyle: And I think, you know, this is a very big topic. So right away, to say that in one hour-long podcast, we’re not going to get to every single facet of it. We want to just start this conversation for, you know, for many of our listeners. But even before we get to the bigger side of the topic, before we do a deep dive into accountability, I’m curious: on a really, really basic everyday personal experience level, do you remember the last time that you’ve apologized to someone?

Tony: I mean, one that comes to mind immediately is that I am super scatterbrained and forever doing too many things. I’m too busy. I don’t have enough rest time. And I showed up to my girlfriend’s house like 20 minutes after I told her that I was gonna get there to hang out with her and she got upset. And she was like, hey, I set aside this time for you. Like, you know, I only have a certain amount of time before I gotta go to bed because I gotta be up early in the morning for work. And I was really looking forward to this. Like, can you be on time more?

And I had to, like, swallow all of my… and I don’t know how good a job I did… but I had to swallow all my “but I was just doing this really important thing” or like “I’ve had 20 things going on today” and just be like, yeah, you’re right. I’m sorry. Like, I you know, I should’ve showed up when I said that I was gonna show up. 

Kyle: You weren’t working on the podcast, were you? 

Tony: I probably was on, I guess, honestly, which is horrible. 

Kyle: Canceled. 

Tony: Yeah. I’m super cancelled. That one comes to mind. And just being like, hey, you know what, when I’m thinking from my perspective, it’s easy for me to be like, oh, well, I have all these and other important things going on. And if I’m a little late, that just kind of happens sometimes. But it’s disrespectful of her. And it’s disrespectful of her time and of our relationship. And, you know, when I when I commit to something, I gotta be there.

Kyle: I think that notion of swallowing pride and like, pushing against that defensiveness that so many men feel is going to be an ongoing theme for the episode today. So it’s cool that you brought that up right away. 

Tony: Yeah. How about you? When did you apologize? 

Kyle: I guess I mean, two things that come to mind right away. One of them is like there’s often this advice that’s given and it’s given in a very universal, general way of like, “stop apologizing for everything.” You know, like when you have an email and it’s a day late, don’t say I’m sorry. Just say like, I’m sending this. Or when you know, you scoot by someone in a public space, don’t say, oh, sorry, I’m just sneaking by. Just say, excuse me. And I think that it gets to the root of how advice should not be given universally. I think that’s good advice for some people and not good advice for other people. And what I mean by that is I find myself apologizing kind of as a verbal tic, like, I apologize all the time. Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry. All the time. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. That can be a bad thing, when it’s annoying to the person you’re talking to. And they say like, oh, please stop apologizing. Then, yeah, totally don’t do that. But all of my e-mails start with. Oh, sorry, blah blah blah. And again, I try to be really conscious of it. I don’t want it to be a burden to other people, but I also think it isn’t necessarily the worst practice to like, practice contrition in a more general, diffused sense. Not in the like, I did a bad thing so I’m saying sorry… I’m just thinking about how much space we take up.

But then, you know, in terms of more real… that’s a pretty “up here” example of apology. But in terms of just down to earth stuff, I’m thinking about…

Tony: Up where? Our podcast listeners can’t see…

Kyle: I do a lot of like hand motions when I talk. You know, it comes from being a poet.

tony: Yeah. Kyle’s hand is like 12 miles above his head right now.

Kyle: So, yeah, in terms of a more kind of concrete, down to earth example. So we’re both artists. And we both write songs and put those songs up on the Internet. And like, you know, some songs that you can find of mine, I wrote when I was, you know, 18, 19, 20, and I would not write those same songs today, you know? Or I would not use the same language. And one example is on the song, No Capes. Not that any of you know my songs, but I have a song called No Capes. 

Tony: It’s really good. You can listen to it on the internet. 

Kyle: But yeah. Big Cats produced it. It’s a song about like, reframing heroism. But there’s a line about illegal immigrants. And again, I wrote this, you know, 10 years ago or whatever now. And I don’t use the phrase illegal immigrants today. I use the phrase undocumented workers. You know, and that’s not just a political correctness thing. That’s like a… well, it is. But it’s not just, you know, because someone might get mad about it. It’s about like, you know, how do we affirm people’s humanity? And I think language is a huge part of that. And so we actually went through and rerecorded that whole song just to change illegal immigrants to undocumented workers and had to pay for the studio time or whatever. But I’m happy that that we did that. You know, that was the product of, you know, people taking the time to have those conversations with me about language and about why language matters.

And so there’s there’s an element of apology when that happens. I can say I. Oh, I’m sorry I used that term. Here’s what I’m gonna do differently. You know, another really quick example in the song Break, which is also a Guante and Big Cats song, there’s a line that says “we’re all lasers pointed at the sky. And any idiot can hit it, but can you make it ignite?” Like, the word idiot is there because of the internal, the assonance, the internal rhyme, which has a cool rhythm to it. 

Tony: Bars.

Kyle: But like, you know, idiot is a word that I think for a lot of us, including myself, when I wrote it, it was just like an all purpose insult. You don’t think about it in terms of where that word comes from. But then again, people kind of called me out or called me in or whatever. Usually through social media or just through conversations being like, hey, you know, where that word comes from is that word comes from, you know, in the early days of like, mental institutions and stuff, like people being classified and locked away and having all their rights taken away…

Tony: So it was like, a legal word?

Kyle: Yeah, there are a lot of words like that which were, like, quasi-legal… and we don’t have the time to get into a whole history of like, the ableist vernacular and ableist language. But the thing is, I remember when people first point pointed stuff out like that to me as an artist, like, you know, I’m sensitive about my stuff and the immediate reaction is defensiveness. Like you know, I hear what you’re saying. But, you know, it’s just a word. And, you know, I always have to stop. And be like, you don’t have to understand someone’s critique to listen to it and take it seriously. And if someone’s taking the time out of their day to point out that, like, something was hurtful, who am I to say, “no?” And I think, you know, that’s going to also be an ongoing theme in the conversation today is how we break down that defensiveness in ourselves to just listen to people and take them seriously, and choose what hill you want to die on. Like, do you want to die on the hill of being able to call things you don’t like “gay” or to say “you’re an idiot?” I’m not trying to die on those. 

Tony: Cool. So let’s get into the meat of this. We had a housewarming party recently at our house. Super lit party. Seventy some people showed up. We had great food, great liquor. It devolved into a dance party at 1:00 in the morning. You know, all of the things that that like you really want a party to be. Right. And I went to bed at the end of the night and it was like among the happiest I’ve been in like literally years. Right. Like, it was just like one of those nights where everything goes right.

And then we woke up the next morning and found out that a guest at our party had gotten drugged. And first, obviously, we checked in with that person and made sure that they were OK. And that no further harm had come to them. And they got home safely and nobody tried to put the moves on them or anything like that. But immediately after that, we were like, hey, we need to talk to our community about this. Like, we can’t sweep this under the rug that somebody got roofied at our house. And we want to be honest with folks that know us that this happened and find a way to make sure that people can feel safe at our house in the future. And say it explicitly, like, we don’t fuck with this. This is not cool in our space. We’re not comfortable with it. We’re not going to have it. And if we need to, we won’t host parties at our house if we can’t keep folks safe in our space. And we talked to the person who had gotten drugged. And they were comfortable with us putting out a statement about it. So we posted on our Facebook. We posted in the event. And let everybody know that this was a thing that had happened and that if they had any information about it, reach out to us. And we would try to find some way of making sure that this wouldn’t happen in the future.

