In case you missed the title, yes, this is a commentary on the modern landscape of learning organizations, the United Staes Department of Education, and regional accreditors.
I have this friend named Cole Age who wrote me recently in search of some help. I asked permission to share his struggle with you. Perhaps you have some advice for him.
Cole feels like his is stuck between two competing forces. When he first spoke with me, he was nearing despair. He tries to respect and please one person only to find the other pulling his attention in another direction. Both his mom and dad say that they want him to be good, happy, healthy, and successful; but the two of them can’t seem to agree on what that means or looks like.
It doesn’t help that they can’t even seem to agree on the same standards or vocabulary. Even when both of them use the exact same word, Cole often finds that they have different meanings. Or, just as he thinks that he has it figured out, one of them creates a new list of rules or adjusts the definitions on the existing rules. “Well, your dad means this by that term, but here is is what I mean…” Really? This is no way to run a family. Can you imagine the state of our government or schools if they did the same thing?
Sometimes Cole’s dad calls the shots and mom seems to just go along with it, but it is pretty clear that she doesn’t fully agree. Cole’s mom seems frustrated with his dad, and his dad seems to be on some sort of power trip, claiming that it is for the good of the family and necessary to protect the financial well-being of the household. Yet, from Cole’s perspective (and that of many of his siblings), there are plenty of ways to protect the family finances without creating this massive set of confusing and deflating rules and family regulations.
Then his mom turns around and sets up a new set of rules, and he can’t even tell if her rules align with the ones that dad set up. Cole explains that it would be so much easier if the two of them would sit down together, clarify their priorities and speak in unison. Better yet, he would love some family meetings where they could work through this together. As it stands, his mom and dad do meet, and they even consult the favored siblings on occasion (leaving Cole and many other siblings out), but then they end up creating a new set of “rules” that hurt or hinder the rest of the family (and Cole has a huge family). According to Cole (and me), there has to be a better way.
Some of his other friends have experienced this same thing, and they have reacted in a number of ways.
- Some have pretty much checked out. They don’t try to do anything creative because they know that will just trigger a litany of checks and critiques from mom, dad, or both. So, they just play it safe, even though they are growing more bitter each day and failing to maximize their potential.
- Others have become masters of manipulation. They know how to work the mom/dad system with perfection, and they can get away with almost anything that they want.
- Then there are others who baffle me. They seem to call the shots instead of their mom and dad. It is as if the parents submit to these special kids while demanding submission from the others. I’m sure there is more nuance to the dynamic, but that is what it looks like from Cole’s viewpoint.
- Then there is this other group that intrigues me. They just moved out of the house and are living on their own. They don’t have to bother with mom and dad’s seemingly conflicting and confusing rules anymore. They have set up their own families and communities and, compared to others, this group seems to be doing some of the most incredible things in their lives.
Cole doesn’t get it. When he talks to his mom or dad (or usually they just write letters to him and the other siblings), they insist that they want him and the other sibling to be healthy, happy, and successful. They’ve also recently put a large emphasis upon Cole and the siblings embracing an innovative and creative approach to their lives, one that benefits society as a whole. They encourage him to live a creative and courageous life. Then, when he and other siblings take that advice, the parents start shifting rules, definitions, expectations and processes on them. How does that promote creativity?
It isn’t like Cole is trying be some sort of renegade. He has read and re-read his mom and dad’s expectations, doing his absolute best to respect their standards…often far more than other siblings. He has important and substantial subtleties in what he does to embrace creativity while honoring their rules, but that doesn’t seem to matter. To Cole, it feels like the parents have not even taken the time to really understand what is distinct, even world-class, about what he doing. They use these narrow definitions that often don’t even apply to the real world situations for Cole.
Cole is the first to admit that he doesn’t agree with several of his parent’s rules. As much as his mom and dad say that they are pro-creativity, from his vantage point, it seems like they are only pro-creativity for the select and favored siblings. As far as he is concerned, they would be delighted if the rest of the siblings just faded away over the upcoming decades. They listen to the wants and ideas of some while seeming to disregard that of others. In fact, even when some of his ideas are widely explored, celebrated and discussed outside of the family; his mom and dad seem to pretend like his work and perspective doesn’t exist. Yet, he remains diligent in striving to follow the letter and spirit of their rules while also embracing their challenge to live a creative and courageous life. After talking to Cole, I am just not sure how much longer he can do it. The limitations and uncertainties are, at times, just too stifling. I can see it eating away at his passion, energy and sense of calling.
I can say with confidence that Cole truly does respect his parents and he likes being part of the family. Yet, in the end, he has to be true to his calling and what he believes that he called to do with my life. It seems like moving out is one of his few remaining options, but he is still open to our advice. Is there another way? What do you say readers? How can we help Cole Age figure this out?