Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ministry of De-Escalation

Like much of the nation, I've been pondering the situation of Sandra Bland and what happened in Texas.  The story which started me down this road was the one broadcast by NPR's Morning Edition, where an analyst listens to the recording of what happened at the side of the road where Bland was first pulled over.

The analyst points out several times where different decisions could have been made by both Bland and the state trooper.  But for reasons that may never be fully clear, they both decided to escalate.

In the national conversation that I've seen, we focus on police-community relations, but I'm willing to bet there are many workplace situations where we see similar decisions to escalate.  Even if these incidents don't result in death, they still result in a society where people are distrustful and angry.

I think about my own workplace, where I often see angry, angry students.  I try to calm them down, and I try to ascertain what's brought them to me.  I know it's nothing good--people don't make a special effort to go to a department head to report on the great job that a faculty member is doing.

I try to remember to smile, but in a sympathetic not a condescending way.  I try to listen.  I try to explain what the situation might look like from a faculty point of view, but I try to do this without making students feel that their concerns have been dismissed.

Often, I can't fix the situation.  They come too late with too much work remaining undone.  But I try to keep the situation from escalating.  Students and their parents are all too ready to go to the upper levels of management or to the press or to bring in lawyers.  And even if there's no case, I would prefer we not go down those roads.

I've spent time lately thinking about ministries and how we see our ministry.  I've wondered how our nation might change if we saw our ministry as being one of reconciliation. 

One way to do that might be to seize opportunities to de-escalate situations.  People can't be reconciled when everyone is vibrating with anger.

I can't make everyone's anger vanish, but if I keep my anger and frustration tamped down, I've taken a giant leap towards de-escalation.  If only more people could do so.

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