I have a true story for you. It’s a difficult story to hear, but I’m not sharing this to sensationalize, or to cause despair. Instead I’m telling it to bring hope, and to talk about what is possible when (and if) things are done right.
Back when I was an educator, working in the community mental health setting, more than one staff member (on occasion) lost their bearings. One day a male teacher, provoked beyond reason by the taunting of an adolescent boy, literally climbed over a table, tackled the student, wrestled him to the ground, straddled him, and put both hands on his throat. The teacher was angry, pumped up, and out of control.
After a couple of verbal requests went unheeded I literally pulled my colleague off the young man. He was angry at me but I said, quietly, “I just saved your job. Go take a long walk and I’ll take charge of your classroom until you’re ready to come back.”
Later we talked about it with the principal. In response, I was asked to do a study of excessive force in the unit. The details are very interesting, but the bottom line is that we detected some pervasive patterns and I was sent to be trained as an instructor – along with the lead teacher – in NCPI (non-violent crisis intervention).
We trained our staff, then toured the city doing training for other faculties. The local police took the same class.
The point here is fourfold:
- Anyone, no matter how well-intentioned, can get carried away and lose their bearings when it comes to dealing with crisis situations. People make mistakes.
- Colleagues who “stand by” are also responsible for interrupting misconduct.
- There is quality training available, and good training is not rocket-science. If protocols are followed then it is possible to deal with difficult situations safely, and to act in good faith.
- When everyone understands this, tragic results are not only 99% avoidable, but when they do occur there is now a practice and history of training, trust, and good faith that goes a long way.
Three months of crisis and now this:
So, with the backdrop of that story, I am very disappointed in how this month is winding down. Three particular images have elbowed their way front and center:
- Bullying from high office,
- Lying and manipulation for political advantage, and
- Brutality hiding behind the uniform of those who (generally) swear to serve and protect.
We are three months into a crisis that still has the potential to be an unprecedented opportunity to work together for the common good, laying the groundwork for a more united front, moving forward.
Instead, we are polarized, angry, uncooperative, and increasingly at odds. Situations like the one in Minneapolis are exacerbated by all the mixed messages, uncertainty and division.
Missed opportunities make me sad.
But “what is possible” remains a beacon of promise!
But hope remains, because institutions such as the church are, for the most part, doing this right. And we are a microcosm of society where what is possible can shine like a beacon of light and promise!
And, the story I led with became the catalyst for systemic positive change, across the board, not only in the school where I worked but the entire county. Literally hundreds of teachers and staff benefited from the training, along with thousands of children. It was a change in trajectory with implications decades into the future.
The same is true for this moment in our history.
We can do better. We can effect positive change. We can learn from our mistakes. We will come out of this crisis – these crises – as a better people, a better country.
That is my hope. It is also my experience. It can be our promise!
In hope – DEREK