Leading the Way Forward Together

by  Susan Mazza  |  Leadership Development

Over the weekend I published an article titled Finding Our Way Back to Hope as my way to process the events of the tragic shootings in CT last week.  I was thinking about the many ways we can each lead the way for ourselves and our communities back to hope and offer a few of my own suggestions.

One of them was to stop judging other peoples reactions and to start listening and learning from whatever people share and however they process their own grief so we can heal and move forward.

“There are countless ways to process this. If we can watch and listen to all of it and keep our focus on compassion and learning something rather than judging others for their way of dealing with this as “right” or “wrong”, perhaps we can actually learn something that can truly help us deal with the underlying issues that lead to a tragedy of this magnitude.”

This morning I saw a post on Facebook from Deb Costello that I believe is one of the best ways to lead the way forward in the face of any challenge, tragedy, disaster, etc.:  starting a constructive dialogue.

Below is Deb’s Facebook post.  The conversation she started on facebook is already bustling with an amazing dialogue.  So I thought to bring it here to this community of Character-Based Leaders.  I can’t think of a better group to help lead the way back to hope and be the source of progress.

Thank you Deb for your leadership and for always instigating conversations that matter.

So here’s the discussion if you dare…

The goal: improve safety in public spaces without completely gutting the constitution. Let’s try everything…

Let’s figure out how we can support more God in our communities. Let’s figure out how we can have less guns in the hands of crazy people. More support for the mentally ill. More safety plans at schools. The only answer I won’t accept here is no. I don’t think all these ideas are equal or that they all will work, but I no longer care. I want everything done.

You are doctors and lawyers and teachers and parents and gun owners and every faith under the sun. Let’s discuss this like adults with “yes” as our plan. Give me hope…

How can we improve safety in public spaces without completely gutting the constitution?

Let the discussion begin!

About The Author

Articles By susan-mazza
Susan Mazza works with leaders and their organizations to transform their performance from solid to exceptional as a business consultant, leadership coach and motivational speaker. CEO of Clarus-WORKS, Founder/Author of Random Acts of Leadership™, and Co-Author of The Character-Based Leader, Susan was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders by Trust Across America in 2013.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Deb Costello  |  17 Dec 2012  |  Reply

Thank you Susan for coming here and posting this discussion. I have felt so low these past few days, so sad and frankly angry, but today I feel better because we have begun talking, not yelling, about change. I hope we can start this same conversation here with the amazing professions that read this blog. I’m looking for ideas,

There are so many questions, so many ideas. I hope those that read here will chime in.

How can we improve our mental health system to identify and help those that need it?
Is it possible to bring God back into schools and if so, how?
What steps can we take to stop those who wish us harm from getting guns?
Is it possible to make our schools and public spaces safer?
Should teachers or principals have guns?

I look forward to this conversation.

Mike Henry  |  18 Dec 2012  |  Reply

I’m not sure I have an idea on most of these issues. One idea about “bringing God back into schools” involves a balanced presentation of the ideas from the Bible. We seem to have lost our ability to dialogue with people with whom we disagree. Are we able to consider the truth of scripture? And are people of faith able to present the practical truth of scripture without insisting that people conform to it?

But this is a double-edged sword. Can we actually teach people to learn without insisting that we’re the authority? Do our schools really want people who learn, or do we simply want people who pass standardized tests and follow rules? School didn’t teach me to learn. School taught me to do what was required so I could get a grade.

I wonder if we don’t need a new teaching on violence. What if we really embraced abundance. The industrial revolution created a scarcity mindset. Supply must meet demand. Violence is a desperate response to a scarce world. An abundant world is one where we understand that we “reap what we sow.” What we give away is what we get. When we respect and encourage and help others we become the beneficiaries of a gracious, supportive society. We need to teach people to give more than they get. And we need to encourage people who do.

And when I say “teach” in the paragraph above, I mean live. At least for me, I want to live my example and let my actions speak. (This happens to be another biblical principle.) I reject people who tell me what I should do, especially if I don’t see them doing it. You might disagree with me, but if my life documents what I believe, to me that’s a more persuasive argument than anything else.

Thanks for the challenge. Mike…

Deborah Costello  |  18 Dec 2012  | 

Thank you for your thoughts Mike. I hope this forum allows for a dialogue with many people from all walks of life. It is my hope that when we see a common purpose, we can move forward toward finding solutions rather than just digging in our heels. I want the answer to be yes more often than no.

So I come to your first point, teaching the Bible in school. I think our kids would benefit from a broader exploration of faith traditions. The question is always which God do we teach about? I’d like us to learn about all the Gods and learn from those that have none at all. Our inability to find a way to discuss this important part of culture contributes to our continued misunderstandings, discrimination, and prejudice. It is difficult to hate those you know and understand, those who are shown to be “just like us” in so many ways. I am not suggesting this is easy, nor do I want schools to become places of worship, but I do think we need to learn about God in schools. We need well trained, qualified teachers to help our students understand the nuances and subtleties of religious tradition, just as we need qualified teachers to help our students understand literature, chemistry, or calculus.