And the reason that we did that,, right is because we care about our community. And we care about our people. And we want them to feel safe. We want them to be safe in our spaces.

And I think that that’s like one example of like, when we posted about it, one of the interesting… I was actually kind of nervous to post about it because I was worried that people were going to be like, oh, what? Like, what the fuck? You guys can’t keep your own home safe for folks. But actually, a lot of folks reached out and said thank you for being accountable. And it sort of reminded me of this ongoing question that I’ve had for a long time. Especially in the wake of #MeToo and other stuff that I’ve seen happen in the world is like, what is accountability exactly? When we talk about people being held accountable. Or people being accountable for harm they’ve caused, or harm they witness. What does that actually mean? I see all the time, people say, oh, powerful men should be held accountable. And I’m like, does that mean they apologize? Does that mean they get fired? Does that mean they exit the public sphere? What exactly does accountability look like? And I think that the answer, unfortunately, isn’t simple.

The answer is that there are a lot of different ways that accountability can look. So today we’re going to be talking about some of those. And specifically about apology and about accountability processes and restorative justice. So, again, there are a billion things we could talk about around accountability. And we’re not going to get into all of them today. 

Kyle: And we will share some really good resources that we may mention here. But even if we don’t, we’ll share some really good resources in the transcripts of this episode.

Tony: Yeah, but we’re gonna start with those things. So hopefully this is a good sort of 101 if you’re not familiar with the topic and a chance to get into some of the thorny questions around accountability if you are. So let’s start out with harm.

Harm happens. We all cause harm. And from a really early age we’re taught that sometimes you have to apologize, right? Sometimes despite your best intentions, despite the fact that you’re a really great person or whatever, you can hurt people. And it doesn’t matter whether you feel like you hurt people, if they feel hurt. That can mean anything from like, knocking a kid down on the playground, all the way through like sexually assaulting someone. Those are all different gradients on that spectrum of harm. Some really serious harm. Some not so serious harm. But all of us can cause harm. All of us are capable of causing harm. And I think all of us have caused harm. I have a lot of experience with this. Because I’ve caused harm. Small harm, big harm. Gendered harm, racist harm. class-based harm. And just like run of the mill, friend to friend, like, I’m being an asshole harm. And people have done all that shit to me, too. And I’ve seen all my people do that shit to my other people. So. This is the thing that happens, right? And it’s a thing that especially, I think men with our socialization around masculinity and around never wanting to be wrong or never be seen as wrong, can pretend isn’t true sometimes, that we don’t cause harm…

Kyle: And I think even our definitions of harm. You know, if we’re like I’m tough, nothing bothers me. That can be projected onto other people too, like, oh, that bothered you? What’s wrong with you? Like, that’s not a big deal. Let’s just move on.

Tony: Yeah, totally. And that’s bullshit. And sometimes pretending that the harm didn’t happen can even create more harm than the initial incident did in the first place. So anyway, we all cause harm. And obviously, in an ideal world, in a perfect world, we wouldn’t cause harm. And we should try and be working towards a world in which we don’t cause harm. In medicine, they say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I think that’s especially true with harm because, as we’re gonna see in this episode, trying to resolve harm is really difficult. And can bring up a host of really difficult questions. But we don’t always have a choice. So sometimes we have to figure out how to deal with the situation and how to try to heal from it after.

Kyle: Yeah. And it’s an interesting callback to our episode on consent where that episode was very intentionally framed, not just as how do you practice consent as an individual, but how do we build a culture of consent? Like I hear echoes of that in the story about the house party. And then I think in some of the stuff we’re gonna talk about too, because like this harm, you know, most importantly affects the person or people who are harmed directly; it also obviously has an effect on whoever does it. You know, in terms of stress and like having less capacity because you’re feeling that stress and all that stuff. But then even apart from the interpersonal side of it, like this stuff has real ripple effects in our community, especially those of us who are, you know, activists and organizers, like how many movements have just completely fallen apart because people couldn’t figure out their shit like on an interpersonal level, or people cause harm and then try to bury it under another thing like… example after example, historically, of that. Like from the civil rights movement and the Panthers to the anti-war movement in the early 2000s to even, you know, some of the political campaign stuff happening today. And I know I mean, I don’t know how much you want to get into it, but I know you have some experience with…

Tony: Yeah. I mean, multiple communities that I’ve been a part of have fallen apart in the wake of harm. And usually harm by men, and usually harm by men who try to cover it up afterwards and pretend that it didn’t happen. And I would love to talk more about that, but slander and libel laws are fucking trash. And in many cases are used to protect powerful people with money to hire lawyers. And I don’t have any money to hire lawyers. If you wanna talk to me about that, come see me in person. Let’s chat. 

Kyle: I thought you were going to say make a donation to the podcast. 

Tony: No, no. Yeah. Our patreon is that you get to hear me like, talk explicitly about things that I hint at in the show.

Kyle: I mean, the idea being that, you know, we’re never gonna get anywhere in terms of racial justice and gender justice and economic justice when all this harm… and we keep using that word too…

Tony: …when people keep being dicks to each other. 

Kyle: Yeah. Especially men. 

Tony: Yes, especially men. But also other people. But especially men. So what do we actually do about that stuff? How do we move from a place of causing interpersonal harm or collective harm into action. So we’re going to talk today about two basic forms of that: apology and accountability processes. Restorative practices is one way of talking about it. So they’re related, but they’re not exactly the same thing. Both of them are ultimately about acknowledging the truth of the person who has been harmed. So if you are a person who has harmed somebody. You need to be able to look at the world through their eyes and say, wow, whether or not I intended to, or whether or not I wanted to, you were hurt by this. And I’m acknowledging that truth. You say that I harmed you, so I must have. And I got to deal with it as such.

Kyle: And that’s hard, I think, for a lot of men to wrap their heads around. Particularly when we think about the dominant story that’s told about masculinity: it’s kind of, maybe not always explicitly, but saying that you are the protagonist of the story of the universe; you are the main character, and your point of view is the most important thing.

Tony: You have to be the good guy. Yeah. 

Kyle: When like this is an ensemble drama, right? And other points of view matter. And I mean, that’s such a basic, basic, simple thing, but it’s also very much a first step I think, for a lot of men.

Tony: Yeah, absolutely. So if we fuck up right, the first thing to try, usually, in my years and years of experience, is we can apologize. So we’re going to talk a little bit about apology and about what a good apology looks like and what a bad apology looks like. And if that’s not enough, if that doesn’t resolve the harm by itself or or start people on a better track, we can talk about accountability practices. So. Restorative practices, transformative justice. Whatever you call it, there are a lot of tools and technologies that have been around on this planet for a lot longer than civilization has that can be really effective ways of getting to the root of a matter and trying to find a better way of moving forward. So we’re gonna talk about some of those, too.

