Dear Organizational Psychology MA Students,
February always makes me think of Black History Month, President's Day and, yes, also Valentine's Day. (My apologies to Valentine's Day haters out there; I know you are numerous, and I get it.)
But, Valentine's Day was always a big celebration in my house when I was a girl. I'm not sure why, but it was a family celebration for us, not a romantic one. My brother and I got Valentine's gifts from our parents (I still remember the year I got a very fancy gumball machine, best present ever) in addition to copious chocolate in all forms. How could I not love the day?
Now, miserably, Valentine's Day will also always make me think of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, FL that occurred on February 14, 2018. Yet, my mind quickly goes to the biblical expression, "out of the mouths of babes," which is used when a child says something startlingly honest and wise. The children around the world, mobilized by the young students from Parkland, who protested senseless gun violence with courage, maturity, thoughtfulness and determination, inspire me to this day, a year later. I look to them for hope and for fresh ideas and renewed energy to tackle the seemingly endless issues that divide us in these times and that threaten our very existence on Earth. They continue to be a beacon.
I was saying goodnight to my 12-year-old son, Mateo, one night last week, sitting on his bed in the darkened room, smoothing his covers and adjusting his pillows, when he blurted out, "Today was a terrible day, Mom. It was TERRIBLE! It was the worst day ever!" He went on to tell me about a minor mishap at school, something that was quickly and easily resolved and that seemed of no consequence. I replied, "Sweetie, I get that you felt bad about that today, but it was really a tiny thing, not a big deal. It might go easier for you if you let some things roll off you a bit more. You know, try not to get so upset by the little things, but just ignore them and not worry about them so much." Mateo sat up suddenly, looked right at me and said fiercely, "I could say the EXACT same thing to you."
"That's fair," I responded.
Out of the mouths of babes.
The scholar Amy Edmonson (whose work on psychological safety highlights a critical component of high-performing teams) tells us that we need to remove status barriers in our team interactions. She warns us not to focus solely on the ideas shared by the most powerful person on the team, but rather to focus on the best ideas, no matter who shares them. In essence, she reminds us that the best teams listen to what is said by all of their members -- the powerless, the young, the old, the new, the "different" -- everyone.
This month, I am going to draw strength from the hope and wisdom of the young people of Stoneman Douglas High School, and I am going to try to listen more to everyone in my various teams, including my favorite one: the team that lives with me.
Hug those you love on Valentine's Day. And, consider giving someone a gumball machine.
Sarah Brazaitis, PhD
MA Program Director