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“It begins when we are always afraid”

I wonder how many children’s lives might be saved if we educators disclosed what we know to each other. —Roland Barth

Resilient people are often called upon by circumstances to act courageously, and it’s a challenge they are likely to accept, although sometimes reluctantly.

Last week on the eve of Donald Trump’s promised announcement regarding foreign hacking I posted two back-to-back tweets:

“Couldn’t sleep last night because of excitement about Trump telling us what only he knows about hacking. Hope I don’t have to wait.”

And:

“Hope I don’t have to wait until tomorrow to find out what only Trump knows about hacking. Or forever. Can’t stand the excitement.”

Moments later a line from a a 1960s-era song ran through my head: “It begins when we are always afraid.”

I realized that in some part of my brain I was fearful of the kind of vicious attack suffered by others, even lowly sorts like myself, who dared criticize some aspect of the new political order.

Here are some of the lyrics from that song, “Stop, Hey What’s That Sound”:

“Paranoia strikes deep

into your life it will creep

it starts when you’re always afraid

step out of line the man come and take you away.”

We know who “the man” is. And we know who (and what) he has promised to take away.

And we have seen what has happened to those who dare criticize “the man” or his minions.

As the old saying goes, just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.

But this isn’t a story about my courage, or my paranoia. I wasn’t acting courageously because I only thought about the risks after I posted the tweets.

It’s a story about the role that courage can play in our lives.

Each of us, many times a week, decides whether we will speak or act in the face of fear about known or unknown consequences.

Sometimes the consequences are real. The thing we fear may happen when we speak or act in accordance with our conscience.

It is also true that bad things do happen to people when we withhold “our truth” from others.

As Edmund Burke said more than two centuries ago:  “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

How do you decide if and when to speak and act?

Making a positive difference, alone and together

re·sil·ience\ri-ˈzil-yən(t)s\ noun: the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful after misfortune or disruptive change

Several terms come to mind when I think of “resilience.”

Empowered.

Optimistic.

Efficacious.

Intentional.

Proactive.

Engaged.

Influential.

All of these words apply to the human desire to affect our own destiny and to make the world a better place. In short, to make a positive difference.

Life circumstances, which we may or may not choose, contribute to our sense of resilience and also draw upon it.

Resilient people are:

optimistic and efficacious. That is, they are hopeful about the future and believe that they can make a difference.

intentional and proactive. That is, they have clear goals and realistic plans to achieve them.

engaged and influential. That is, they persist until goals are achieved, and they enlist others in concerted actions.

Taken together, these qualities explain why resilient people often find themselves in leadership roles even though they may not have actively sought them out.

Resilient leaders create resilient organizations, and the primary way they do so is by creating a sense of “collective efficacy”– a belief that the achievement of important goals requires strong teamwork.

Collective efficacy begins with a worthy, stretching goal and draws on the interpersonal support provided by a community whose members encourage, guide, and teach one another.

Collective efficacy is especially important today because it is easy to succumb to resignation in the face of complex and overwhelming world problems, like climate change, and the serious challenges to democratic institutions and civil liberties that we currently face.

Future posts will explore ways to cultivate resilience for our personal benefit and our collective good.

As always, I am interested in what you have to say today and in the future about this critically important subject.

Cultivating resilience…

re·sil·ience\ri-ˈzil-yən(t)s\ noun: the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful after misfortune or disruptive change 

Since the inception of this blog in 2010 I have written more than 300 posts that have focused on ideas and practices related to teaching, school leadership, teamwork, professional learning, and cultures of continuous improvement.

While these topics remain important, I have basically said what I have to say about them, at least for the time being.

Recently, I have been been thinking about whether American values and this country’s political and civic institutions, including public education as we know it, are sufficiently robust to effectively respond to the unprecedented and unpredictable challenges they are likely to endure in coming years.

That led me to reflect on people and institutions that encounter adversity but are somehow strengthened through their experiences, emerging from them with newfound capacities and resourcefulness.

Such resilience can be found in people of all ages and walks of life and in organizations that serve many different purposes.

For the foreseeable future I will use this blog to seek a better understanding of individual and collective resilience and the ways in which it can be cultivated and applied in our personal and professional lives and in civic engagement.

