As I mentioned in my last post, I was pretty content swimming in the murky waters of the U. I was relieved to abandon the idea of buying a pre-packaged program before we understood the problem. In October, we sent a “Social and Emotional Health Survey” to parents asking them to rank the most pressing issues.
I guess this might have confused some people who thought we were moving full steam ahead on bullying issues. The confusion, or maybe my lack of clear communication, led us to the decision to open up the committee to anyone who wanted to join. I am an advocate for transparency, but I have a natural love of efficiency. I worried that our progress would slow to a crawl, especially with regards to continual backtracking for people who dropped into meetings rather than attending consistently. Consensus was that the value of community involvement outweighed my operational worries.
Meanwhile, survey results surprised us all. While bullying ranked in the top 5, there were other issues that ranked higher, including self-management and assertiveness. Also of interest to parents were conflict resolution and educating both parents and children about navigating social media. And half of the respondents felt that self-management was the top priority, more than double any other issue. Self-management was defined in the survey as homework/test strategies,organization, impulse control, time management.
I felt we had a good sense of direction heading into our next meeting, the first open to the general public. Along with parents, we had some faculty there, and two eighth grades who asked to help before they even knew there was a committee. The flow of the meeting was different and we did spend most of the time trying to catch people up. And people had come in with their own agendas, which I don’t mean in a bad way, but it knocked us off course.
I’d had the luxury up to that point of coming to meetings and brainstorming. Therefore, we had no clear leader identified and no pre-printed agenda. Yes, that’s a failure on my part. I should have known better. Conscious Feminine Leadership is not a loosey-goosey anything goes system — safe space is made for valuing all voices and part of that safe space is clearly delineating boundaries including who the leader is and logistics, like when the meeting will begin and end. To say that the meeting descended into chaos would be an overstatement but it was demoralizing. Already feeling defensive what I imagined rightly or wrongly to be the other parents’ perception that I couldn’t handle this leadership role, I was on edge at the outset.
And then there are my buttons. I have a lot of them and they are apparently pretty easy to push.
Not saying that anyone did it on purpose, but as the informal structure of our meetings deteriorated, the loudest voices took over in ways that bore no resemblance to the work we’d done up to that point. In my fantasy world, we were going to start with a review of the survey results and move onto addressing the issues, one to five.
Maybe some of the attendees didn’t understand the survey or didn’t have faith in it, but I felt dragged backward to bullying, as if all the work we’d done to that point was being discarded. People had already formed their own opinions about priorities without regard to the survey results.
It’s clear to me now that we are dealing with a weighty set of topics here. The way a parent perceives their child has been treated, even the scars from the parent’s own childhood, can get in the way of clear thinking. And it got in the way of mine. The problems start when you are not aware of when that is happening in the moment and what Eckhart Tolle calls the painbody
takes over. I won’t bore you with the psychoanalysis, but I get very prickly when I feel as if my competence is questioned.
For example, when someone brought up the methodology and validity of the survey I countered by asking why these questions were being asked now, after the results were tabulated. Then and now, I don’t think we required a Gallup Poll level of precision. But had I simply answered the question that was being asked, rather the accusation that may or may not have been leveled, we could have simply moved on.
We were rapidly approaching Death By Meeting, and once I started fantasizing about tearing up the survey and throwing it up in the air and saying, “F*^% this, I’m outta here,” I was in deep trouble.
That’s why my inner dictator, Katie Mussolini, showed up and shut everyone down.
On one hand, it was necessary. We’d still be sitting there if she hadn’t and that was last November. On the other larger hand, I do believe that everyone deserves a good hearing, both as a general rule and specific to this project. We will need everyone’s support to successfully implement our plans and, most importantly, we want to address the true needs of the community.
I could quite convincingly argue here how right I was, but without a doubt I lost ground. Already shaky in terms of credibility, I made it worse by appearing unsympathetic and inflexible. The meeting ended unfinished, with palpable resentment and high emotion. And yes, even tears (not mine). Within minutes texts were flying.
Within the hour, my inner Sanhedrin showed up and, well, they’d already made their minds up as you can imagine. I couldn’t believe I had led us right into the heart of darkness, the hell of group dynamic dysfunction. And the thing is, I can’t name one thing that we actually accomplished that that one and a half hour clusterf*^%. The verdict: I’d ruined the meeting. The committee. Possibly the school, the parish, 700 kids’ lives. And so on.
But no one was going to buy my self-flagellation routine, so my penance was figuring out how to move this mess forward.