A few weeks ago, I picked up my friend’s 10 and 7 year old from elementary school. When they got in the car, the 7 year old was excited to show me her new yearbook. She looked at her brother inquisically and asked, “Where is your yearbook?” The 10 year old boy looked to the floor and said, “We didn’t get them today. Two boys in my grade were goofing off at lunch and throwing bananas at each other. The principal got upset and punished our entire grade for their behavior. One of the punishments was not getting our yearbook until tomorrow and the other is our entire grade has to write apology letters to the cafeteria volunteers. I think it is dumb, I shouldn’t have to apologize for something I am not responsible for.”
By the time we got to the house, I could tell he was very upset. I pulled him aside to chat because I wanted to fully understand the circumstances of the event and talk through it with him. He explained the event in full from his perspective and said, “I don’t understand why I have to apology for their behavior.” We continued to chat about the situation and attempted to look at the problem from different angles. We talked about the disciplinary actions taken by the school and what would happen if he wrote the letter vs not writing the letter. We also talked about what it feels like to apologize for something you aren’t actually sorry about. After we talked it out, it was up to him to make a decision about whether he wanted to write the apology letter or not.
A few days later, I saw him and he said to me, “Rachel, I want to tell you something. Do you remember the apology letter the principal wanted us to all write? I talked to my teacher and told her my opinion on the issue and why I chose not to write it.” I asked him, “Well, what was her response?” He said, “She told me she understood my point of view, but I like the other kids that didn’t write the letter had to go to study hall during recess. I just read a book while I was there.” At this moment, I was having a hard time understanding why he looked so happy about it. I asked him, “How do you feel about it?” He said, “I feel good about it. I stood up for what I believed was right. I should not have to write an apology when I don’t feel sincere about it. Ya, I had to go to study hall but it was worth it.”
I share this story with all of you because I believe the lesson is important. We shouldn’t just do things because others tell us to, without first thinking through it. We can’t just blindly follow our leaders. We need to consider our personal ethics, principles and beliefs and how they align with the request of the leader. When I was working in an adolescent psychiatric treatment facility and was asked by a supervisor to take the food cart back to the kitchen, I refused because a child on my unit was threatening suicidal behaviors and I chose to stay with her. In the moment it felt like the obvious thing to do. I chose the safety of my client over the orders of my supervisor. I was later fired for insubordinate behavior.
When these types of situations arise in the workplace it is important to ask ourselves, “How do I feel about this? Is this behavior in line with my core values, principles and beliefs? What are the consequences if I choose to act or not act upon what they are requesting of me? What is their motive behind the request? What are the opinions of the other parties involved?” Not until we can honestly answer these questions, can we make an educated decision regarding what we should do, I challenge you this week to pause and reflect on your actions before taking them. Ask yourself, “If I was a mentoring a 10 year old, would I advise them to do what I’m about to do?”
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