Kyle: So we’re going to talk about apology and accountability. And I think of the two, apology is maybe, you know, the smaller circle in the Venn diagram. But it’s really important. It does matter. And, you know, to get him into this, there are all kinds of think pieces and like psychological studies and stuff out there you can read about the idea of apology. What makes a good apology. Tony actually dug up this super old blog post I wrote from like 2012, it was some professor who, like, said something racist about Vietnamese people…

Tony: …and had a horseshit apology. And the whole piece you wrote was about apology, right? About this exact topic.

Kyle: Yeah. So this one little excerpt from that: To truly make amends for hurting someone, first… (And I changed it; in the blog post it said ‘you’ have to do X, Y and Z. And I changed it just now to I. Because that goes back to what we were talking about before; as an artist, as a writer, you grow and you learn that when you say ‘I’ it’s usually more powerful than to say, like, ‘you should do this.’ Just a sidenote)

To truly make amends for hurting someone, first, I have to be a big enough person to want to make amends. Then I have to openly and respectfully listen to what people are saying. And then I have to act on that new knowledge, whether in a sincere public apology that clearly illustrates that I understand what I did wrong beyond stuff like, you know, “poor word choices” or “awkward phrasing” (because we all know that’s not really what this kind of thing is about), or a commitment to being more careful and conscientious in the future, or some sort of concrete act of contrition or reparations, or ideally all three.

So like right away in that little one paragraph thing, like one element of a real apology is to actually be sorry. You know, there has to be some honesty behind it.

Tony: And that requires internal work on the front end. You have to accept that you did harm the other person.

Kyle: And I mean that opens a whole can of worms, too, about accountability. Like, if a fake apology makes the other person feel better, but you don’t actually believe it… we don’t have to go down that path. But I think if we’re being genuine and real about this, honesty is the first element. The second element that I see in that little paragraph is how the apology is constructed itself. Like we have to apologize for the actual thing we did, and not use phrases like, you know, “I’m sorry you were offended” or “I’m sorry you’re not intelligent enough to see, like, the brilliance of the thing that I said,” you know. It sounds like I’m, you know, exaggerating, but that’s a real, real thing that happens all the time. 

Tony: Absolutely.

Kyle: So the first point there is honesty. The second one might be something about like directness and like for-realness. And the third one…

Tony: For-realness is actually in Merriam-Webster.

Kyle:The third element there is, you know, some kind of, and this is going to relate directly to the accountability conversation, to be some kind of concrete, specific real action. That’s like reparations for the harm that was caused, or like a real changed behavior going forward. So the other thing, the other element there that has to be true, the apology has to be real and like, exist in the world in a real way. And there are a million bad examples of apologies. I know we have one good one that we’re gonna get to, but any other just random ones that come to mind for you, good or bad?

Tony: I just want to read… I think we did a pretty all right job. At least nobody has told me that we did a bad job with the one that we put out after somebody was drugged at our house. So let me let me read that one quick, that my roommate Martin drafted. 

Hello, friends. We were thrilled with the turnout and how much fun folks had at our party on Saturday. We look forward to hosting again in the future. But we need to have a conversation about creating a safe environment at our house. It has come to our attention that one of our guests had their drink drugged on Saturday without their knowledge. We are invested in creating a safe and inviting space for all of our friends, and we need you all to know that this sort of thing is unacceptable generally and completely out of the question in our space. If you have any information about this, we encourage you to reach out to us immediately. We would also like to offer our deepest apologies to the person affected for the harm done and offer our time if there’s anything we can do to help make things right going forward. We hope to host more in the future, but we want you all to know that if anything of this matter occurs again, we will need to seriously restrict who is welcome at our house. Thank you all.

Kyle: So when I hear that, read out loud in particular, some things that I notice: one is that accountability isn’t just about the perpetrator of the person who did some bad shit. It’s like this is an example of how accountability also refers to the people who created the space or the people who are around or the bystanders or whatever and how it’s a broader term than just like punishing that one person or making that one person do something.

Tony: Yeah, and I think the thing about it for us was like, and this is a thing that I think people forget sometimes about apology, is like, that didn’t cost us anything. Like, it was so easy for us to write up a little blurb and put it on our Facebooks. And make sure that people knew that this is how we felt about this situation. Cost us literally nothing. And that’s like one thing that I think people forget a lot of the time is like all an apology costs you as your pride. And it doesn’t even need to do that. Apology is cheap. And that doesn’t mean you should run around making fake apologies to people all the time. But it’s literally the smallest, easiest thing to do. A lot of the time, like you were talking about earlier with like the way that you apologized in public space and stuff, it is so simple to say sorry. And a lot of the time when people are upset at you for fucking up, that’s all they want to hear.

Kyle: And of course, you know, we live in an age where it’s become easier and easier to know the language of social justice and know the language of apology and like, say all the right things, but not change your behavior. But I think, you know, this an example, and partly just because I know y’all, but this is this is very honest and real. And like, you are going to do everything you can do on a concrete level to do what you say in the apology. And like, I could imagine another case of someone just like saying the same thing, but not actually changing their behavior. But I think that’ll get into something that we talk about in a while with accountability. I was trying to think of other good examples of apologies. And I honestly had a lot of trouble. And I have a big pop culture brain…


Kyle: I could think of a lot of bad apologies. And I think we all, like, there are so many really obvious bad, bullshit apologies. I thought of a couple that were good, but they weren’t by men. Like Kehlani had a really good apology for like, you know, using language that at the time that, they didn’t know was bad language to use and like just hearing people on Twitter being like, hey, you shouldn’t use that language. One was like, you know, a slur that is used for the indigenous people of Alaska. And “I had no idea that that was a thing,” and just said so. Like, thank you for holding me accountable. I like saying thank you to the people as part as part of an apology.

Tony: noname is another. noname was running around saying something about how like, not all capitalism is bad. There are some forms of capitalism that are a bad thing. I mean, we can talk about capitalism all day, right. But like a bunch of people, kind of dragged her on Twitter for it. And were like, hey, you know, like you have no idea what you’re talking about or, you know, like were kind of mean to her. And she went and did some reading and came back and was like, yo, actually, I agree with everything y’all are saying. And I shouldn’t have said that. And I don’t feel that way anymore. And this growth that I’m experiencing could not have happened if you all hadn’t engaged with me in this way. And so I’m appreciative of it.

Kyle: That’s really cool, because when you brought up noname, I was thinking right away of noname’s stage name. And how that’s a great example of… noname used to have a different stage name and changed it. Again the slur that is commonly used to describe the Roma people: that was part of noname’s stage name and when she learned that, she changed her name and that’s really cool.

Tony: Or Corbin. OK, I can say this one because I’m Black. Corbin, who used to be known as Spooky Black. And spook used to be a slur for Black folks. Another great example of of somebody doing that. OK. 