As always, I look forward to your comments….

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Ask 3 questions before posting on social media

“Before posting anything on social media, ask yourself three questions: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Post only if the answer to all three is yes.” —How to Be Mindful With Facebook

The intentions behind our actions matter because those actions can have immediate and sometimes far-reaching unintended consequences for others.

Few of us have not regretted something we’ve emailed or posted in haste that was not true, kind, and/or necessary.

Consider displaying these three questions next to your computer or as a recurring reminder on your smart phone or other device. 

If doing so prevents just one unfortunate posting they will be well worth the effort.

And on that peaceful thought I would like to wish you the happiest of holidays and a wonderful 2017.

Does God have a plan for public schools?

At a 2001 gathering of conservative Christian philanthropists, [Betsy DeVos] singled out education reform as a way to “advance God’s kingdom.” In an interview, she and her husband, Richard DeVos Jr., said that school choice would lead to “greater kingdom gain.” —Katherine Stewart, “Betsy DeVos and God’s Plan for Schools”

While I am not a Biblical scholar I am sure that the word “love” appears in its text more often than “free market,” vouchers,” or “charter schools.”

Although I am deeply distrustful of anyone who seems to have direct access to God’s thinking about public education, like, say Betsy DeVos, I think it likely that God would:

• Be outraged in the style of the Old Testament about the poverty in which far too many children and their families live.

• See great merit in teaching young people the skills of social and emotional intelligence, given the Biblical emphasis on love and forgiveness, although I may be going out on a religious and curricular limb here.

• Be deeply concerned about children being sent to schools whose only merit is that they satisfy the ideology of their rich and therefore politically influential patrons.

If God has a political ideology, it probably is “love thy neighbor.”

To verify the accuracy of what I just wrote, I had a brief and long overdue conversation with God about all of this, and although His voice was soft and sometimes indistinct, I am confident I heard Him (or maybe Her) say that Betsy DeVos should not be confirmed as United States Secretary of Education.

3 predictable responses to serious problems

1. Deny: There is no problem.

2. Minimize/deflect: There is a problem, but it isn’t serious and will take care of itself, or, it is a different problem than the one you think it is.

3. Give up/resignation: There is a problem, but the problem is too big or it is too late for us to do anything about it.

Given that climate change is arguably the most significant problem facing our planet, it provides an outstanding example of these responses. 

Denial: Climate change doesn’t exist.

Minimize/deflect: Okay, there may be climate change, but it isn’t due to human activity. Or, it is a hoax created by the Chinese.

Give up/resignation: There is climate change, humans have caused or at least exacerbated it, but it is too late to do anything about it.

Then what happens?

Delaying prompt, serious, and sustained international action on climate change will produce increasing levels of drought, flooding, and other weather-related calamities.

Those events will cause untold numbers of refugees both within and between countries, most of whom will be very poor.

Mass migrations of people will intensify the xenophobia, anger, and fear that we are now experiencing and lead to small and large-scale wars.

Scapegoating, publicly-sanctioned discrimination, and other acts that were once unthinkable become common.

The very rich and the otherwise powerful protect and perhaps even expand what is theirs by inexplicably convincing the have nots that it will be in their best interests for the haves to have even more.

All of this is predictable.

What is required are prompt, well-focused actions by individuals and governments to address an impending crisis of unprecedented proportions.

What will you do (and perhaps sacrifice today) to help create a sustainable, stable, and peaceful world for your children and grandchildren?

Our words matter…

As this political season has taught us, the feelings that words evoke are contagious. They can uplift and unite us or create hatred and division.

Likewise, particular words have a unique emotional resonance to each of us because of the meaning they possess in our life experience.

Here a few words that have such resonance for me:

Empower, as in enabling others by delegating authority and responsibility

Voice, as in “expressing our uniqueness” or enabling others to express their uniqueness (see “empower”)

Conversation, as in thinking deeply with others about important topics with an openness to learning

Learn, as in changing what we belief, understand, and/or do

Teach, as in promoting the intellectual, emotional, and physical growth and well being of others

Witness, as in “bearing witness to” the life circumstances of others.

What words most resonate with you?


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