What is Authenticity? (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

 

Woman Shaking Hands (Retrieved on June 9, 2014 from http://thefutureofink.com/affiliate-sales-digital-content/)

Woman Shaking Hands (Retrieved on June 9, 2014 from http://thefutureofink.com/affiliate-sales-digital-content/)

Authenticity. Just what is authenticity? And, what is it not to be authentic? To be authentic, to me, means many things. A person who is authentic is real, honest, genuine, and appropriate. Someone who is authentic is one who is able to have respect and appreciation for another person, but not necessarily always agree with or go along with the other person, especially if that other person’s words and actions are inappropriate, unprofessional, wrong, immoral, or illegal.

For instance, a friend who is a true friend can say something to another person that might be potentially hurtful, but may be something that needs to be said. A true friend is one who can say something to another that is honest, and that the other person may not like to hear, but also that is something that needs to be brought to the other’s attention in order for growth, development, and progress to occur within that other person. A person who is able to risk losing a friendship or personal interaction by behaving in these ways is one who is authentic.

There are also those who are not authentic. Inauthentic people are those who are unable to say what they truly think or feel. People who are not authentic say and behave in ways that they want, being oblivious of the manner in which they may speak or act toward others in ways that are harmful and hurtful.

When I think of people who are not authentic, I think of those who commit some type of wrong against another, and ultimately, against themselves. These are people who may be unfaithful to their spouse; sexually harass others; overlook, minimize, or deny serious issues occurring within relationships with others, such as different types of abuses; commit crimes against others; and deny that they have had any part in causing another person to think, feel, or act in a certain way.

People who use verbal, physical, and/or sexual harm toward others, therefore, are those who are inauthentic. People who use their power, influence, money, and status in ways that harm others, deny services to others, or marginalize others are those who are also inauthentic. People who are the puppets of others, doing harm toward others just because they are “doing what they are told” and/or “following orders” are those who are inauthentic, as well. They are unable to see how their words and actions are inauthentic and harmful toward others.

There are many more examples of people in my life who have been inauthentic rather than authentic. Perhaps this is because they are more prominent in my mind as a result of the hurt and harm they have caused. At any rate, some people who have been authentic in my life have been a school principal who became my supervisor in a school where I was substitute teaching many years ago. He was authentic.

Another person who is authentic is a lady who was an administrative assistant in a Catholic school at which I worked several years ago. She is authentic. My son is also a person who is authentic. Perhaps it is because I have taught him to be authentic and that it is okay to be truthful about something, even when his conduct could have been better, that he is real. I am proud that my son is authentic, real, and honest.  I have found that those who are truly authentic seem to be people who are confident and sure of themselves, without having to put on a mask and hide who they really are.

An example of a person who is not authentic is a former professor/mentor who wrote recommendations to accompany my applications to law school many years ago. Believing that he and I had established a strong and good rapport, I asked him to provide recommendations for me, only later discovering that they were worthy of lining a trash can. He was and still is inauthentic, as I also had a recent experience in interacting with him in which he proved to me that he has remained inauthentic.

Other examples of people being inauthentic are those who portray themselves as trusted members of the community, and then betray that trust and confidence. These can be people such as a church priest who threaten others with the Mafia, simply because they are unable to take responsibility for their own wrongs. They prefer to dishonor themselves and cause harm to others because they are in denial and are unable to hold themselves accountable for their own unethical or immoral conduct. The same can be said of the wealthy and powerful church Santa Claus who sexually harasses those of the opposite sex, beginning when they are young girls, believing there is nothing wrong with his behavior, and in fact, blaming the girl for his own misconduct.

The same can be said of those whose misconduct reaches a criminal nature, particularly in relation to sexual abuse or sexual assault. And, what makes it worse is when a group, church, or community supports the person who is inauthentic because they are unable to be insightful about and believe that others can conduct themselves in the inauthentic manner that was described, which simply leads to even more inauthenticity with even more people. Additional people who are inauthentic are those who stand by and doing nothing to stop another person from being inauthentic toward another person in a harmful way. Simply not wanting to get involved is a cowardly excuse to me.

