A local activist was asked what advice they would give to the new superintendent of schools. Their response? “When he picks the people who will work directly around him, it’s important that he choose some who won’t always agree with him.”
This is such good advice, and not only for the Superintendent. I know that I have at least one friend who will reach out to me if my blog goes astray and will challenge me to do better. To be honest, that kind but persistent probing to consider possible shortcomings often makes me feel uncomfortable. But over time I have come to realize how precious it is to have people who will be that honest and who want to remain in a relationship whether times are good or bad.
I certainly hope that the Superintendent has trusted colleagues who will disagree with him. The same goes for the County Executive. The Chair of the County Council. The Board of Education. The President of the HCEA. Heck, let’s throw in local blogs and podcasts while we are at it. All of us are in great danger of becoming nothing but echo-chambers of our own points of view if we don’t actively welcome these uncomfortable relationships*.
I am talking about people who, in one way or another stand to affect the community, whether by action or by influence. They (we?) owe it to themselves and others to be more than cheerleaders for their own brand. May I state for the record, from personal experience, that this can be extremely hard to do. It’s far easier to circle the wagons. It can be so reflexive that you don’t realize you are doing it. It feels merely like good sense or self-protection, or defending one’s team.
But, no matter who we are, we should all have at least one person “on our team” who is willing to challenge us and disagree with us. If our motto is “if you are not for me, you’re against me” we may feel mighty and victorious but we lose something crucial. Sometimes we will be wrong; sometimes we will need to rebuild relationships with those we have wronged. Sometimes we will become stronger in our convictions by wrestling with disagreements from people we admire and trust.
Who is “on your team”? Do have have anyone who is brave enough to give you some pushback? Are you brave enough to hear it?
*I am not talking about entertaining trolls or those clearly bent on destructive endeavors. In most cases, effort spent on attempting to reason with them is not worth the time.
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