Yesterday my daughter and wife came back from their Girl Scouts meeting deep in conversation. They were talking about a friend of my daughters who was being less than civil to another classmate. My daughter, appropriately, hadn’t participated.
But, she also hadn’t intervened.
One of the ideas we were trying to express to her (and it wasn’t easy, mind you), is the difference between not doing the wrong thing, and not doing the right thing. In this case, the wrong thing would have been to join in on the mean behavior. But the right thing would have been to tell her friend that she shouldn’t be treating another student that way. Instead, my daughter did nothing.
As leaders and learners, we have to recognize the value in taking action. And, we have to help others understand (and help ourselves see) that we are always tasked with doing right by others. This is the case for a few reasons.
First, learning and leading are built on relationships. It is incredibly hard to learn in a vacuum, and impossible to lead in one. So, we need others to help us get better at what we do. And, the only way we can count on others doing that is when we treat others as peers, and treat them with respect. Otherwise, we strain relationships, and therefore make it more difficult for others to benefit from their interactions with us, and with others.
Second, learning and leading are lifelong endeavors. We never know when we will be learning with, and/or from, someone later in life. Therefore, we need to make sure that we are always assuming that everyone has much to teach us, and we need to treat them as such.
After we spoke with my daughter for a while, she seemed to understand that being silent isn’t a way to make things better; it’s a way to keep things in the status quo. Rather, by taking action, and emphasizing that all need to be treated as if they have much to help us with, she would be paving the way (hopefully) for an opportunity to grow alongside a greater number of people, for now and into the future.