Reconciling “Civil Liberty” Claims that Compromise Public Health and Student Welfare:
When a “Me-First” Perspective Undermines Our “We-First” Needs
No one promised that Life would be easy.
But on some days (weeks, months, years), Life is more challenging than others.
On Friday morning, I woke up to the following new or continuing national headlines:
- A respected TV news journalist lost her 2-year-old son to pediatric cancer
- Eight people—half of them members of the Sikh community—were gunned down at an Indianapolis FedEx Ground facility. . . at least the 45th mass shooting (of four individuals or more) in the United States in the past month
- A 13-year-old Hispanic adolescent was shot and killed after fleeing from a police officer at 2 AM in an alley in the Little Village neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago
- Protests continued after 20-year-old Daunte Wright was killed by a police officer who used her gun instead of her Taser in Brooklyn, MN—only 10 miles from where George Floyd was murdered last year
- The Pandemic continues with its disproportionate effects on students and families of color, with disabilities, and in poverty.
- A letter published in JAMA Pediatrics presented a statistical model showing that, by February 2021, around 40,000 children had lost a parent due to the COVID-19.
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Yes. . . it’s easy to be overwhelmed by Life.
- For those who are spouses/partners and parents/guardians, there also are the daily and monthly realities of food, bills, health, insurance, taxes, parenting, and (sometimes) caring for aging parents.
- For those who are educators, essential workers, or other employees, there also are the daily and monthly realities of being productive, collaborating with co-workers, dealing with virtual or on-site pandemic-driven interactions, and earning a paycheck above the poverty line (and hopefully higher).
- For my friends and colleagues of color (Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and others), there also is the ever-present history and reality of implicit and explicit bias, prejudice, racism, threats, disproportionality, micro- and macro-aggression, and inequity.
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Being a solution-oriented person and professional, I want to provide practical and realistic recommendations to address the situations described both in the news and with the individuals above. . . and then apply them to the school and schooling process.
These recommendations necessarily exist along a continuum from policies, to procedures, to practices, to actual performance.
But at their root, the continuum is anchored by people.
And today’s message is a reflection on a “people-centered” continuum embedded in any solution I might recommend.
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When Claims for Civil Liberty Conflict with the Common Good
Also, earlier this week (Thursday, April 15), I watched a House Oversight subcommittee hearing where Ohio Republican Jim Jordan questioned Dr. Anthony Fauci on what it will take to fully reopen our country even as the current Pandemic continues.
[I note, parenthetically, how many school districts across the country are still teaching virtually, and how a number of districts—including those I work with in Michigan—have recently returned to virtual instruction due to COVID-19 spikes.]
Critically, the interchange between Jordan and Fauci became quite contentious as Representative Jordan framed Fauci’s public health recommendations as an assault on Americans' constitutional rights.
Here is the most telling transcript of the interchange:
JIM JORDAN: What metrics, what measures, what has to happen before Americans get more freedom?
ANTHONY FAUCI: My message, Congressman Jordan, is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we possibly can to get the level of infection in this country low that it is no longer a threat. That is when. And I believe when that happens, you will see--
JIM JORDAN: What determines when?
ANTHONY FAUCI: I'm sorry.
JIM JORDAN: What? What measure? I mean, are we just going to continue this forever? When do we get to the point? What measure, what standard, what objective outcome do we have to reach before Americans get their liberty and freedoms back?
ANTHONY FAUCI: You know, you're indicating liberty and freedom. I look at it as a public health measure to prevent people from dying and going to the hospital.
JIM JORDAN: You don't think Americans liberties have been threatened the last year, Dr. Fauci? They've been assaulted. Their liberties have.
ANTHONY FAUCI: I don't look at this as a liberty thing, Congressman Jordan.
JIM JORDAN: Well, that's obvious.
ANTHONY FAUCI: I look at this as a public health thing. You're making this a personal thing, and it isn't.
JIM JORDAN: It's not a personal thing.
ANTHONY FAUCI: No, you are. That is exactly what you're doing.
JIM JORDAN: No, your recommendations carry a lot of weight, Dr. Fauci. We just had the chair of the Financial Services Committee said she loves you, and you're the greatest thing in the world.
MAXINE WATERS: Will the gentleman yield?
ANTHONY FAUCI: My recommendations are consistent--
MAXINE WATERS: Will the gentleman yield?
JIM JORDAN: No, it's my time.
