As a school principal, several times a day I would engage in what we called “walk abouts”.
This was where we would leave our offices in the hub of the school to go out on supervision throughout the school and school grounds. These walk abouts would help us stay connected with students and staff in the classrooms, the busy hallways, and the schoolyards. And through engaging in spontaneous conversations, and seeing staff and students in their environments, we would build stronger relationships and foster trust.
I particularly enjoyed spending time with the students who hung around the “smoke pit” at the back corner of the school. These were the students who tended to be more on the edge and were often more disengaged from the mainstream of the school.
I always valued hearing their thoughts about the school and life. What they felt was working. And what wasn’t working. They had very clear ideas about how things could be improved. And for the most part, they had insightful perspectives. Alternative viewpoints, reflecting an out of the box thinking, that were well worth listening to. Because they challenged me to see the school and world through a different lens.
But it was interesting. Because whenever I confronted them about their smoking or engaging in alcohol or drugs, they would quickly justify their behaviour by saying that it was no big deal, because everyone did it.
Although they seemed to appreciate that I cared about them, they had convinced themselves there was nothing to worry about because from their perspective these behaviors were simply common practice.
And within their friendship group, they were probably right.
But I was also certain, that if they were to expand their group and engage with other students groups within the high school, they would have quickly discovered that their assumptions were incorrect.
They would have learned how easy it is to normalize any behaviour when we spend time with, and follow, only one group of people.
And how easy it becomes to make a generalized conclusion, believing that everyone smokes. Or that everyone skips classes. Or that it is entirely reasonable to exclude others. Or demean women. Or be racist.
Simply because whoever we hang around with, has power to influence us. And we can end up following the crowd, rather than leading the crowd.
It is amazing just how easy it is to justify our behavior. We just have to find a few others of a similar mind frame. And we feel affirmed. And then even harmful attitudes and beliefs and actions can become permissible.
We see this playing out around the world where people of like minds have joined together and are following each other into territories that wound, demean, ridicule, silence, and exclude others.
Yet, we are called to a more loving and inclusive way. A path of acceptance and tolerance and forgiveness and grace. A knowing that there are blessed and beautiful and better ways to approach life.
But to find our way there – we must lead rather than follow. Where we push out the boundaries of our insulated groups and learn from a wider range of people of different backgrounds, education, cultures, race, faiths, genders, ages, and sexual orientations.
For it is when we go on walk abouts, and have the opportunities to be exposed to diversity, that our assumptions can be challenged, our minds stretched, and our hearts transformed.
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Photo Credits: Crocuses, Biegun Wschodni,from Unsplash