I have recently been reading a book called Mistakes Were Made (But not by me). It is a great read about the social psychology of cognitive dissonance and how we justify our mistakes, even in the face of overwhelming facts and data saying otherwise. This is the sort of thing you see where ex-VP Cheney denies the use of torture (see around the 2:00 mark) or something as simple as justifying your break from your diet to eat that slice of cake.
I bring all of this up for a specific reason. I started this year as an advisor for FSL, quite possibly a very idealistic one. I remember hearing calls and seeing things happen and wondering how we could be letting groups get away with that. Then, this week I found it happening to me. One of my orgs got into trouble and my first thought was that it was just the other party wanting my group to get in trouble. I remember talking about the situation and rationalizing it as to how my groups had not done anything wrong. I remember having conversations with my group in which I was carefully wording things in order not to blame them, but to encourage a future partnership where I had an outlet for deeper training with them.
I realized I was doing exactly what had tortured me so much just a few short weeks before. It reminded me of the fact that there are two sides to every story and it took time to hear them. It also reminded me that I too am human and fall prey to the cognitive acrobatics required to absolve my groups of blame.
As advisors and professionals in student affairs, we just want to see our students grow. It makes us some of the most optimistic individuals.
I think it also leads to the burning of a lot of bridges. We live in, thrive in these communities where our interaction with the local businesses and professionals benefit both them and us mutually. Yet when these situations occur, we immediately remove blame entirely. While that is important during the investigation, it can’t happen everytime something is noted.
Here is my challenge. We spend too much time being “Right” and not enough time being “involved.” The orgs I work with have decided (with quite a bit of convincing) that where ever the blame may lie, offering their apologies to the other party and offering to help correct it are the best course of action. I have to say thinking about it, it is one of my proudest moments thus far as an advisor, seeing my orgs challenge and teach me.
What if we spent more time involved and building those bridges than burning them because we are “right”?