Another example that I think is really good, which is a little bit more long form, but which I think is like a particularly important one, is by Dan Harmon. So you might know Dan Harmon as one of the creators of Community or as one of the creators of Rick and Morty. And he, for a couple years, sexually harassed one of the writers who was working for him, Megan Ganz. She’s an incredible television producer and writer. She wrote for Community for a couple of years. She wrote for Modern Family for a couple years. She ended up becoming, I’m pretty sure, the executive producer of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. She’s done a lot of really incredible work. And a little while ago, Dan Harmon put up something that was sort of vague about how he recognized that he had caused problems to women in his life. And Megan Ganz went on Twitter and was like, redemption follows allocution, like, do you want to keep talking about like what you actually mean?

Kyle: What does allocution mean?

Tony: Yeah, allocution means like saying something, like speaking truth. So she’s like, if you want to get redeemed for this shit, you got to talk about it. You got to be clear about it. And the reason we’re using this example, the reason why I want to talk about this, is because he put together like seven minutes of his podcast, Harmontown, just to apologize and apologize in depth. And I thought it was a good apology. But more importantly, Megan Ganz thought it was a really good apology.

So she put together this string of tweets after he put out the apology that said, “here’s a weird one for you. Last week, I called out my former boss, Dan Harmon, for sexual harassment. And today, I’m going to ask you to listen to his podcast” and she links to the episode. She says, “I’m not being flippant. I didn’t bring up this mess just to sweep it back under the rug. But I find myself in the odd position of having requested an apology publicly and then having received one, a good one. Also publicly, I waited six years for it. But you can find it at 18 minutes and 38 seconds. Please listen to it. It’s only seven minutes long, but it is a master class in how to apologize. He’s not rationalizing or justifying or making excuses. He doesn’t just vaguely acknowledge some general wrongdoing in the past. He gives a full account. Yes. I only listened because I expected an apology. But what I didn’t expect was the relief I’d feel just hearing him say these things actually happened. I didn’t dream it. I’m not crazy. Ironic that the only person who could give me that comfort is the one person I’d never ask. This was never about vengeance. It’s about vindication. That’s why it didn’t feel right to just accept his apology in private. Although I did do that, too. Because if any part of this process should be done in the light, it’s the forgiveness part. And so, Dan Harmon, I forgive you.”

So that’s pretty incredible, right? And I mean, he did some really bad shit. I mean, like we’re talking about years of sexual harassment. Power dynamics on set. Just like bummer shit. And the fact that she was able to get some healing out of that is real incredible. I’m just very impressed by her strength and her willingness to forgive him in the face of so much harm. And not everybody needs to do that. But it’s really beautiful to see it when it does happen. And I think it can serve as sort of like a North star for the rest of us. And seeing how when harm is caused, you can try to resolve it in a healthy way. So what did he actually say?.

So one section, again, it’s seven minutes long. We’re not just going to drop seven minutes of audio into the middle of the podcast. I actually do recommend, like Megan Ganz suggested, that you go and listen to it. It’s really good. You can find it with a quick Google. But here’s a section of it. So he’s talking about, you know, these years of sexual harassment. And then after he finally asked her out and then after she said no, he started treating her much worse in the workplace. Gross shit. But so what he said was:

“I’ve never done it before and I will never do it again. But I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do it if I had any respect for women on a fundamental level. I was thinking about them as different creatures. I was thinking about the ones that I liked as having some special role in my life. And I did it all by not thinking about it. So I just want to say, in addition to obviously being sorry. But that’s really not the important thing. I want to say I did it by not thinking about it. And I got away with it by not thinking about it. And if she hadn’t mentioned something on Twitter, I would have continued to not have to think about it. Though I did walk around with my stomach in knots about it, but I wouldn’t have had to talk about it. The last and most important thing I can say is just think about it. No matter who you are at work, no matter where you work, in what field you’re in. No matter what position you have over under or side by side with somebody. Just think about it, because if you don’t think about it, you’re gonna get away with not thinking about it. And you can cause a lot of damage that is technically illegal and hurts everybody. And I think we’re living in a good time right now because we’re not gonna get away with it anymore. If we can make it part of our culture that we think about it and possibly talk about it, then maybe we can get to a better place where that stuff doesn’t happen.”

Kyle: Yeah. So again, that third element of a good apology, where it’s not just about how you feel or what you say, it’s also about what you do. And I think this is cool to hear that kind of call to action coming from someone with a platform like that where he’s talking about it in the context of his own experience. But then also trying to say like, this might be useful to some other people who are listening right now to try to do something with it. That’s cool.

Tony: Yeah. Yeah. No, it’s really good. And I think like, this one’s interesting because it involves more of like a formal apology. And like because it required actual action steps. It’s kind of close to some of the things that you see in like a community accountability processes.


Tony: This is tony the scribe. Hey y’all. It’s good to have you back here with us today. Thanks for tuning in. You can subscribe to the show, give us a good review, or tell a friend about it if you want to support us. You can always use the hashtag #WhatsGoodMan to find us on Twitter and Instagram and continue the conversation. We need your help with something special this week. I was talking with folks on Twitter a couple days ago and wanted to see what it would feel like to do less editing on the show. So to leave in more ums and yeahs and vocal tics and see how that feels. So let us know. This show is a lot less edited than the first six have been. If it feels good to you, let us know. If it feels a little bit too loosey goosey, let us know about that too. We’re kind of trying to figure out exactly what that sweet spot is as how much we want to edit and how much we want the conversation to feel natural. So you can do that on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, or you can email us at tonythescribemgmt@gmail.com or elguante@gmail.com. Only two more left in the season. We’re excited to share them with you. Theme music by daedae and letmode. All the other music is by me. Thanks for joining us.

Tony: So when we talk about accountability processes… like, I just wanted to like, the reason that I’m talking about this is because I have some training in it, right? Not a ton of experience with it as a facilitator, but I went through a restorative practices week-long. And learned a lot about how restorative practices trainings work. Just got to shout out: the line of my restorative practices training comes through Hanaa Arafat and Alexis Goff. And before that, Alice Lynch and Gwen Jones and Kay Pranis. And before that, the Tlingit people of the Yukon. So that is like an ancient indigenous technology to solve harm that has been passed down, right? That I’m lucky enough to have learned a little bit about. So when we talk about… and again, we call it restorative practices, but restorative justice is mostly the same thing. Transformative justice is mostly the same thing. You can hear a thousand facilitators out there like screaming and tearing their hair out.

Kyle: They are NOT mostly the same thing, tony. (laughter). But in the context of this intro-y conversation, we don’t have to… okay.

Tony: So here’s the thing about accountability, though. Accountability is not like an event, right? It’s like accountability, processes, restoration, are not things that just magically happen. That like, everybody gets together for like one meeting and talks it out. And at the end of it, everybody feels great and goes home and everything is resolved. It’s possible that it can happen that way. But most of the time, it doesn’t. It’s a choice. It’s a really deep process and commitment, a lot of the time, to decide that you want to go through an accountability process, whether you’re the victim of harm, whether you’re the perpetrator of harm, whether you’re a facilitator, whether you’re homies with somebody who’s on one of those sides… There’s a lot of work there. And it requires really deep discipline. But it’s the type of work that is really rewarding. I think, and can really lead to healing for folks.