As for your second commentary about what we teach kids, that is the ongoing educational discussion. The balancing act between accountability through standardized testing and teaching what is “good for kids” is a tightrope that we do not walk easily. Yesterday I read a blog post about upending our curriculum and creating a focus much more in line with what you are suggesting. Perhaps you might find it thought-provoking.

Chad Balthrop  |  19 Dec 2012  |  Reply

Great topic…thanks for posting.

There is a more fundamental argument taking place in our nation today that influences how we think about health care, gun control, religious expression, public safety and education, everything, really…The argument is this:

Does an individual have the right and responsibility to take care of themselves or should every individual expect others to care for them?

You can see how this argument affects all the others. For example…

— I have the right to defend myself, therefore I should have access to the weapon of my choice. Because rights come with responsibility, I am responsible for knowing how to properly use and secure that weapon.
— My personal safety rests in the hands of others. Personally owning or carrying a weapon is unnecessary. With the right law and right enforcement we can manage the behavior of people so that my personal safety is insured by the actions of others.

— I have the right to pursue health in all it’s forms. Because rights come with responsibility, I am responsible for pursuing a healthy lifestyle and the resources necessary to access the health care I need when my body or mind begin to fail.
— My health care rests in the hands of others. By law others should be expected to identify, treat and provide for my health care needs regardless of the lifestyle I choose to pursue.

And the list goes on…

The difficulty of the fundamental question is that it doesn’t have a solution. Most of these questions don’t represent a problem to be solved, but a tension to be managed. Like getting hungry – it’s morning. I’m hungry for breakfast. I’ll eat an egg and some toast. Problem solved, right? Not really. By lunch I’ll be hungry again. Being hungry isn’t a problem I’ll ever solve. It’s a tension I’ll daily manage.

So how do we manage the tension between individual rights and responsibility and community cooperation?

Let’s take a look at your questions…the answer to all of them is the same.

How can we improve our mental health system to identify and help those that need it?
— This begins with personal responsibility. The individual and the family are the first line of identification and treatment. We can have the best mental health system in the world, but we’ll still miss the opportunity to assist the mentally ill if no one takes the personal responsibility to notice.

Is it possible to bring God back into schools and if so, how?
— This begins with personal responsibility. The individual and the family should be able to clearly articulate their belief or lack of belief about god and be willing to have an honest conversation about the strength and weaknesses of their belief. Education shouldn’t simply be about the partially digested wholly regurgitated “facts” of our day, but should include an exploration of undiscovered country. Science will be best served when challenged by religious and philosophical thoughts. Religion and philosophy will be best served when challenged by well reasoned arguments. Our students – and ultimately our society – will be best served when we expect our schools to be a place that encourage these conversations rather than limit them.

What steps can we take to stop those who wish us harm from getting guns?
— This begins with personal responsibility. The laws we need are on the books. We need to enforce them. We also need to recognize that law is a deterrent, it is not a guarantee. A wicked individual, with wicked intent will always find a way to accomplish wicked things regardless of laws or access. 9/11 demonstrates what wicked people can do with a box cutter.

Interesting idea – people fear what they don’t understand. Let’s take the mystery and ‘hollywood’ out of guns and train people how to safely use and secure them. Let’s make self defense part of physical education classes in school – not focused on weapons, but not excluding them either. Let’s ‘arm’ people with the knowledge they need to interact with law enforcement and protect themselves whenever necessary. The intent here is not to train warriors, but individuals with the confidence to manage a frightening, chaotic and potentially life threatening situation. Basic first aid would be a good part of this curriculum.

Is it possible to make our schools and public spaces safer?
— This begins with personal responsibility. More law isn’t really the answer. With every law that’s written we lose part of our freedom. Laws are necessary, but they should be well written and carefully considered before we pass them. A well informed, well trained public will accomplish more for public safety than any kind of restriction or increase in law enforcement personnel.

Should teachers or principals have guns?
— This begins with personal responsibility. I have a great relationship with the teachers and staff at my children’s elementary school. They are relationships we have worked together to develop. I would trust any of them with my children and with a gun. With the right training they could be the last line of defense in a tragic situation. I understand that what I just said is personal. I’ve worked to get to know those who will teach my children. Not everyone wants to do this and some, for various reasons, simply can’t. But shouldn’t building healthy parent/teacher relationships be a fundamental part of education? The student may be the focus, the classroom may be where the work is accomplished, but the ‘family’ is intimately and directly involved in the success of the education. Let’s recognize that and redesign education to maximize that truth rather than circumvent it. In doing so – questions of safety become more easily managed.

If you made it this far – congratulations! Thanks for reading. I look forward to hearing your ideas.

