Sunday, January 18, 2015

Claim it!

Address to students

In my previous school, if you were late, you had to come to my office and sign in, write why you were late next to your name and explain it to me if I happened to be standing there. The excuses were pretty entertaining.  Apparently, they don’t make very good alarm clocks in this country, because “my alarm clock didn’t work” was a favorite excuse. “Traffic,” of course, was up there, and if I didn’t know differently, the cars our students drove must have been real clunkers because “my car wouldn’t start” was frequently cited. Older brothers often blamed their sisters: “Mr. Weber, my sister takes forever to get ready for school; I have no idea what she’s doing in the bathroom for so long.”  And there’s not much loyalty to mom either: “My mother didn’t wake me up in time,” or even, “I’d have been here on time if Mom drove faster.” I once had a kid swear he got three flat tires on his way to school, each at different points along the way.

You’ll notice a common theme in all of these excuses: “It’s not my fault.” It’s pretty rare for someone to come in late and say, “I just got started too late today,” or “ I woke up too late,” or  “I’d knew I’d be late, but I was hungry and stopped off for some fast food on my way in to school.”

It’s not just true of your generation—it’s true for adults as well. Take for example, a seemingly straightforward statement: “I didn’t have time to do it.”  If we were being more honest with ourselves, what we should REALLY say is “It wasn’t a priority.” Proof of that is that if someone offered us ten thousand dollars to get whatever it was done, we’d drop everything else and do it. But they didn’t, and so we judged other things in our lives as more important that getting this one thing done.

In one form or the other, it's common to hear those in schools say: “Yes, we know our schools are bad, but you get what you pay for,” and the “public doesn’t support our schools”, so  “Our hands are tied. “ Do you see how neatly that passes the blame to someone else—in this case, the taxpayers?

It’s easy, too, to play the victim by passing blame up the ladder in an organizational structure. A coach, or a teacher, or a lieutenant in the military, or a person in a middle management position might be apt to blame their bosses, or the anonymous “administration” or the “man upstairs” for their lack of success at whatever his or her job is.

The problem is whenever we pass blame to someone else or something else, we surrender a little piece of ourselves to them, giving up our own authority and power to fix it ourselves, making us weaker.  We tell our bosses we are unable to tackle our own problems and in effect, ask them to fix our problems for us. 

People who work in drug or alcohol treatment centers understand this.  The first step in the twelve-step program to overcome addiction is the most difficult, these professionals say. That step is for the addict to say, clearly, without blaming anyone else, “My name is ____ and I am an addict." "I am ___ and I am an alcoholic.” If an alcoholic can say that, admitting they don't have the power to control their drinking, then he or she is on the path to recovery. But they have to claim it. Own it.  Admit it to themselves and to others. It’s the step many alcoholics can never take.

Some of you may know that I’ve been speaking to a number of students and their parents about poor performance in the first semester, outlining what has to happen this semester, attending tutorials, doing homework, etc. At the beginning of those meetings, I usually ask the student “What happened?” Again, it’s very tempting for the student to blame the school, the subject matter ("it's too hard"),  the teacher, or someone else. But in one of those meetings, the young man looked me right in the eye and said “Mr. Weber, I just didn’t work very hard. I didn’t turn stuff in. It wasn’t the teacher, or the school, and it wasn’t that the work was too hard. It was me. “ I was very impressed by this fella, and my guess is, he's going to be OK this semester. 

God didn’t make us perfect—we’re going to screw up from time to time. That’s a given. But what’s not a given—what distinguishes the mature person from the immature--is how we handle our screw-ups. When we do something wrong or poorly, let’s man up and say  “I am sorry; I made a mistake.”  That’s our best chance for not making the same mistake again. And the truth is, people will respect us more for the fact we’re owning our own problems and not expecting them to solve them for us. 

May we all have the courage to claim what is ours!

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