And if we were all committed to that way of moving through the world, of saying, when harm happens, hey, I actually want to show up in a really deep way and figure out what can be done about this and how we can all get some closure. I think we would live better lives, right? I think we would live more enriched lives. So in one way or another, accountability situations, and especially accountability situations around masculinity from people being accused of domestic abuse or sexual assault or sexual harassment or what have you, I’ve seen like 10 of these situations go down in the last couple of years. Some of them in my personal life, some of them in my groups of friends. Some of them in movement organizations I’ve been a part of. And the first thing I think that needs to be said is that the process always looks different. Harm is so individual, and healing from harm is so individual, that ultimately you always have to ground the conversation, the restorative practice in what people are generally experiencing.

Kyle: And I think sometimes people expect, you know, if it were just a formula that we could like, print out a one sheet and post a link to it in the transcript, that would… one, it flattens the complexity of this process. But also, if the point is to listen to the person who has experienced harm and listen to what they want, then it is necessarily going to be different in a thousand different examples.

Tony: Yeah. And again, I think that’s one of the really important things that you need to understand about restorative practices is because you’re ultimately trying to restore or transform how the victim feels, like, they need to be grounded in the process. And these types of processes are not for everybody, right? On a victim level, on a perpetrator level, you know, I have no malice in my heart for folks who experience harm and are like, “actually fuck restorative justice in this instance,” right? That’s a very fair response a lot of the time. But I do think that the more that we can get everybody to look at… this is a really serious, important way of resolving harm, the better world we’re gonna live in. So a couple, I guess, like housekeeping notes. So number one is that you need to prioritize the victim’s experience. And they need to be the ones who lay out the timeline, and lay out the level of engagement with their perpetrator. That kind of stuff. And then another one is you can’t hold someone accountable who isn’t willing. regardless of your level of relationship. I’m going to say that again: you can’t hold someone accountable who isn’t willing, regardless of how close you are to them.

So when we talk about like “holding people accountable,” sometimes, like we’re not talking about restorative practices and transformative justice, because those processes are not processes that are meaningful if the perpetrator doesn’t acknowledge that the harm happened, or doesn’t care that the harm happened.

Kyle: So you can say if someone does something bad and then goes to jail, they have quote unquote, “been held accountable.” But that’s one of the ways that… the way that we’re talking about accountability is fundamentally different.

Tony: Yeah. That’s not community accountability. That person is being held accountable, maybe, but they are not accountable. So what you can do with these processes, right? Oh, I should say something about like the level of relationship too. Like, I’ve tried to help hold some of my best dudes accountable. Like, I’ve thrown hours and hours and hours of my life at people who I care really deeply about, who have harmed other people and weren’t willing to like, do the work around it. Weren’t willing to make amends. And let me tell you firsthand, like, yeah, you need to make sure your dudes know when they’re fucking up. And you need to call them on it and you need to maybe not even be relationship with them. But you can’t make anybody be accountable no matter how hard you try. All you can do is try to open up the door to them. You can try to create a set of circumstances where they’re like, hey, this is a possibility that exists. And I might want that for myself. And again, there are some frameworks that can be helpful here. But ultimately, what’s most important is that the victim and the perpetrator can try to find some sort of closure around what’s happened. And if possible, repair some of the damage.

The way that I’m trained to facilitate restorative practices is in what’s called a talking circle. And so you get everybody in a circle. You have a talking piece and you really try to get to a place where people aren’t responding to each other. They’re just speaking what’s in their heart into the room. Which sounds super loosey goosey and nebulous. But like, ultimately, it’s about deep honesty around what happened, how it feels, and what you need to move past it.

Kyle: A little tangent here. But a thousand years from now, when we live in a world that is truly just, and humanity is affirmed in every way, there are gonna be some loosey goosey, nebulous practices. I feel like, you know, there’s this idea of… sometimes people will roll their eyes at a talking circle or whatever, but like, that’s a very serious, real, useful practice. And the way that you describe it was perfect.

Tony: Yeah. And it’s basically just like, you sit in a circle. There’s a talking piece, something that you pass around from person to person. And only one person gets to talk at a time. Nobody gets to interrupt them and they get to talk for, ideally, as long as they want. And say whatever they want to say in that moment. And a lot of the time, there will be one facilitator who says a question. And then you go around the whole circle and everybody answers that question. And they ask another question. And then you go around the circle again. But another important part is that the facilitator is a participant in the process. The facilitator is not some nebulous observer or a person who is convening the thing but isn’t deeply involved. Like, part of your role as a facilitator in restorative practices is to show up fully as a person. That can be really difficult, too. So yeah, so that’s what a talking circle is, or what a restorative practices talking circle CAN look like, and there are a lot of other variants on it. But let’s talk about an example. Just to ground it a little bit. So one example that I think is really interesting and really worth looking at, especially given my experiences watching men cause harm in the movement, sorry, the justice movement, and skate, is the example of this activist from Chicago named Malcolm London. He’s actually a rapper, too, who was held accountable for sexually assaulting a woman a couple years ago.

Kyle: We should say: this was all very public. Or at least afterwards, a very public thing. And so we’re not putting anyone on blast.

Tony: No, not at all. If you Google transform harm, Malcolm London, you can find all of the resources that we’re gonna be talking about. So basically what happened was Malcolm London sexually assaulted this woman. Kyra. And they went through about fifteen months of accountability work around this. Where Kyra and her people were meeting and talking about what happened. And Malcolm and his people were meeting and talking about what happened. And at the beginning of the whole process, and this whole process was facilitated by Mariame Kaba, who is probably one of the most important activists alive. And is like, one of the leading voices in transformative justice. And restorative practices around the country.

Kyle: And if you don’t recognize that name, but you’re on Twitter, you may recognize her handle, which is @prisonculture. She’s just consistently really, really smart and funny and like, generous.

Tony: Yeah. She’s great. Anyway, so Kyra, right at the beginning of this whole process met with Mariame, met with her support team, and said one of her goals was a conversation with Malcolm. And Malcolm… so they both again went through months and months and months and months, more than a year of separate meetings before they were ever brought into the same space together. Because that’s one thing that you need to understand about this type of work, is that if you just, without thinking critically about it, bring a victim and a perpetrator together in a space without doing advance work, the exact problems that led to the initial harm happening… So after 15 months, they met, and there was again, a lot of really incredible… There are statements from BYP 100, which is the activist organization that Malcolm was a part of. There’s a statement from Mariame Kaba. There’s a statement from Kyra, and there’s a statement from Malcolm. And they’re really worth reading, all of them. But I just want to shout out like one particular thing that Kyra says about this whole process, which is in the middle of her statement on the whole thing. She says:

“I was surprised by it. And so thankful for the work that Malcolm and his team have done. I’ve never seen an abuser own up to his harmful behavior in such a real way and worked so hard to change it. He was honest, humble and compassionate. While only time will tell how Malcolm’s activism and personal behavior will change in the long run, I have faith that this process has made an impact on him and that he will use his experience not only to better himself, but to educate other men about sexual violence and toxic masculinity.”

