“If we can’t begin to have an honest discussion… without people taking it personally, that ‘s part of the problem…”
“There were some things that he talked about that were uncomfortable to me, but these are the uncomfortable conversations we need to start having now to start figuring out where we’re going…”
“If you don’t want to have these conversations because you might be offended…”
It's the title of the episode from which I pulled the statements above.
The “I’m offended” episode clearly struck a nerve as it shot up to the number-one spot on iTunes and stayed there for a few days.
In the podcast, Don made two big points:
- -- We can’t allow concerns about offending our peers to inhibit our growth.
- -- We have to be willing to listen to people outside of academia for answers to the future of education.
I have no idea whether this episode resonated with listeners because they agreed with Don’s comments or were offended by them, which is why what happened next gets really interesting.
Surrounded by Irony
The “I’m offended” segment is the first Don Wettrick podcast I’ve listened to since we stopped producing his show on BAM Radio in 2015; so it was good to hear his voice.
A few days later, I was walking by the studio and heard Don's voice again. Don was back on BAM Radio as a guest of Jon Harper’s show, My BAD. Jon's program is all about how and what we learn from openly sharing our mistakes.
I paused to listen…
Interrupting a show in-process is generally a bad idea for many reasons. But as I listened, I felt that we were missing an opportunity to have a powerful conversation, so at the risk of estranging three people I respect, I jumped in.
Suffice it to say the interruption was awkward, uncomfortable, tense and unsettling to all. Some of what I said was clearly offensive. In fact, I can’t honestly say that I would have approached a typical guest as candidly as I engaged Don. But hey, I had produced a show with him for two years; if we can’t be candid with each other, what kind of relationship did we really have?
We all got through the exchange, no one required medical attention, and Don, Jon, and Jeannette went on to produce an excellent show titled, Sometimes Growth Is Ugly, Embarrassing, and Hurtful.
Don shared a compelling story about how he offended a student and what he learned from the experience. One of the most fascinating parts of his story was hearing how his student also grew from his "offensive" comments.
I regularly find myself offended by what I believe are false ideas about relationships and growth. We talk a lot about “authentic relationships” in education, but I see too few of them in practice. Yeah, I know I just offended some people. I heard the mouse clicks as they left this page. That’s okay; I know they’ll bump into this point again somewhere down the road.
Ironically, we all know the truth about relationships but seem to routinely ignore it. Authentic relationships are messy, awkward, embarrassing, sometimes ugly, and periodically hurtful.
Ask any happily married couple who have spent a few decades together. They will gladly give you a testimonial.
We hurt people we care about; the people we care about hurt us. Why? Because we’re human. Indeed being "periodically offended" may be one of the most significant indicators that you are in an authentic relationship.
I’ve seen firsthand how people pleasing, being mechanically “nice” and avoiding potentially offensive conversations at all costs limit our ability to be in a meaningful, growing, truly authentic relationships. I’ve seen some of the most kind, collegial people I’ve ever met writhe in pain when a relationship they thought was "authentic" collapsed from a relatively minor offense.
There’s a new book making the rounds called Radical Candor. I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it. The key idea is that caring and candor go hand in hand.
Candidly, I’ve seen no evidence that authentic relationships are possible without both caring and candor.
Perhaps Don Wettrick said it best:
“If we can't begin to have an honest discussion… without people taking it personally, that ‘s part of the problem…”
Hats off to Don, Jon, and Jeannette for working through a very candid discussion. I especially want to recognize Don. He bounced back from a difficult conversation and shined. He walked the talk, and my respect for him soared.
Most importantly, we all grew together and produced something truly authentic worth sharing with others.
Viva la candor!