ANTHONY FAUCI: Can I answer the question, please? My recommendations are not a personal recommendation. It's based on the CDC guidance. We are doing very well with regard to the roll out of vaccines, and yet, we are seeing in the country that there are several States in which the numbers are going up. When we had the big peak in the winter during the holidays and beyond, then it came down. We would have liked to see it go all the way down to a very, very low level.
Arbitrarily, we don't know what that number is, probably less than 10,000 per day. Right now, it's up at a high enough level that, in fact, if you look at the weekly average, it's starting to creep up. So as I said in my last slide, we're at a critical turning point. Every day, we get better and better at being able to control it because every day, three to four million people get vaccinated.
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Congressman Jordan had every right to ask for some statistical criteria that would indicate a more complete return to our typical or normal routines and lifestyles.
But his strategically-selected statements regarding individual Americans “getting their liberties and freedoms back” because of public health steps that “threaten and assault” these liberties do not represent all Americans.
What about the Americans whose individual liberties and freedoms are contingent on the same public health steps—taken collectively by many Americans—that are needed to mitigate this Pandemic?
Said more generically:
How do we understand and reconcile, often when crafting policy, individual rights when some of those rights result when people need to act in the common good?
[For my educational colleagues, an example of this is free speech. When does a student’s right to “disruptive” free speech cross the line as it (even potentially) impacts the social, emotional, and behavioral climate and management of the school?]
One way to address this question is by understanding how a “Me-First” perspective or claim can undermine a “We-First” situation or resolution.
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The Me-First versus We-First Continuum
People’s reactions to most social and policy-related situations (including those even at the local school or district level in education) can be analyzed across a “Me-First” to “We-First” continuum.
At the Me-First polar end, people are totally committed to ensuring that they will fully benefit from any decision, or that all decisions will align completely with their attitudes, beliefs, attributions, expectations, or desires.
At the We-First polar end, people are totally committed to ensuring that any decision will best serve “the common good”—including those who cannot provide for themselves, or that all decisions will “right” a current or historical “wrong,”—providing compensation or reparation to the slighted group.
Some of the factors that influence your position along this continuum include, for example, your parental and family upbringing, socio-economic status, religion, politics, education, peers, mentors, social and cultural experiences, and personality.
Moreover, your position on the continuum typically is not fixed or universal. Indeed, it may vary across different issues.
But. . . from issue to issue, your position on the continuum influences three additional factors:
- Your emotionality or emotional states, and
- Your beliefs or attributional states
- Your behavior, interactions, and decisions
These emotional or attributional states are quickly triggered or heightened when someone starts at one of the two extreme ends of the continuum, and they are intolerant of anyone else’s differing perspective.
These states are also triggered (a) when someone has a significantly different perspective from another person—no matter where the two fall on the continuum; (b) when someone attacks or threatens another’s viewpoint; or (c) when the (potential) outcomes of a decision are viewed by someone as radically inconsistent with their Me-First or We-First position.
When these situations occur, we can (a) get extremely emotional and stop listening or become argumentative; and/or we can (b) “dig in,” possibly withdraw, and embrace our beliefs even more strongly (irrationally) while completely rejecting the viewpoint that is creating the cognitive dissonance.
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While this appears to explain some of the interchange between Jordan and Fauci above, I would suggest two additional (political) dynamics: patronage and persuasion.
Jordan’s extreme, calculated, and over-generalized jump from a public health concern to his individual rights assertion was an attempt to make political points. He was speaking directly to, if not patronizing, his followers. I believe that Jordan was playing to his Me-First constituency to convince them that he was “still in their camp.”
But he was simultaneously playing his own Me-First “card.” His patronage was motivated to inspire his constituency to support his Me-First desire to keep his elected position in the future.
Clearly, this is my interpretation and my belief relative to Jordan’s behavior. Moreover, the foundation of this interpretation is my own position on the Me-First to We-First continuum. . . a position where I typically look at policy issues from a We-First and common good perspective.
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How Do We Bridge the Me-First to We-First Continuum
The last statement above may be the most important point here.
When discussing policy or related issues, we need to be aware of our own position along the Me-First to We-First continuum, and then we need to listen and understand the positions of others involved in the discussion.
We also need to set ground rules to guide the discussion, and decide how decisions will be made.
Relative to the latter area, decisions can be made in different ways. They can be made by the group’s Chairperson after listening to members’ recommendations, by securing a group consensus, or as a result of a majority (51%) or super-majority (67%) vote.