In my experience, it has often been those who have positions of authority, and/or power due to wealth, influence, or status in a group, church, workplace, or community who are inauthentic. A person who is inauthentic can also be a parent or a spouse, simply because they are not real and are unable to consider or believe the truth of another’s story. Perhaps no one was there for them in their time of need, so they are unable to place themselves in the same position when a loved one is in a position of need.

It is important for people to be real and authentic. Often, people who are inauthentic believe they are always correct, believe they can do no wrong, and are unable to even listen to or consider that they may have had some part in a situation in which their inauthenticity caused another person to be harmed in some way. It takes two. And, sometimes, it may be an entire group that is inauthentic versus one person who is authentic. When people are unable to recognize that they are inauthentic, such inauthenticity only continues and potentially worsens.

What is needed for people to recognize is that in order to be authentic, one must be able to admit wrongdoing; take responsibility for his or her actions; not believe that he or she is always correct about everything; and make efforts to improve his or her conduct. Only in those ways will people become more authentic, being responsible and accountable for their words and actions, and making efforts to improve, no longer harming others, whether intentionally or not.

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“On Being a Reluctant Catholic” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Female Praying Hands with Rosary (Retrieved from http://rachelhelie.com/?p=404 , December 23, 2013)

Female Praying Hands with Rosary (Retrieved from http://rachelhelie.com/?p=404 , December 23, 2013)

For the past few years, especially, I have been and would consider myself a reluctant Roman Catholic.  There are many reasons for this, as I will reflect upon herein; and these are thoughts and feelings that I have personally encountered and coped with in the past, as well.  While I do have my own internal, personal struggles with being Roman Catholic, I have always returned to the same realization after much introspection and contemplation – to remain Roman Catholic.  I am sure that the internal struggles that I feel about being Roman Catholic will not just go away, and in fact, they seem to increase with time.  However, for now, I continue to remain Roman Catholic, whether more or less involved as I have been in the past.  My religion and spirituality are a strong part of who I am as a person, and are not things about myself that I take lightly.  And so, serious understanding, thought, awareness, introspection, and consideration are concerns that I bring to my own table in contemplating what being Roman Catholic means for me.

I was born, baptized, and raised Roman Catholic in the Greater Buffalo Area of New York State.  My mother is of purely Polish descent, and was born and raised Roman Catholic.  When my parents married, my dad converted from being a nonpracticing Quaker to Roman Catholicism.  My mother, especially, and my dad, often, attended weekly mass on a regular basis even before I was born.  Therefore, it was a sure thing that I would become Roman Catholic, being indoctrinated in the ways of Roman Catholicism.  It was an expectation that, as the offspring of my parents, I would be Roman Catholic.  My mother made sure that my brother and I received religious education.  We attended public school, and so, took religious education classes every Sunday before going to mass since religion is not taught in public schools.  We both attended religion classes at my hometown church and school from our ages of 5-16.

Even at a young age, the thing that struck me the most about Roman Catholicism was that there were few female role models in my church, and even fewer who were visible, appreciated, or recognized in any way.  Certainly, in the parochial school in my hometown, there were nuns who were principals and teachers, however I did not attend Catholic school and did not regularly experience women’s leadership involvement in my religion.  I attended religious education classes for one hour each Sunday, and went to mass for one hour each Sunday.  Therefore, it was the men in the leadership positions of the church whom I always saw, and who were always prominent in speaking, performing mass, and being at the forefront of the faith.

As a young girl, these experiences caused me to feel that the male leaders of the church were out-of-touch with children.  Of course, they spoke about God, Jesus, His family, and His followers, and how we should love Jesus, however their words always seemed so far away.  They seemed to preach about what they did not practice.  Jesus showed the example of being caring and compassionate for children, but I did not observe any of them being that way.  They did not know how to interact with children, how to appreciate children, how to respect children, how to relate with or reach children.  They were – and, often, still are – out-of-touch.  There was alot more spiritual need that I had as a child that went unrecognized, unnurtured, ignored.  As a result, I felt invisible and unappreciated by the male leadership of the church when I was a child.  They did not know, understand, or care about me.  They preached what they did not practice.  How is a young girl supposed to gain respect for those who are so distinctly separate from her?

