One of my top strengths is positivity. Despite this inherent part of my nature, I found myself struggling to balance hope and optimism with realism. My mind finally settled on an idea I first read about in Jim Collins book, Good to Great. Collins shares a conversation with Admiral James Stockdale who survived over seven years as a prisoner of war. Take a moment and watch the short video in which Collins explains the Stockdale paradox. (Click here to watch the video)
There are certainly brutal facts to face related to Harvey. Economic impacts approaching $200 billion, emotional trauma, displaced families and missed instructional time just to name a few. What steps can we take to retain faith that we will prevail and at the same time confront our current reality?
Get your mind right – Whether we are leading a classroom, a campus or a district, our attitude and approach sets the tone. Shifting our self-talk from, “I have to…” to “I get to...” shifts the paradigm of our thinking. Leaders make their biggest impact in times of great need.
Stay out of judgement – Human nature tempts us to blame victims. Nothing positive comes out of this type of thought. Conversation about what others could have done or should have done do not move us forward. Shame and blame do nothing to heal the human heart. Wisdom should drive us toward the parable, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”
Work to discover the true need – It feels good to give. A real challenge for us is to ensure we are giving others what they truly need, not just what we want to give. This requires us to be purposeful in collecting information about our friends, students and staff. Google forms have been a big help as we collaborate to collect information about how our learning community has been affected and what specific individual needs exist.
Plan for long-term comfort and care – The flood waters from Harvey have receded but the impact will be long lasting. We must be purposeful in providing ongoing support for those who we know are the most affected. We have assigned specific people to serve as the point-of-contact for continued support over time for these folks. A space will be created on our Instructional Leadership Team agenda that will allow us to keep this work on the front burner.
Exchange blind optimism with faith through action – No one can know how long it will take to recover from Harvey. That lack of a clear ending can create depression and despair. I believe the best medicine for this is service to others. I realize that my service has evolved and will continue to do so. What started with shelter volunteering shifted to pulling down moldy sheetrock and shoveling slime. Now is the time to shift to connecting people to resources that are beyond ourselves.
Extend grace – We will come to know whose homes have been flooded and cars have been totaled due to the storm. What will be harder to ascertain is the emotional toll. When we are swept up in the many tasks that need to be done, this can be easily forgotten. We can overcome this by focusing on the relational part of our work and extending forgiveness.
Remember the beautiful parts of this hard journey - My favorite memory during the past three weeks is of a family volunteering at the shelter I was working in right after Harvey passed. It was late when they came in with a cooler full of chicken and food that they had just finished cooking. Their children came behind them with arms loaded full of a variety of balls that were clearly taken out of their own garage. This act of kindness exemplified the giving spirit I have seen repeated time and time again. The lesson they were teaching their children was priceless.
Nothing brings people together faster than a common enemy. Harvey was truly that. He held no bias in race, class or political affiliation. His threat was to us all. How fascinating it is to see how people that would not have given each other the time of day a week earlier are now in service to one another. I have unrelenting faith that our city and communities will prevail over the long term. We may take a financial hit, but we will be far richer people in spirit.