Sunday, June 8, 2014

Response to "An Open Letter to The Administrators at Wayzata High School"

"My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." - John F. Kennedy

There is one item floating around Facebook this week, to which I need to respond. Openly, candidly, and without reservation. 

I’m referring to the blog article: An Open Letter to The Administrators at Wayzata High School. The opinion article is a heartfelt message, written shortly after yet another tragic death at Wayzata High School this week. And this death hit very close to our home. 

Robert Pettis (most knew him as Bobby Moore) was a valued and respected member of my son’s swim team. Bobby had a wonderful smile. When we were remembering Bobby this week, that’s the first thing that came out of people’s mouths. “What a wonderful smile Bobby had.” 

I recall a swim meet when Bobby forgot his swim cap. My son immediately gave Bobby his. Because that’s what Bobby would have done for you. The swim team has continued to come to grips with this tragedy this week. With the great mentoring and support of the coaches, parents, and athletes themselves, they have begun to heal. 

However, this open letter wishes to find blame for the too-early deaths of Bobby and others. It asks the WHS school administration, “What are YOU going to do about it?” 

Finding someone to blame (and then blaming them) may give us a substitute sensation for having solved a problem when we haven't really understood cause and effect at all. Sure, anger and self-righteousness are exciting feelings, but we mustn't become so hooked on the excitement of the moment that we stop being able to see more subtle shades of cause and effect. Blaming others is a neat little way of letting ourselves off the hook. 

The opinion article also seems to point fingers at the aggressive nature of the athletic program at WHS. The author postulates that there is too much emphasis placed on success and little to no emphasis on the importance of the individual.

For me, that is where the line was crossed. I’m familiar with the athletic program in the Wayzata school district. The coaches stop at nothing to ensure that each student athlete is made to understand they are important to the program. No matter how fast or slow, how weak or strong, how talented or not. Each. Athlete. Has. Value.

I had the great fortune of being a parent volunteer for one of the middle school sports programs this past school year. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The value of each and every athlete on the team was underscored on the second day of practice.

There were over one hundred athletes spanning the three Wayzata middle schools. The head coach, a middle school teacher, went to each and every athlete, pointed and said his name. Then he said, “You are important to this team.” So many new faces, and yet every name was 100% accurate. And every athlete left that day knowing he was important to the program and to the head coach.

Bobby’s passing was tragic. Many tears flowed this week after it was announced. He will be truly missed. But it was not the fault of one person or one group. Of course, sometimes an organization or individual really can be woefully, even fatally, negligent; in that case, just blame is right and proper. Terrible life-threatening mistakes are made sometimes. But on a day-to-day level, I think it's more true that passing the buck is now a cultural pastime.

If everything is someone else's fault, then what part do I play in my own life? Are my actions entirely without consequence? Am I that powerless? Or do all my actions only lead to good outcomes?

My sincere and heartfelt message to the young people who stumble across this blog entry: Life is full of people who take emotional shortcuts and blame others unfairly or aggressively; for the sake of the human race, don't be one of them.

It is a big problem when finding blame becomes more important than finding ways to put things right. We need to develop the capacity to be objective enough about ourselves to avoid assuming that we could never possibly create problems on our own.

I do not want one more teen suicide at WHS. Not ever. So how do we prevent them?

We start, not by asking others what THEY are going to do about it. We start by asking ourselves what WE can do about it. Don’t play the blame game; step up to help. 

“…ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."