When I was five or six, I had my weekly religion class with Sister Mary.  Sister Mary was a very young nun who always dressed in her habit, and who was a role model for me.  She was kind and caring to children, especially to me.  I was one who wanted to stay after class and help Sister Mary clean the chalk boards.  I had alot of questions for Sister Mary who probably thought I was more of a chatterbox.  She seemed to look for reasons for me not to remain after class to talk with her, however I ignored and overlooked her hints, and asked more questions.  Always, she was very kind, compassionate, and understanding.  To me, she always had the right answers, could relate with me, and placed me at ease and at peace.  The next fall, it broke my heart to learn that Sister Mary had been relocated.  I never saw her again.  Sister Mary was like an angel to me – and worse, an angel who had been ripped away from me.  I cried over the loss of my relationship with Sister Mary.  I needed a female role model to look up to, and to whom to ask all of my curious questions, and she was gone.

I never got that feeling back about anyone in a leadership position in the church even coming close to understanding me, as a person, until I took my Confirmation classes with the deacon of my hometown church.  Deacon Louis was extremely knowledgeable, and also very upbeat and enthusiastic about Roman Catholicism and people’s individual spirituality.  I told Deacon Louis that I was interested to learn more about the Rosary, and that I wanted to pray the Rosary but did not know how.  Deacon Louis provided me with a beautifully-pictured and colored pamphlet about how to pray the Rosary.  Wow!  For once, someone who actually listened to me – amazing!  As time progressed, I learned that Deacon Louis was very understanding and respectful about individuals’ faith and spiritual development.  Again, I privately spoke with Deacon Louis and let him know that I was contemplating a few saints to be my patron saint at Confirmation.  He made photocopies of a few pages of a book for me that he had about the saints that I had identified to him.  Based on that information that he provided to me, I chose my patron saint, St. Joan of Arc.  I had a great respect for Deacon Louis.  He was a man who was married and who had three daughters; he understood me and my need for faith and spiritual fulfillment in my religion.

Throughout my life, I have always tried to reach out to priests in the churches that I have attended and/or those in which I have been a member.  In most cases, I have not had good experiences in that the men seem unable to relate with or understand my experiences as a woman.  Most priests are extremely uncomfortable in speaking with me, as a woman, about women’s issues and traumatic life experiences, for examples.  Even less so, most are unable to understand and relate with me about relationship, marital, divorce, children’s, and even career and financial issues.  They often seem to feel threatened by or unable to cope with such topics.  One expects to go to a priest for support and guidance, and when it is not received, it may lead to one questioning his or her faith.  It makes me wonder if they are simply like most men who, when faced with a problem, want to “fix” it; or if they are truly unable to relate with or understand the issues that women, children, and families face.  Certainly, fixing problems is good, however there are often times when women simply want to talk out and vent their concerns, seeking emotional support; most priests seem to be unable to understand and provide that.  For these reasons, I have learned that it is often better not to approach priests with such issues because they are typically unable to understand about and relate to them with me, at least on a personal level.

In my mid to late 20’s, I seriously contemplated becoming a nun in the Roman Catholic Church.  As a person with a strong religious faith and who was single with no committed intimate partner in sight, I thought that religious life might be suitable for me.  I sought to understand whether or not I had “received a call” from God to become a religious.  I was a member of two Roman Catholic Singles groups in Western New York State, and had opportunities for interactions with many religious, both women and men.  In this capacity, I also learned more about religious life and took several opportunities to go on religious retreats with my peers.  I participated in one weekend retreat at a convent in Cheektowaga, New York.  I also personally interviewed with a nun at the convent in Athol Springs, New York.