God Bless,

Susan Mazza  |  19 Dec 2012  |  Reply

My reply went in as another comment – just wanted you to know Chad that the next comment on the list is my reply to you. I am enjoying this thought provoking conversation and hope others join in, too. Thanks for jumping in with us!

Susan Mazza  |  19 Dec 2012  |  Reply

This is a great question Chad and I agree it goes to the heart of much of the issues we face as a nation and a world: Does an individual have the right and responsibility to take care of themselves or should every individual expect others to care for them? And you’ve done a wonderful job of walking us through the implications of how you answer the question.

Although not a direct response to any of what you wrote you triggered a line of thinking I’d like to share. One of the issues we face is that we have designed modern life in a way that disconnects us in our everyday experience and understanding of fact that we are all connected.

While I believe in principle with the idea that I am not my brother’s keeper I think we have mutated that idea into what I do is none of your business and what you do is none of mine. To maintain our privacy it has become safer to get help from a stranger than a neighbor – after all what would they think or can I trust them because while they live next door I don’t even know them. I struggle often with the question am I helping or intruding.when I see someone in need. It seems far easier to let “the authorities” or the experts or the people whose job it is handle it than to risk stepping over that line of socially acceptable “intervention”.

Do I believe in personal responsibility? Absolutely! But personal responsibility cannot stop at being responsible for ourselves because we share responsibility for what those in the field of sustainability call the commons – those things we must share and care for together if we are to not only survive but thrive. And there are people who genuinely cannot care for themselves like the mentally ill, nor are their families equipped to care them. I think we do need to find ways to help people who need help although I agree it must start with the people who come into meaningful contact with them.

We need to find a way beyond our focus on individuality (or the overly individualistic interpretation of personal responsibility) because the “I got mine” and it’s none of your/my business mentality is just not sustainable – not for society or for the planet!

Ryan Setter  |  20 Dec 2012  |  Reply

A big thanks to Deb C and Susan M for getting this conversation going. I think that this is an essential and necessary discussion and group-think that should be taking place far more often and in far more places. I couldn’t agree more that starting a constructive dialogue is an excellent way to begin to lead the way forward.

I really like and agree with what Mike H has to say about a social shift towards embracing an abundance mindset. I truly believe that this is definitely the direction that we need to be headed in.

In today’s society I do believe that there is a desperate shortage of class-act mentors and proper role-models. There are many things that may have contributed to this, it may have become this way under the radar, but it is what it is. I believe that this can have a definite impact towards a greater good. It also allows for anyone to step up and/or reach out.

Living for a higher purpose, regardless of what label you place on that, as long as it is based on virtue, I think is something that we all have to keep in our hearts. We should teach and exemplify the building of character guided by values and selflessness.

Deborah Costello  |  20 Dec 2012  |  Reply

I am writing a separate comment because I want to talk about what both Chad and Susan have discussed here.

I agree with you Chad in that there is a long-running conversation about personal responsibility in this nation. Through the past election season there was plenty of debate, and it continues as we consider the role of government in our ongoing budget discussions. What concerns me is the problems with determining the acceptable level of personal responsibility here. At what point do we decide that a person has done “enough” and is worthy of assistance? At what point do we say, sorry, you are just going to have to suffer your bad choices.

It is in our nature as humans to attribute bad things that happen to us to our environment and own what is good for ourselves. We achieve good because of hard work. Bad is the result of circumstances or bad luck. This is normal, healthy behavior that keeps most of us out of the depths of depression. Interestingly we do the opposite when we consider others. Other people who do well and are “lucky.” They have good genes or had good handed to them, but have earned and deserve the bad. I believe this fundamental attribution error inhibits our ability effectively determine a course of action when interacting with others in need.

Combine this with the truth that we are actually really only in control of ourselves and our community breakdown is complete. In the end, people will only do their best when THEY want to, not when we want them to. We want people to act in their best interests, but they already are in a sense. People always do what they think is best at the time. The most we can hope for is to INSPIRE people to act differently, to offer alternative courses of action and demonstrate that they work effectively by living them out in our own lives. Every person I have ever watched improve their lives has done so because they wanted to, rather because they were forced. Every one of them had missteps and failures, and every one was supported by others in helped up when they were ready. Some achieved their goals in a moment, some are working on them still. And all I can do is continue to help when I can and live my own life as well as I can.

And that is where Susan and I cross paths, in this belief in our mutual responsibility to support each other. It is impossible for me to know or judge the actions of others without a complete understanding of the life-long context of the decisions they made. And as that’s not really possible, the best I can do is try. When I talk to people, the question I ask most often is, why are you doing that? The answers help me understand their position and figure out if there is a way that I could help. Sometimes there is… sometimes not. I don’t really wonder if I should help, only consider whether I can. It is because of my feelings of responsibility that I am empowered to act, and this attempt at understanding allows me to help without fear of it being a waste. I am not walking their journey, but I can control what I do…

And I know I am eternally grateful for those friends and strangers that helped me along the way.

Join The Conversation