Ants & Accountability

A few years ago I was sitting outside with my friend in Fiji. Because it was quite a humid evening there were a lot of bugs about.

A fairly standard sized ant crawled onto my hand and I squashed it. Not long after, a lady bug did the same thing and I flicked it away.

My friend said “why did you kill the ant but not the lady bug?”

Having not given my actions any conscious thought I didn’t know what to say. It sparked a bit of a discussion and we decided that the crunch of the lady bug would’ve made me feel a bit guilty but because there’s not physical or audio cue when ending an ant’s life it didn’t seem register in the same way.

Now of course, there’s no real logic here. Both insects had one life and both took the same action of crawling onto my hand. However, because of the consequence I would feel when it came to killing them, one got away and one was smeared.

Taking this principle away from bugs for a moment, there’s a lot we can learn and apply elsewhere, particularly when it comes to changing behaviours and the way people think about decisions.

If we disguise liability, people are less inclined to consider their actions. However, when the full knock on effect is understood, an individual’s decision is more involved.

Responsibility and accountability are emotional and therefore have the power to steer judgement. It’s an important lever to consider when it comes to creating systems for choice making and ensuring people feel informed and sure of the actions they’re taking.