While both of these experiences increased my faith and spirituality, they did not convince me to pursue religious life.  In fact, they did the opposite.  At the first convent that I went to, I saw women who appeared to do much praying and sitting.  Most of the women were older or elderly, and many did not have the medical assistance they needed.  It seemed that the convent was more like one big dormitory building for women of the same faith who prayed alot.  I did not see their good works, but only saw them living amongst each other in lives that caused them to be excluded from society at large.  I similarly observed and felt this at the second convent where I interviewed.  The elderly woman who interviewed me did so in her small bedroom.  She appeared to have no family, no nothing.  To me, she appeared to have lived an empty and solitary life, and was very much unappreciated.

After more thought, I realized that I did not want any of what I observed at the convents.  I felt sorry for these women, and angry at the Roman Catholic Church for requiring them to make such huge sacrifices in their lives.  I was also upset that the Church required priests to be single.  I did not believe that was fair, or took basic human nature into serious consideration.  It seemed to me that the Church wanted fewer people for which to pay simply by requiring that religious did not have families.  Conversely, I desired the opportunity to be married and have a family.  I also realized, after more thought, that I was pursuing religious life for some of the wrong reasons.  I had experienced a traumatic experience at college as an undergraduate, and pursuing religious life was a way of escaping from it.  I realized that, and decided to deal with it – and did.

As a woman in the Roman Catholic Church, I also realized all of the limitations on and misjudgments about women that it practices.  The Roman Catholic Church is often extremely rigid and insensitive toward people and understanding the basic needs of people.  Certainly, there are many wonderful things that the Catholic Church does in helping and supporting people throughout the world.  I have also received assistance and support from the Roman Catholic Church, but this has only begun being received after having been a member of the faithful for 41 years.  Most people cannot wait 41 or more years before some of their basic needs are met; they would be dead, otherwise.

The Roman Catholic Church is also extremely patriarchal.  Women are excluded from high-ranking positions in the church.  Women are not allowed to be priests or deacons, bishops or cardinals, or popes.  Even if a Roman Catholic woman becomes a priest, she is often not recognized or supported by her followers.  Women – often but for the Virgin Mary – are viewed in a negative light in Roman Catholicism.  After all, followers are typically taught that it was Eve who led to Adam’s downfall, and the resulting exit from Paradise.  There are different versions of this story that place equal responsibility on both Adam and Eve for being removed from Paradise, though those are the stories that one does not hear and that are not taught in the faith.  Whether consciously or unconsciously women are, therefore, blamed and condemned by the Roman Catholic Church.

Additionally, the Roman Catholic Church is also sexist.  In viewing Jesus’ mother, Mary, as a virgin and placing her virginity on a pedestal, the Roman Catholic Church has elevated a woman to a position in the natural world that is unrealistic for all other women.  Certainly, virginity and chastity are important for women, however they are also ideals that are not realistic.  Often, for example, the Roman Catholic Church does not hold the same ideals for men, and this leads to a sexist double standard.  Such standards are biased and unfair.  Further, the many prayers and recitations in the Roman Catholic Church are sexist because they are not gender neutral, therefore excluding and purposely ignoring the need for increased rights, equality, and freedoms of women within the Church.

The Roman Catholic Church is also sexist in regard to its views regarding abortion.  I am a Roman Catholic for whom the choice for life is extremely important, however I also understand that it is important to provide choice, as well.  As a person who has only had one pregnancy, and who has never had any abortions or miscarriages, I believe in the value or life, though I also support the importance of choice.  It must be understood that there are situations and experiences that girls and women have that may be traumatic, out of their control, and/or life-threatening.  The are other situations in which females simply decide against continuing their pregnancy.  Women and girls must have opportunities for choice in whether or not to give birth to children.  It is wrong when the Roman Catholic Church preaches about life, but then, does not provide support or assistance to girls or women who are in need of it.  And, what about the male who has caused a pregnancy to occur?  Typically, the Roman Catholic Church does not hold males accountable to a role of responsibility when women and/or girls whom they impregnate obtain abortions.  Again, the responsibility is usually all upon the female, and the male is absolved of responsibility.  The female, again, is often blamed, stigmatized, and lacks support she needs in the very place that should provide it.

