It’s been a weird, complicated, heavy mess of a year.
At first glance, it seems to all reduce down to the fact that people suck. Respected community members abuse their status & position in horrific & inappropriate ways. Professionals go around speaking as if their ability to earn a certification means that their ability to check series of boxes is as valuable as the hard-earned expertise of others. Mediocre middle-managers worry more about propping up their image & competing with other mediocre middle-managers over stuff that doesn’t really matter rather than supporting & celebrating the real accomplishments of those who work for them. Small-minded leaders focusing primarily on making sure everyone around them knows they’re in charge, consequences be damned.
All of this is, of course, made more complicated since all of this is going on inside schools & other youth-serving organizations.
But the thing that started sticking out to me as I’ve been reflecting on all of this the past few days is that these aren’t just simple people problems - they’re all trust problems. And I don’t just mean putting our trust in people who don’t deserve it.
It’s trusting systems over our kids.
And how most of our kids have been raised to trust systems - including the authority figures placed over them by these systems - over themselves.
When we teach our kids that it’s impolite & disrespectful to complain or talk bad about adults, it makes it so much harder for them to speak up when adults legitimately mistreat them.
When we raise our kids to believe that their "no" is less important than the "yes" of an adult, that makes them significantly more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
When we don’t take concerns about the professionals we entrust with our kids' education seriously, that sends a message that their education is less important than maintaining respect for people who haven’t earned it.
When we allow leaders to celebrate accomplishments while sidelining the people who put in the work, we tell our kids that they don’t actually need to be good at anything - they just need to be able to position themselves correctly to make it look like they are.
When we brush off complaints from our kids about having to deal with difficult people because they’re going to have to deal with difficult people throughout their life, you make it OK for those difficult people to never improve and continue being a thorn in everyone’s side - and sends the signal that it’s OK for that kid to grow up to be a problematic person themselves.
Systems are great, don’t get me wrong - I’ve built a career around helping people understand & develop information & communication systems. But a crucial part of systems work is understanding that the universe is complicated & complex. We can’t model everything, can’t make rules for every conceivable scenario, can’t enforce policies around behavior that we don’t know about, and can’t fully predict the impacts of any change within the system. It doesn’t matter how many safeguards we put in place, how long the handbook gets, or how much training we make people sit through - the universe will inevitably find a way to sneak something through the cracks. All we can do is use the information we have available and be ready for the unexpected - and that all comes down to trusting your people, being trustworthy yourself, and being supportive when people bring concerns to your attention.
So go tell your kids that you trust them. And follow through - the next time they complain about an incompetent teacher, creepy coach, or off-putting family member, take them seriously & do something about it.