I like, started crying the first time I ever read that, you know, especially as a person who has sexually harassed women, you know, at different points in my life. Who has not been serious enough about getting people’s consent for sexual stuff at different points in my life. It really was sort of a beacon of light to me when I read it that like, hey, they’re actually changes possible, right? That accountability is possible. Moving from a place of harm to something better is possible. And I should say that that’s true in my life, too, like all of the people that I think I’ve done serious harm to I’ve apologized to directly and for the most part, they’ve forgiven me. And I’m really grateful for that. That’s not something they had to give me. But it is meaningful. So I like, both on a looking at this document level, and on a personal level, can attest to how much apology and accountability can heal you. Whether you’re a perpetrator or a victim, because I’ve been a victim of shit, too, and had people apologize to me.

And again, these processes are not easy either. Like, I don’t want to, like, shout out Malcolm London as exactly the paragon of masculine accountability either. Because he’s had other issues that have come up recently. He put up a status at the beginning of 2019 that was basically him saying that he was accused of sexual assault and harassment by some other folks as well. But again, the way that he did that was with a four page statement on his Twitter which contained a commitment to no longer be like, an active public musician or an active public activist. And saying that he was gonna take a step back entirely from the public side of his life and really focus on what accountability looks like for him.

And I think just like, that’s an immense amount of bravery and sacrifice. Even in the midst of having caused a lot of harm. So I don’t know Malcolm. I don’t know people who know Malcolm as far as I know. But I really wish him healing and accountability and that, like, he can become the person that he wants to become. And I wish that for the people that he has sexually harassed and assaulted too; I wish them healing and that this helps a little bit. And gives them an opportunity to heal from what he did to them.

Kyle: How you said a second ago about how it’s not linear and they can actually be really messy; as an example of like… one could see this whole fifteen month process and then see the fact that some other shit happened afterwards as like, well it was all fake. Or one could also see the fact that some other shit happened afterwards as this guy still has a long way to go. He’s still figuring this shit out. You said something else at the very, very beginning about how this isn’t a destination, it’s a process. And potentially a very long, life-long process.

Tony: And I like, you know, I’m noticing in my body like I do want to idealize this process. Because it feels like we need it so bad. It feels like I need it so bad. It feels like my community needs it so bad that I do want to, like, rush to defend it. And say that it’s real. And it creates meaningful change in all of those things. And I do deeply believe that it does. But I’m just noticing that that’s the thing that’s coming up for me, too. 

While I was working at this organization, right, activists got accused of sexual assault and sexual harassment and the organization covered it up and ended up disbanding rather than face any kind of accountability. And I just think if they had had a commitment, and the willingness and the responsibility to sit down and actually go through a process like this, I think I would be a lot healthier. I think a lot of the people who came out the other side of that, including probably the perpetrators, would be a lot healthier.

So another thing about these is that they can take for ever. So like 15 months, for one instance of harm is how that process went down. There’s another actually really interesting example of an anarchist… I think they were anarchists… but like, a leftist collective in Minneapolis called Dealing with Our Shit. That was a bunch of dudes pulling together discussion circles for people to talk about masculinity. And then also doing accountability work with people who were outed in like, the punk scenes or the like, leftist scenes of being abusers. And they put together this massive, amazing document. They disbanded after, I think, three or four years of being active. This is in the 2000s, before 2010. And like, they put together like, I think like 40 or 60 pages, something like that, talking about their experiences with accountability and the difficulties they had. And it’s messy. Like, there were a bunch of women in the community who were like, we don’t think that you’re holding people accountable enough. Where’s your training to hold people accountable? Why do you think you’re prepared to do this? Which is, again, super valid, right? You know, there are really deep questions around like, OK, so like, does this group get to sign off on men after they’ve gone through some sort of process, and say that they’re good and safe?

Kyle: Do they get to check a box?

Tony: Yeah. Do they get to check a box now and run out in community and say that they’ve been through a transformative approach? A lot of really difficult, messy questions. But again, they too have like one story where, of their couple years that they were active, they did like a bunch of general education and preventative work, but then they did one, only one successful accountability process with a dude. But again, isn’t that worth it? In the end, if you can transform one person’s behavior for the rest of their entire life and how they move through the world, isn’t that worth a lot of work? Isn’t that worth a lot of time? Because you just think of all the harm that could happen downstream from one shitty person or from one person acting shittily. And then you think about: now that harm doesn’t exist. That’s an incredible story to me.

Kyle: It’s a deep point, too, because, you know, part of the reason that there may be some listeners who are hearing about this stuff for the first time is that, you know, on super basic resources level, there aren’t often funding sources for this kind of work. Like more and more, I think high schools are starting to maybe have pilot programs around transformative justice. And like, you know, a city might have some fund bucket somewhere to do some of this kind of work, but it’s a lot of people who just like, are choosing to do it. It’s very like, at this point, still very kind of small-d democratic. And I think that there’s something… you know, it’s not the ideal situation…

Tony: It’s definitely not capital-d Democratic.

Kyle: It’d be great to have resources to do it on a larger scale. But it’s also like, maybe at this point, maybe at any point, it just isn’t going to work on a larger scale?

Tony: Mariame Kaba talks about that in How to Survive the End of the World. Which, oh man, that’s another resource we’ll put in the show notes. adrienne maree brown and Autumn Brown’s podcast, How to Survive the End of the World, which we’re huge fans of, has a phenomenal two-parter on accountability with Mariame Kaba. And they go so much deeper than we do into like these types of processes and how to approach them and how they work and how they don’t work. And I think that’s a really good listen for anybody.

Kyle: Yeah. So I guess I mean, there’s a question here around like, what happens when this doesn’t work, right? The idea that you can’t hold someone accountable who doesn’t want to be part of that process. So A, what happens when they just have no interest in it? And then B, what happens when someone does go through a process and their behavior doesn’t change? 

Tony: Or a lot of the time, starts a process then doesn’t finish it. 

Kyle: Oh yeah. Just becomes too hard. Other stuff comes up or whatever. And, you know, this idea that like, people don’t deserve… or do they… unlimited chances to figure their shit out. I think that is a question, but when you add the second part of that question: to figure their shit out while causing all kinds of like, collateral damage along the way, there comes a point where… how do I want to say this?

Tony: There comes a point where you gotta fucking cancel people. And where you don’t have a responsibility to keep them in your circle anymore. But I think, again, like one of the problems with that idea, that idea of disposability, that we can just cancel somebody and say, I never want to see you again. Don’t come to my shows anymore. You know, like that kind of shit. I mean, that can be really important sometimes as defense, to protect other people from being harmed by that person. But like you’re just kicking that person out into the world to go do it somewhere else. You know, like, Kat Otto, in the last word for our episode on men and feminism said after the patriarchy is ended, men are still gonna be here. And like, that’s true with cancel culture, too. Like, after we cancel somebody, they’re still going to exist. Unless your version of cancelling is like, literally the guillotine. It’s like, you’re just packaging somebody off to go somewhere else. So I think where possible, and especially as men, we have a responsibility to try and help people towards health, rather than just excommunicate them and let them go do their dirt somewhere else.