In marriages in which there is difficulty, abuse, or domestic violence, Roman Catholic priests are not consistent in their views regarding what steps should be taken to either maintain or dissolve the marriage.  Such views contribute to confusion and increased sexism in the Roman Catholic Church.  Some priests maintain the view that the wife and children must be subservient to the male, whom they view as the head of the household and the absolute, all-powerful leader of the family.  Such a view is harmfully patriarchal, and in fact, can contribute to a worsening of the situation in which the victims continue to be victimized, blamed, and unsupported.  Men should not necessarily be believed or obeyed at all costs, or it could cost one her life.  (Then, of course, people will ask why she did not just leave the marriage.)   On the other hand, there are priests who encourage marital counseling for a couple who is in trouble, however none of those with whom I have ever interacted are qualified to provide it.  First, they are not licensed counselors, nor do they have experience in marriage, or in having a wife and family of their own.  Then, there are those priests who say that if counseling does not help and if the situation is so bad, then divorce is the best option.  Wait, I thought marriage was supposed to be forever.  Sometimes, however, no matter how much a woman may try to improve and maintain her marriage, divorce is the only viable alternative that remains, whether it is initiated by her spouse or herself.

There is also the issue of homosexuals in the Roman Catholic Church.  I am an individual who is and who always has been heterosexual, though I recognize that there is a need in the Roman Catholic Church to provide support and equality to all peoples, including those who are homosexual.  I am also one who believes that marriage should be – notice that I said “should be” – between a man and woman, though I recognize this as one of my values because this is what I was taught.  I also take care not to impose my values about this issue onto others.  Therefore, I maintain the view that marriage should be between two partners who love and are fully committed to each other, for the benefit of themselves and their families, if they have them.  Therefore, I believe that the Roman Catholic Church should not exclude or condemn individuals who are homosexual, nor create guilt in them or cause them to feel sinful simply because of their sexual orientation.

Further, there are many experiences that I have had in the Roman Catholic Church – a church that promotes Jesus and Christianity – that have been extremely unchristian.  Within individual Roman Catholic churches, schools, groups, and/or organizations affiliated with it, there have been a great number of situations I have had in which people who contend to be Catholic and Christian behave in decidedly unchristian ways, in ways of which Jesus would not approve.  There are many Roman Catholics who are basically hypocrites because they preach about and say they believe what they actually do not practice.

As an example of such hypocrisy, a number of Roman Catholic men throughout my life (both as a child and as a woman) have been sexually harassing (or worse) of me, and have outright wanted to have an affair with me, even though they are married and/or we were both married to other spouses at those times.  I am a person who has never – I repeat, never – had an affair with any man.  Even in a difficult (to say the least) marriage in which there were temptations to be unfaithful, I remained faithful to my then-spouse.  I have also turned down every man who has wanted to have an affair with me.  I understand that he is seeking something temporary and for his own gratification, and does not understand the seriousness or implications that having an affair would create on himself, his wife, and his children.  The Roman Catholic Church and society must teach men to be faithful to their wives and families, even when times are tough.  When times are tough, it is taking the easy way out to throw in the towel regarding one’s marriage and commitment.  More instruction and better role models are needed for Roman Catholic men (and all men) in regard to maintaining and developing healthy marriages, at least from my perspective.

Another major issue in the Roman Catholic Church is abuse and sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and/or harassment by priests toward female and male congregants, particularly those who are younger and/or who are in positions of vulnerability.  In churches and dioceses throughout the United States, in Ireland, and elsewhere, there have been numerous instances of sexual abuse by priests.  While I have not personally experienced sexual abuse by any priests in the Roman Catholic Church, I do know of those who have and those who have perpetrated abuse that was unrecognized by the greater congregation and not at all addressed, corrected, or resolved by higher level diocesan church leaders.  Such abuses have ripe ground to occur in such a closed, structured, hierarchical organization of men who all too often have ignored, overlooked, and not considered the seriousness of the situations.  Instead, and all too often again, abusive priests are ushered along to different parishes where they continue and/or escalate their abuses, and/or continue them unrecognized.  Certainly, there are many good priests, and those who perpetrate abuses give a bad name to those who do not.  And, the Roman Catholic Church has implemented serious steps at preventing future abuses, as one good thing that has come from these situations, however they do continue to occur.  Such abuses by priests have caused many followers to leave the faith, and to lose hope in the very people who are supposed to be Christ-like.  I personally know of several people who have left Roman Catholicism because of these issues – such issues that should never occur.

