Friday, November 11, 2016

An Election -- Lessons for School Leaders... and for Other Humans

On occasion I have asked both students and teachers: "Is it more important to be right... or to be reconciled?" As educators, we understand the importance of relationships. James Comer noted, "No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship."  Without a doubt, effective school leaders understand the importance of building positive relationships within a school building. Sometimes, relationships get broken, and as a principal, I am wired for reconciliation. I want aggravated parents to be on the same page with their child's teacher. I want quarreling students to work through their differences.  And when I realize I have inadvertently alienated a staff member, I work hard to mend that fence.The personal quality that goes the furthest toward achieving reconciliation... is empathy.

This is sort of a letter to some of my Republican friends. I feel compelled to write it because much of what I've seen and heard lately reflects a lack of understanding of the emotions on the other side. (I choose to believe that it is a lack of understanding and not a total indifference. An "indifference" would bring me too much sadness.)  It is my belief that we will never achieve reconciliation without an attempt to understand. 

[If your goal is not reconciliation, I guess you can stop reading -- this post is not for you --- you and I don't share the same core values, and more than likely, my writing will not resonate with you.  This post is intended for people who care about other humans and who want to make the world a better place.]

First, I will lay my cards on the table.  I could not stomach either candidate; I voted for neither Clinton nor Trump.  I wrote in a candidate.  I clearly did not win.  I did not support Hillary; I cannot and will not defend her.  But there was a distinct difference between the candidates and their campaigns. And I'm not talking about economic policy, gun control, or abortion.  Many of you voted for Trump based on healthcare reform, based on his future appointees to the Supreme Court, or maybe simply based on the fact that he had an "R" by his name, and you think the other candidate should be in jail. I get it.

Donald Trump said many things that people perceived as attacking their core identities. Consider for a moment, how that might be different from criticizing someone's view on trade, or foreign policy, or taxes. (Please reread this paragraph; it is my central premise.)

For three years in elementary school, I attended a school that was 98% African-American.  I felt different.  I was different. It is impossible to adequately describe what it is like to be a minority -- to be the "other." But I can say this: it is not comfortable. Unless you have been marginalized -- unless you have been in a situation where you were clearly in the minority, it is very difficult to imagine yourself in that position.  But we must try.

If you are a minority in this country, there is a good chance you have felt victimized by Trump's rhetoric... and maybe even frightened by his proposed policies. The fear of someone who doesn't feel safe in his community is different than the fear of someone who thinks his healthcare premiums may go up. The anxiety of a woman whose dignity has been undermined is different than the anxiety of someone who doesn't want her assault rifle regulated.  When people have been hurt on a more personal level, it is reasonable for them to grieve on a more personal level. If you do not see that difference, then you have never been discriminated against, you have lived a charmed life... and it is even more imperative that you work on the "empathy" concept.

I will say again; I have not ever supported Hillary Clinton, and I am not defending her now. I know for a fact that some of you despise her. Your feelings about Hillary Clinton however, are absolutely irrelevant to this post. The purpose of this post is to encourage you to think about why some of your fellow humans were hurt in a very deep way by the candidacy of Trump. I know for a fact that many of you were bothered by the personal attacks of Trump, but you chose to overlook those comments because you thought there were more pressing issues that were being decided in the election.  Just be mindful of the fact that to those who felt put down, belittled, or alienated, nothing is more pressing than their own dignity.

In a very difficult moment in our nation's history, Robert F. Kennedy said, "But we have to make an effort in the United States.  We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond ... ."    You may be tempted to say, "But what about the people on the other side who did this?" or "What about the people who said that?"  And I would ask you; Is it more important to be right or to be reconciled?  As Stephen Covey said, "We must seek first to understand."  I want to work in a school that is characterized by empathy and a collective commitment to understanding one another. I want to live in a country that reminds me of my school. As school leaders, we build a stronger culture within our building when we work to restore relationships that are broken.  As citizens, we make our country stronger when we demonstrate empathy toward those with whom we disagree. 

This is not a post about politics. It is a post about people... and about relationships. It is my hope that all of my comments are constructive.  If you are a good person, that is your hope also.  Please don't make any political comments on this.  If you want to engage in some dialogue, feel free to call me or send me a message.  Peace.


  1. This is really powerful Danny. Thanks--from your Canadian neighbour. I, too, support reconciliation.

  2. Thank you, Gillian. Thanks again for reading and commenting.

  3. Well said, my respected colleague! I'm sending this to Aaron--he'll love it. Thank you for being a reasonable voice amidst the chaos.

  4. It is always great to read people's opinion, and you have a really strong opinion with a reason. This is actually worth sharing with your friends and family.

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