And again, though, that needs to come with layers of nuance, because, for example, as a person who is naturally very loyal and diplomatic and wants all of my friends to resolve harm with everybody else, there have been times where I’ve let perpetrators back into space with survivors. And been like, oh, well, they’re working on it. They’re going through it and have sort of re-perpetuated that harm in letting those folks be together in the same space. So if the harm isn’t actively being resolved, then allowing people to get back together again and sort of sweeping the harm under the rug and asking everybody to play nice is not what accountability looks like. It’s not what transformative justice looks like. So it can be really complicated because you want to thread the needle of being able to support survivors in feeling safe and not having to reckon with their perpetrators if the time isn’t right or if they don’t want to. While also providing space for the perps themselves to have like, relationships and healing connections and the ability to engage deeply with these things.

Another piece that’s probably important to bring out is that we, as men, aren’t required to expend all of our emotional energy on every single person we come into contact with so that they’re not harmful. And victims are not required to try and pursue restorative justice or accountability in some broader high minded sense. Sometimes they just want people out of their fucking space, you know, like if somebody sexually assaulted you, you probably don’t want to be around them anymore. And that’s okay.

Kyle:  I mean, I see that in my head while you’re talking. I see like, the image of, you know, like a spectrum or continuum, where on one side there’s for the sake of everyone safety, just get rid of people. And on the other side, there’s the kind of, you know, beautiful restorative… like, everyone do all the work all the time to help everyone. And I think for a lot of people, finding the balance or some point in the middle that is healthy is hard, but that doesn’t mean that is impossible. That’s kind of the work that we’re talking about here. How do you as one individual person or, you know, as one individual man; how do you decide where your energy goes? How do you decide in every specific situation what makes the most sense to keep people safe and healthy? But also what keeps our communities safe and healthy, too?

Tony: Well, recently and like, so again, one real life example of this, right? Like I went and got restorative justice training so that I can help to resolve conflict in a lot of my communities when it comes up. But there are boundaries to that, too. And I need to set boundaries around that. So just recently I had to tell somebody who was asking me to step into a situation, hold somebody accountable that I don’t know very well. I was like, that’s actually not my work. And I don’t have the time or the energy for it right now. And just because I have these skills doesn’t mean that I have to decide that people who are peripherally in my life are people that I need to be “the one” to hold accountable and move through shit. And at the same time, like, there are a lot of people in my life for whom I would drop everything and do that, you know, who I’m like, hey, maybe I can be the only person to hold this person accountable. Maybe I’m the only person one of my guys or one of my homegirls is going to listen to. So I think it’s about again, which hill do you want to die on? But again, if you don’t have a skill built up around these things or don’t at least have an awareness of what it looks like built up, then you don’t have the tool kit ever. And your only choices are keep somebody in your life and don’t hold them accountable, kick somebody out of your life forever, or like, send them to prison, write or file charges or whatever. And none of those things are ultimately going to lead to healing or resolution for most people.

Kyle: So I guess, you know, in the spirit of this episode, not being able to cover every angle of this. I do think that one place we could go in terms of like, how do we make sense of some of this messiness? How does this messiness even live in our own lives? I think, you know, one thing we could try to talk about is if accountability is going to look and be different in different contexts, how about for ourselves? Like, are there specific practices we can engage in, or habits we can build in our own lives, to kind of cultivate accountability, not just when we’ve committed harm or when we’ve done something bad, but just like day to day. How does one hold oneself accountable? How do you do that? How do I do that?

Tony: I mean, one thing that comes up for me is just thinking about like, trying to nurture connections that are mutual where I can process shit. So knowing that I’m capable of causing harm, I know that I need to have a diversity of people in my life I can go to to unpack that. So if I, you know, say some dumb shit to my girlfriend, then I need to go have other friends that I can talk to about that so that I’m not putting the onus on her for me to come back to her later and be like, oh, my God, I’m so sorry. I feel so awful about this. Like, let me process with you all of the ways in which I really didn’t think through what I was doing. And it was really, you know… and then she has to do a bunch of additional emotional work. To process that.

Kyle: Are we going to do an emotional labor episode, someday? I know you have some feelings about that.

Tony: Oh, man. I have some fucking feelings about the term emotional labor. It’s misinterpreted and misunderstood and used in really harmful ways. Anyway, that is emotional work. That is emotional work for sure. And it’s emotional work she shouldn’t have to do. It’s emotional work. Like, I can go to other places to meet. I can talk to my parents about it. I can talk to my best guy friends about it. I can talk to other female friends about it. I can talk to anybody. And it’s because I nurture a network of people that I can talk to about stuff and because I. And again, important: reciprocity. Those people know that they can come to me with those concerns and those questions and those needs to process as well. There’s a mutuality there. There’s mutual support networks that I think are a really important prerequisite even to be able to do a lot of this work. Or therapy. Therapy is another great place where I can process that shit. One of the reasons that I have a therapist.

Kyle: Yeah. And that’s you know, when I think about that same question about are there practices that I can do to hold myself accountable day to day, the very first thing that comes to mind is that point about community and about networks and relationships and like, real life relationships. I won’t repeat the stuff that you said, But I think, in terms of if there are any like those kind of internal kind of habits to break or things to think about, what comes to mind for me is something that relates to the most basic point of why this podcast even exists, that we, especially, but not exclusively, but especially men, need to kind of unlearn this defensiveness that I think for a lot of us is our default way of moving to the world. That when we get called out or even just critiqued on a real basic level, you know, I think step one is to not respond right away, to stop, and breathe, and exist in the moment and consider what is happening.

And, you know, I think sometimes that can look like defaulting… and that word default, like, what’s the response that you cultivate in yourself to be like, the reflex? I think for a lot of men, default is defensiveness. To be like you’re full of shit or I don’t want to talk about it. I’m gonna put my head in the sand or whatever. Whereas another default that we can like, build in ourselves is to default to that critique being valid. That doesn’t mean that all critique is always valid all the time. But if the default notion is…

Tony: Wait wait. It sounds like you’re saying that all critique is valid all the time.

Kyle: Haha nah if the default response to being critiqued is like OK. You said something and it is valid and I’m going to listen to it. You know, it goes against some of that, like commonsense stuff that gets thrown out of like, you know, don’t read the comments. Comments are always wrong, or the haters gonna hate, or whatever. But I think to change the first step when being called out or whatever from defensiveness to you’re right… and maybe the person isn’t right and maybe you figure that out through the process of thinking critically about it and in conversation or in relationship with other people. But if the first step is to take seriously what people are saying, I think that makes a huge difference.

Tony: A lot of the time to come out and say I was harmed is like, an incredibly brave and difficult act. So the least that you can do when somebody comes to you and says, hey, I’ve been harmed, whether that’s somebody at your party is saying, hey, my drink got drugged. Or whether that’s one of your friends coming and saying, hey, one of your other friends sexually assaulted me. Like, the reflex, the default, should always be to say, oh my God, this must have taken so much for you to come forward about, like, what can I do? How can I help? 

