Maybe it is because I worked with young people most of my life, including being used as a mentor for those younger than me when I was still young, that I am so painfully aware of the messages we send through our behavior. Though far from perfect, I try very hard to ensure my words and actions set a good example for those around me. Not everyone does. This past week I have experienced several different examples of the way in which adults have set behavioral examples for young people in very big ways:
On Thursday night, the Ohio State Marching Band participated in the Parade of Bands at the Pumpkin Show. This is normally a well-attended parade even without this prestigious band, and folks arrive early to ensure a good spot for the parade. After hours of “Is The Band coming?” from a stroller bound tyke, an adult placed themselves within their view just before the arrival of the OSU band. Although politely asked by the parents to move, the offender not only refused, but began using foul language to express their stupidity as the crowd opinionated as well.
In a completely separate incident, it was observed that an adult organization was shorting their own youth organization with dis-honest behavior. Although the youths would not likely have known, the adults involved in the youth organization expressed their aggravation is a way too obvious for the children to ignore. With potentially decimating effect, the adults form the youth group confronted the other group toe-to-toe, discussing the problem and coming to an agreement.
Now I read about a group of referees who are about to be punished for a charitable deed because Todd Stordahl, chair of the governing body, is concerned about the message it would send to the young people, if he did not. There was a rule, the adults broke the rule, they should be punished, not because they broke the rule, but because they did not follow protocol.
Everything we do is observed by someone. We have absolutely no control over how those observations will be received and perceived. To punish someone for not following protocol may seem the correct thing to do, but it also sends a message of futility: do something nice for someone else and you will only have to suffer. No, that is not the only message, but it is just as likely to be the perception of the young people as the lesson Stordahl would like to send.
Rules are in place for a reason, and without consequences for breaking them, they are useless. However, each individual situation, as with each individual, should be evaluated for its own merits. As a group, thees referees not only gave up a paycheck, but chose to alter their whistle color to support a world concern. Within the group, there was not a single individual who thought to go throughout he proper procedures, and as a group should face consequences. The real question isn’t so much should they face consequences, because Stordahl is right-this does set an example for the young people, but what those consequences should be.
When a punishment outweighs the crime, there are lessons as well, just as the lesson of mercy can be taught. Perhaps this particular situation is not nearly as difficult a conundrum as it appears. The point is not as much that they didn’t follow the rules as it was that they didn’t follow procedures. What about requiring each participant to voluntarily conduct a school of instruction for the teams within the jurisdiction, focusing on why rules are important and how to go about properly making changes and when such a thing is appropriate? The best way to make a point, is to actually share that point with those with whom you wish to make an impression.
Because the charity involved was the Susan G. Komen Foundation, just as appropriate a “punishment” might involve required hours of active service to the organization or perhaps even requiring the playoff uniforms for the referees to be entirely in pink to reflect continued support as well as the fact that rule breaking has consequences. Natural consequences do not always need to be highly unpleasant to make the desired point.
Think hard Mr. Stordahl about the lesson your punishment teaches. Of course he is not the only one who needs to be thinking hard right now about the messages they are sending. From the little lessons such as where we should stand, to the big lessons of problem solving, every single thing we do sets an example for someone else. We cannot control the exact message received, but we can control the appropriateness of our individual behaviors.
Who are you going to teach what today?