Thinking About It Differently

This week I’m finding myself frustrated over and over again by the school policies being imposed on my children in the public school system. The approach to detention (my daughter was 10 seconds late for a class on a rainy day and my son “made a face” because he had to sneeze – both received detention) is absurd. The standard responses of the administrators are not too difficult to understand when “it’s our policy,” “it’s our policy,” “it’s our policy!” is their unending refrain.

Now admittedly, if we look at behavioral style (Secret #2), I am very low on the C scale which stands for Compliance. I am not a rules-oriented person generally but more of a creative problem-solver. That’s not to say that I’m not very conscientious and committed to whatever I say I will do (my clients can attest to this!), but it means that when I look at a problem, I don’t just see one solution or black/white. Rather I see many, many shades of grey. My wish is that we could look at children’s behavior in school and apply more of a low-C approach to it – problem-solving instead of inflicting punishment at every infraction.

I realize that the people who are high on the C-Compliance scale have their rationale and their place – after all, I would not want to board a plane that wasn’t inspected by some very rules-oriented person! The issue is that we should be trying to frame situations and responses differently when what we are doing isn’t working very well.

In my negative spiral while dealing with the school system, I was reminded again of the idea of reframing and its power to change the circumstance. Imagine if the school system, or the teachers, assumed positive intent on the part of our children and approached them as such. Imagine if, on a rainy day, a student came to class 10 seconds late and the teacher said, “That’s a good kid, just sit down and let’s get started” instead of viewing the child as a rule-breaker or a disruptive influence.

The blue eyes / brown eyes research from many years ago, which proved teachers will treat children as they suspect them to be (i.e. smart or not) and children will rise (or sink) to the level that the teacher sets for them, is a reminder of how much our approach to others and our expectations determine the outcome. If I believe you to be “bad,” everything you do will filter through this lens of “bad.” If I believe you to be the “loser,” everything you do will be colored with “loser.” But if I believe you to be a fundamentally smart and good person, I’ll cut you slack when your behavior indicates otherwise.

Imagine what a different experience it would be for my children if they were going every day into a place that assumed positive intent. That recognized they are still children, learning and growing and trying to find their way in the world. They might actually enjoy the experience of school instead of saying that “recess and lunch” are their favorite subjects. And for me, the sadness that I feel every time they have to walk through those doors would disappear.

Assume positive intent this week when dealing with others. Most of us really don’t mean to be annoying or difficult or frustrating; it’s just that we haven’t learned the best way to respond in all circumstances. If I extend the assumption of positive intent to you and you do the same to me, imagine how our relationship might grow and flourish. It takes practice but if we both commit to doing it, our overall relationship will improve.