So as we get into wrapping up and thinking about this conversation. Again, I just want to review what we’ve talked about a little bit. So we started out by talking about how important apology and accountability can be. And how much they can give the victim and the perpetrator. We talked a little bit about apologies, and about how they’re pretty easy to make ultimately and can be really transformative as long as they’re really deeply intentional and involve actual action and are specific. And we talked about accountability and about accountability processes and restorative practices more generally and about the way that in the midst of really difficult, messy situations, those can sometimes serve to provide some structure to move us past harm. So again, the next time that you’re realizing that you’ve caused harm, or that you see harm caused around you, maybe those are some tools you can go to. You can first say, hey, let’s talk about what a public statement or a public apology would look like. Let’s talk about what a private apology would look like. Let’s talk about what getting some folks together in a room to go deeper into this stuff would look like. And again, I feel like this is one particular episode where we’re going to need to put a lot of stuff in the show notes. So feel free to look at as little or as much of that as you want to. Right. Because this is a lifetime practice. There are people that I know who have been doing circle accountability work and talking more generally about accountability for like 40, 50 years.

But it’s something that we’re gonna need as the planet gets warmer and as shit gets messier and as we’re all running into each other and causing all kinds of problems and pissing each other off on the commune… like, we got to figure this out.

Kyle: One takeaway that I want to point to: you said earlier about the North Star metaphor, the idea that accountability is a process that can live in really formal spaces of like accountability processes and talking circles. But it also has to live in very informal spaces in terms of how we live our lives every day. I think one of those resources that we’re going to put in the show notes is there’s a really, really amazing kind of set of videos that was put out by the Barnard Center for Research on Women, which I guess is kind of a weird name. But the Barnard Center for Research on Women consistently does really, really amazing work. They have a whole thing on accountability. And one quote from that resource that it might be a thing to share before we get to the last word today is from Mia Mingus, who’s this incredible activist and thinker and says:

“True accountability is not only apologizing, understanding the impacts your actions have caused on yourself and others, making amends or reparations to the harmed parties; but most importantly, true accountability is changing your behavior so that the harm, violence, abuse does not happen again.”

I think it highlights so well that, yes, we’re talking about some radical stuff here. But we’re also talking about stuff that we learn when we’re like, babies. In that it’s knowledge that has been with humanity for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. And like it’s complex stuff and it’s really basic stuff at the same time and like, yeah, I think that quote wraps it up pretty nicely.

Tony: So for the last word today, we have Russel Balenger with us. Russel is the founder and CEO of the Twin Cities Circle of Peace Movement, a restorative talking circle, changing hearts, changing minds and changing lives in St. Paul. They’ve been holding talking circles in the Rondo community for more than a decade. Russell has facilitated restorative work elsewhere to holding circles everywhere from the Science Museum of Minnesota to Stillwater Prison, where he holds a circle once a month with a group called the Community of Work and Learning. Russ, today we’ve been talking about restorative practices and about apology and basically ways that men and masculine folks can hold ourselves accountable and move through trauma and harm using these technologies. So as somebody who’s been facilitating restorative work for a long time, what’s the last word? What do you have to teach us today? 

Russel Balenger: Well, thanks, Tony. I don’t know what I have to teach you. I would like to say that it’s all about fixing the harm that’s been done. Restoring the damage that happens with our brokenness and our messiness. Sometimes an apology can be enough. Sometimes it takes more. But in order for these things to be worked out, it means that people are going to have to be in relationship with each other. If you get into a situation and neither party understands what really happened, there’s just a lot of finger pointing and blame that comes up. There’s no healing and there’s no harm that has been reduced. To have that relationship to be able to walk into a situation instead of pointing the finger and say you’re an awful person and you did this and you hurt me, it’s important that we find out why did this thing happen in the first place? Sometimes things happen to us and we’re not even aware of it. Other times, we’re hyper aware because of something that has happened before. There can be many reasons why things turn into a mess, but if we don’t talk about it, we won’t fix it.

I think for people that have felt harmed, I think in order for it to get a grip on the anger and the pain, they need to confront that person that caused that damage. And sometimes to sit down, as we do with our families and people that we know we have to stay in relationship with and talk it out and say, what happened? Why did you do that to me? Why did that happen? I think when that is answered, a person is well on their way to being healed. I think for that person that has done the damage may not have understood that they were doing damage. They may have done the damage because of a certain way they felt. They may have done the damage and it may have been malicious and it could have been meant to hurt someone. I think when you can be in relationship, and then I’m not saying that necessarily when a person does damage a person that has been damaged or wants to remain in relationship, but at least they can walk away with some understanding of what happened. 

Sometimes we think I just want to see that person locked up from now on. But when you consider that a person who is arrested and put in a cell, basically they’re put back into a situation that is very much like the one that got them to where they’re at: isolation, all the things that bring us to that place where we wanted to bring trauma into someone’s life, just like ours, is what that place is that we’re going to be sent away to. It doesn’t do any good. Sooner or later, that person is going to get out and they’re going to come back worse than when they left. So I think the restorative way is… the other way hasn’t worked. So I think it’s time that we take a look at what might work for us.

I have found that… in the prison I have a group that you don’t have to attend. It’s it’s strictly voluntary. And I continuously have a pretty large following of guys that are very interested in an opportunity to be in the talking circle where their voice will be heard. The guys inside feel like they’re working toward some noble causes. They’re looked at as being more than the crime that they committed. They’re looking for opportunities that they can give back and help in the community. And I find that in restorative terms, it’s very healing for them. The work they’re doing is speaking back to some of the young people in our community about the problems that they’re facing. They’re showing new teachers that they may not always be working with a clean slate when they get a new child in their classroom, that there could be other issues going on at home. This is their way of being able to say, I can help, I can be of some assistance to you. We look forward to the time when they do get out. And so that we can welcome them back to community and and let them help us with the problems that we’re having out here.

I have another group that I do in the prison, and they’re fairly new to restorative practices. They’ve just learned to start speaking in circle. In that group, a trans woman came in who has been locked up because she hasn’t had all of her reassignment surgery. But the guys all moved to one side of the room. This woman is not only locked up and going through all the trauma that they’re going through, but there’s an added layer for her. When I invited her to sit at my side, after she left, the group said, we don’t mess around with them. We don’t mess around with the gays or the trans. And I thought, is this ridiculous? But in the group that I’ve been doing for many years, they were putting together their value statements and what they were going to be all about as a group. And one of the things they said is they wanted to make sure that it was multicultural, which is not generally what happens in a prison. And they wanted to make sure that everyone was welcome, whether they be trans, gay or whatever. And so it tells me that instead of finding themselves different, they’re they’re finding that their situation is unique and valued. And I think it just all comes from growth. You can’t do it if you don’t sit down and talk.

We have all of these children who are going without fathers and some without mothers and in very precarious positions. And we’re basically training them to be our next prison population. It’s an antiquated way of dealing with blame and bad behavior. And for us, I think it was just easier for us to dismiss somebody, discard somebody, and and just keep moving on with our lives. It doesn’t work. We need something better. We need to try something. We hav to try something else. Thanks for the opportunity.

Tony: That was the last word with Russel Balenger. You can find more about Russel’s work at tcopm.org. The Twin Cities Circle of Peace Movement hosts a community circle of peace every Monday night from 5:15pm to 7pm at Unity Church Unitarian in St. Paul, Minnesota. Shout out also to the Golden Thyme where we recorded that interview, just an absolutely legendary St. Paul establishment. Anyway, thanks for joining us on this episode of What’s Good, Man. We’ll see you in two weeks.