In my birthplace of Western Michigan, there was a kerfuffle involving a senior class group action. A large group of graduating seniors of the semi-rural community of Kenowa Hills decided to ride their bikes to school and were immediately suspended by the principal. As an avid bike-rider, I was immediately outraged, as were many others across the country as the story spread.
The next day, without the same publicity, the principal apologized, realizing that she overreacted. She visualized her students riding on roads that she perceived were dangerous, without fully processing the information that they had a police escort and other safety precautions.
Leaders often make decisions when they are triggered by flight-or-fight situations that activate the amygdala…what I tend to call the “lizard brain.” This is human nature. We are blessed with brains that have higher reasoning functions, but in times of anxiety, these are trumped by our lower mammalian and reptilian functions. It sounded like the principal’s initial reaction was out of a visceral fear for the students’s safety that triggered her fear reactions. The local TV station quoted her saying: “If you and your parents don’t have sense enough to know your brains could end up splattered on Three Mile and …Fruit Ridge (roads), then maybe that’s my responsibility.” Her initial gut reaction should not be a cause of shame or irredeemable consequences.
When I was an engineer working in industry, we had a saying… “We all make mistakes… it’s how you respond that matters.” Good leadership formation involves developing a sense of humility so that we can gracefully learn from our mistakes. I use the religious language purposefully — grace can manifest as undeserved forgiveness. As leaders, we should strive to embody the lovely litany of atonement by the Rev. Rob Eller-Issacs:
We forgive ourselves and each other;
we begin again in love.
#637 – Singing the Living Tradition