Accounting systems make the very sensible assumption that we are human – which means that mistakes are inevitable. No real human ever does things perfectly. Entry errors, mis-readings, absent-mindedness, distraction all actually happen – not because anybody intends to make mistakes but just because Life is Life and shit happens.
So one of the most powerful steps in the accounting cycle is to check for errors. The process of “reconciling the accounts” or “doing a reconciliation” involves using a third party’s record of transactions to cross-check your own records. Most commonly the third party’s records is a bank statement, but accountants will also use the records of customers, staff and suppliers – any party which has dealings with the business and which has a separate or ‘third party’ accounting system.
The reconciling process allows us to locate mistakes, identify how they arose and then fix them. Because accounting systems get reconciled there is no penalty for mistakes. People don’t get blamed. Mistakes just get located, identified and fixed.
The same pattern is relevant in relationships as well. Relationships involve humans, and so inevitably mistakes will be made. I will hurt you, you will invade me, I will disregard you, you will insult me. Very seldom are these things intended. Mostly we intend to do the best by the other person. So when I make a mistake it’s not because I’m stupid, or I intended to hurt you, or I don’t really care about you, or any one of the million reasons you can make up. I made a mistake because I’m a human.
What Accounting teaches us is it’s not important that the mistake has been made. That’s just inevitable. What’s important is that there is a system in place to catch the mistakes and fix them. In other words what’s important is doing the reconciliation.
The reconciliation process involves a third party to me – which in the case of our relationship is you. You, or your actions, alert me to a mistake having happened. Something’s off in our interacting, and that’s a signal that stuff needs to be attended to. So we need to identify what the mistake is, and then fix it. We can do this without blame for the mistake happening in the first place. Removing blame is a hugely freeing step, which allows us to have much more clarity, and to work together to identify the mistake and to work out ways to fix it.
There’s another possibility here, though: it might not be my mistake. I’ll use Accounting again to clarify. Those third parties whose records we rely on to reconcile our own accounts also have their own accounting systems, and so they also make mistakes. Most banks put a little notice somewhere on your bank statement saying something like “please check all these transactions to make sure you agree with them.” This is not just marketing fluff – it’s a core part of their own accounting system.
So when I’m doing my bank reconciliation I’ll find a mistake. I check and re-check my own system, using the bank’s records, and after a few iterations I find that the mistake is not mine but the bank’s. Bingo – I have to tell the bank.
The same possibility occurs in a relationship. I may feel you’ve done something terrible: I feel really hurt, and so on. But the only thing we can say with certainty at first is that a mistake has been made. If I’m reconciling my accounts I tend to assume that the mistake is made by me. When I’m feeling hurt in a relationship I tend to assume the mistake has been made by you. But this may not be so. It takes the first step of a reconciliation process – a back-and-forwards of active listening without blame – to identify exactly what the mistake is. Only then is it possible to agree on how to fix it and carry out the fix.
Not only does Accounting show us that mistakes are inevitable. It also shows us that reconciliation is normal. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong in a relationship. Reconciliation is just a normal, routine and standard part of any good relationship.
I love it that there is such similarity between accounting systems and human relationships. It affirms to me that The World is a fractal pattern, which occurs everywhere. We are inside the pattern, the pattern is inside us, and the pattern occurs in its entirety in every single aspect of what exists. Everything is intimately connected.