Because of all of these experiences that I have had as a Roman Catholic, and more, I have become a reluctant Roman Catholic.  In the past couple of years, I have actively sought out and have considered other faiths.  All of the faiths that I have considered are still within Christianity, though they have been either less Catholic or more Protestant than Roman Catholicism.  In these faiths, however, I have found many issues that are similar to those I have encountered in the Roman Catholic Church.  Certainly, in some faiths, women have higher positions of power and might actually be the highest leader of their faith, however I observe that being practiced to the most minimal extent in the area where I live around Atlanta, an area that is mostly Baptist and thus, also highly patriarchal based on related religious and cultural views.  Also, in other faiths, the Virgin Mary is not held in nearly the same regard as she is in Roman Catholicism.  While Roman Catholics may place her on a pedestal and view her unrealistically in regard to virginal expectations of women in society, she is completely absent in some other faiths, leaving me with a feeling that I could become a member of such a faith, but that is the only thing holding me back – that faith’s exclusion of Mary as the Mother of Jesus.

So, I always return to the same crossroads – do I remain Roman Catholic or do I convert to another faith?  While there are many things in Roman Catholicism with which I disagree and do not support, I always reach the same answer – to remain Roman Catholic.  The most important part of my decision always includes that I am a faithful follower and believer in Jesus.  I might not agree with many of the practices of Roman Catholicism, however I do believe in the teachings of Jesus.  I have always come to the conclusion that I can pray for myself, and my friends and enemies.  I can pray that the eyes of those who have sight but who are blind can be opened.  I can work to do more to bring awareness about the importance and value of women and children in the Church, rather than support the male leadership’s exclusion of them.

I recognize that I am one who is not content to simply accept the rigid, patriarchal, and sexist nature of the Roman Catholic Church, but who is one who strives to bring increased equality and support to marginalized groups, including women and children.  While Blessed Teresa and Pope Francis, for examples, are excellent role models within the Roman Catholic Church, and have brought much compassion and support to people around the world, I, personally, continue to experience much rigidity, patriarchy, sexism, and inequality in my faith.  I doubt that the Roman Catholic Church will ever provide full equality, understanding, or acceptance in the Church for women, and while I am intolerant of that, I do accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior.  Thus, I continue to remain a reluctant Roman Catholic, and will likely revisit this issue at many points throughout the remainder of my life.  I place my faith in God that He will continue to guide me on the path that is right for me.

“Orchard Park Central School District (New York): Truly an Exceptional School System” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

There are schools out there that are truly outstanding and exceptional.  It is unfortunate that, all too often, those schools, school districts, and/or school systems that are truly outstanding and exceptional do not receive greater attention and recognition.  The Orchard Park Central School District in Western New York State is one such truly excellent, admirable, inspiring, outstanding, and exceptional school system.  It is located in an affluent suburb of Buffalo, New York.  And, it is a school system that is composed of six schools, including one high school, one middle school, and four elementary schools.  I will take the liberty of sharing some of the many incredibly excellent qualities of this school system.

More than one decade ago, I had the pleasure and privilege of being employed as a substitute teacher for two years within Orchard Park Central Schools, while I was completing my teacher certification requirements in secondary social studies education.  I was called upon to substitute teach nearly every day during the academic year, being offered and having taken opportunities to be a daily and short-term substitute teacher.  Most of the experience that I had in substitute teaching at Orchard Park was in high school special education as well as in middle school core subjects, though I also substituted in all subject areas throughout elementary, middle, and high schools there.  My experience substitute teaching during the two years that I was at Orchard Park were like no other that I have ever had in their excellence, whether as a substitute teacher, salaried teacher, or voluntary teacher.