The most important thing to facilitate good group process and members’ commitment to the final decision is that group members should know how a specific decision will be made before the discussion progresses too far.
In the former area, some “standard” ground rules include:
- Come prepared and on time
- Listen to each other with interest
- Participate actively in discussions
- Keep side conversations to a minimum
- Treat everyone with respect and in a dignified manner
- Interact positively and productively with others
- Ask questions for clarification when they don’t understand
- Encourage different points of view
- Are honest and open to the ideas of others
- Focus on issues and content, not personalities and personal agendas
- Are willing to compromise
- Check for others’ readiness before finalizing decisions
- Keep the best interests of their constituents in mind
- Commit to supporting all final decisions—even when disagreements exist
- Follow through on agreements and action items
- Review the effectiveness of each meeting at the end of the meeting, making suggestions to improve the group process in the future
When people are aware of their own position along the Me-First to We-First continuum, understand others’ positions, and follow the ground rules above, more—and more effective—decisions will result, and more individuals and groups will benefit.
There will still be disagreements, and there will still be impasses. But the group will progressively experience a “more perfect union.”
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Pulling it All Together
In reviewing the new or continuing national headlines in the Introduction to this Blog, some important themes emerge:
- Our health and the health of our children impact our social, emotional, and behavioral interactions individually and with those around us.
- Some of the guns that are readily available to the public can kill large numbers of innocent people in a short amount of time.
- People do kill themselves and other people at the same event, and the lack of mental health services—and effective mental health services—contribute at times to these acts.
- People do kill other people at times because of prejudice, revenge, hate, and intolerance.
- Police training, coaching, supervision, evaluation, and accountability needs to be modified, changed, updated, and supported. This takes money.
- There still is a drug problem in our communities—involving both illegal drugs and improperly prescribed legal drugs (e.g., opioids).
- Parental supervision and good parenting are still important. 13-year-old adolescents should not be out at 2 AM.
- Black history is real, and racially-motivated lynchings and other atrocities, community red-lining, prejudice and discrimination, and socio-economic losses to generations of Black families did (do) occur.
- The Pandemic has highlighted and extended the pre-existing disproportionate social, emotional, economic, medical, and other impacts on students and families of color, with disabilities, and in poverty.
- Our children have experienced significant family, social, and academic losses because of the Pandemic. We need to strategically approach these student losses knowing that they will need time, resources, expertise, and patience in order to heal and progress.
From a Me-First to We-First perspective, why can’t we take actions (e.g., relative to assault weapons) that prevent and resolve some of the issues above by making practical, We-First decisions that respect Me-First rights?
And, why can’t we use a variety of Me-First decisions and actions (e.g., relative to teaching Black history, addressing racism, and remediating current and past institutional wrongs in the Black community) that combine to become We-First benefits?
We have done this in the past—eliminating polio and smallpox, decreasing lung cancer due to smoking and breast cancer with mammograms, apologizing to and compensating Asian Americans confined in internment camps during WWII, requiring seatbelts and making cars mechanically safer while decreasing our insurance premiums, cleaning up our air and rivers, protecting our senior citizens and those with disabilities.
With some of the suggestions above, I know we can do this now and in the future.
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Unfortunately, some learn about the importance of prevention by experiencing misfortune.
But many times, the misfortune is a Me-First event, and it does not result in systemic change.
When enough misfortune is directly experienced by enough people, however, prevention and systemic change become more important and easier.
This occurs when misfortune becomes a collective, We-First event.
For example, if only a few people lose their electricity—even for an entire week—only they experience a desire for change. In response, they may individually buy generators for their houses.
But when an entire city or state (like Texas a few months ago) experiences the devastating failure of an entire electrical grid, immediate calls for changes in policy and procedures arise so that “this will never happen again.” Here, a We-First response is expected.
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This Blog has discussed the Me-First to We-First continuum, provided numerous examples, identified many critical issues that directly affect our lives and those of our children, and made a plea for discussions and decisions that are more balanced, reflective, respectful, and responsible.
The foundation of our success—in life, at home, in the workplace, and at school—is anchored by people who are willing to communicate, collaborate, and navigate the Me-First to We-First continuum.
We can do this.
I hope that these reflections are useful to you, and that you will discuss them with your family, colleagues, and community leaders.
If there is anything that I can do to add value to this discussion, please feel free to contact me with your questions, or set up a free, one-hour consultation with me and your team.