Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Meditation on the first day of spring semester classes--and an idea for our dysfunctional Congress

It's the first day of Spring Semester, and I'm going to meet my Contracts students for the first time this afternoon. Aside from the usual OMG moments (the bookstore ran out of our textbook, and I found out just this morning--thank goodness for Nettie, who PDF'd the first two assignments for us!), there's good excitement in the air.

I love the first day of classes. There's the adrenaline of preparing for class; the welcome sight of my colleagues coming back to school; and the sense of a fresh start for everyone.

Speaking of fresh starts (and no, not the one in the Bankruptcy Code), I was reading about Speaker Pelosi this morning and her comments about the Republicans stymieing health care. What tires me about all of Congress is this constant name-calling across party lines, which I find wholly unproductive.

There are two possibilities: (1) no matter to which party you belong, the other party is composed of demons; or (2) there are good and bad people in both parties. My guess is that the second possibility is more likely.

What Congress needs is a mental reset--a new semester of sorts. I don't see enough people in Congress saying, "Wait a minute! Maybe it's possible that people who are different from me politically have some good ideas--perhaps I should listen." And I certainly don't see anyone in Congress taking personal responsibility for the massive ill-will that exists now among its members.

This is where one of my favorite books comes in: Robert Kegan & Lisa Laskow Lahey, How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation (Jossey-Bass 2002).

That book forces people to see why they're afraid to change and how they've contributed to their own frustration. By presuming (correctly) that people complain only about that which matters to them, Kegan and Lahey give advice on how to deal with, e.g., long-term beliefs about others' reasons for behavior. It's a masterful book.

Grow up, Congress. We don't have time for your games any more. (And my contribution to the problem? Not voting out of office those folks who stick to the same-old, same-old behavior.) See? Kegan & Lahey's theory works!

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