Friday, November 09, 2007

The Problem is Us

I had the privilege of taking a group of Middle School students to a group called Peer Summit, which is an all day seminar of various topics all designed to “Inspire the Future”. One group I sat in on was titled “Be the Change”, a group about youth empowerment and leadership. This group was based on four principles; 1) be honest, 2) communicate by listening, 3) put yourself in their shoes, and 4) set goals. As I sat listening to the facilitators and student interactions I realized the young teenagers get “it”, while the adult world that is their future sucks “it” out of them.

The first principle that was discussed was being honest, a prime factor all great leaders possess. What was striking to me was that here we are telling our kids to be honest in a world of dishonesty. We look to our supposed leaders of today and all we see are lies and half-truths so that we can reap personal victories. The message we are sending is that young children need to be honest with us, while we are allowed to be dishonest with them. This take and then not give example we are setting is the root of all “us vs. them” relationships we have with our children, and a breading ground for the mistrust they have for the adult world. The quote that the students placed on this particular topic was “if it’s to be, it’s up to me”. Meaning that if you want honesty then you have to be the change, something we should all pay a little closer attention to.

The second principle discussed is to communicate by listening. The majority of communication comes from saying nothing, meaning that we learn by actually hearing what the other person has to say. As adults we don’t take the time to listen to what our children are saying, in fact we don’t take the time to even listen to what other adults are saying. We are so consumed with trying to get our point across that we negate what is being offered to us in return, even when we can gain valuable insight from the person we are speaking with. By not listening we devalue the person in front of us ultimately cutting off the head of any progress through communication. Where does this lead us; with children it creates “I’m right because I’m the adult”, and with adults it creates systematic power struggles where the person with the authority gets what they want.

The third principle discussed was to put yourself in the shoes of others. When you are trying to lead others, if you don’t understand where they are coming from then you will never have the ability to properly lead them. It is impossible to have empathy, another prime factor in leadership, if you can’t see a situation with a different set of eyes. We as adults see the world through our eyes only and then question why people make the choices that they make. The quote for this segment was “the good you do will come back to you”, meaning that if you only do good for people in your shoes then your return will be limited. When we are able to do good for people who are in different situations other than our own, then your return will have a much greater impact.

The final principle discussed was to set goals. Goals are our vision, they allow us to focus on being the change that we want to be, and without them we are destined to remain stagnant. As children we have enormous goals which are mostly unrealistic, but the do have a vision attached to them. As adults our vision shrinks as we are more content with getting through today than we are with seeing where we would like to be tomorrow. This creates an environment where our goals have more to do with our immediate success as opposed to our future success, leading to a narrow vision with limited results. This principle finished with a quote from Gandhi; “you must be the change you want to see in the world”. This is an unattainable goal when our vision does not go beyond our own nose.

Throughout the group the students in attendance showed great insight and perspective that they could be the change that they want to see. This change starts with them, but needs to be encouraged and led by us. If we want our children to live more successful lives than we have, we need to be the ones to listen to what they are learning and act accordingly, because the problem is not them the problem is us.

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