What I experienced while subbing in the Orchard Park Central School District were many wonderful things.  People throughout the school system were caring, compassionate, kind, hard-working, flexible, understanding, professional individuals with high standards and expectations, integrity, values, and insightfulness.  They were well-educated, open-minded, creative, and thought outside-of-the-box.  They were not rigid, inflexible, or set in their ways.  They were people who – though their instruction, policies, and practices were already outstanding – were always finding new ways of performing better, achieving more, being the best they could be. 

People at Orchard Park, when I was there, were those who communicated and interacted well with each other.  They always wanted the best for the students.  The focus was not on themselves, not on hiding their own rare errors or human imperfections, but on being positive role models and guides for students.  They were professionals who supported each other in positive ways and raised themselves and each other up.  They were positive with each other, but also provided constructive – not condeming – criticism of and toward each other when it was necessary, in order to strengthen and improve the quality of their education and standards, not causing it to regress. 

These were people who were confident enough in themselves to know that the greater community was supportive of them, and they trusted that students’ parents understood that they always acted in the manner to best benefit the children.  Trust was mutual between school professionals and students’ parents because those school employees always exemplified the best in instruction, education, discipline, safety, care, compassion, concern, standards, policies, honesty, and professionalism.  In these ways, the mutual bond of trust and confidence between school and home was also reflected in the confidence, trust, and performance of the students – in all levels and in all areas. 

If something could be improved, administrators and teachers fairly-reviewed the situation, and enhanced instruction, education, standards, and/or policies, making things better for everyone.  Academic standards are those that are most important at Orchard Park, and certain high school teachers would sacrifice several Saturdays throughout the academic year to come to school on their own time to review with and drill students to better-prepare them for important standardized tests.  Core middle school teaching teams often met with parents in conferences to inform parents of their child’s performance and progress, as well as things that were going well, things that could be improved, and anything else that was noticeable about the child, particularly those positive and more personal qualities and characteristics. 

Teachers and administrators at Orchard Park went out of their way to make the school experience not only a professional experience, but also a personal one for everyone, most particularly the students.  In this way, students, parents, and families genuinely felt valued, important, honored, respected, and understood.  It was good to be kind, caring, compassionate, encouraging, supportive, and nurturing toward students.  That is what was sought, wanted, desired in the professionals at Orchard Park. 

Lines of communication between the school, families, and community were always open.  Compliments and criticisms were accepted, heard, and appreciated.  When an administrator or teacher heard something they did not want to hear from another about themselves, they did not lash out with concealed vengeance in any way to somehow get back at the student and/or the student’s family.  School administrators and teachers at Orchard Park were both professional enough and honorable enough to take in what was said, reflect upon it, and improve.  They did not ignore, deny, or overlook the situation, nor did they blame others – including the child – instead of perceiving their own actions and/or gaining feedback from other colleagues.  They always tried to perform in the best manner for the students.

So much openmindedness, flexibility, and creativity is present in and throughout the Orchard Park Central School District.  High School seniors were afforded opportunities to participate in “Open Campus,” a time during which they could leave campus for certain parts of the day to perform other actions or responsibilities.  A great number of clubs and extracurricular activities, including art, music, theater, sports, language, and other activities were also available to students to expand their horizons and fulfill their creative endeavors. 

More recently, the school district implemented the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program within the school system.  When I was at Orchard Park, though I did not perceive any serious issues related to peer-to-peer bullying, and though I believed the policies toward student respectfulness were excellent, there were those rare occasions when students were bullied, more particularly certain high school students who appeared different and/or did not fit in with the mainstream in some way.  The openmindedness, flexibility, and creativity in the folks at Orchard Park Central School District are what has allowed the implementation of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, already reflecting reported improvements in reducing bullying and improving peer respectfulness toward each other. 

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, as well as sharing with the community about any sex offenders living in the district, as well as other programs, are those that place the Orchard Park Central School District on the cutting edge of progressive, exceptional school systems.  The professionalism, integrity, intelligence, compassion, and appropriate personalization of the district’s faculty and staff – as well as the support they receive from the greater community and school board – are also what place the school system in the forefront of educational systems – whether public, private or parochial. 

When one works in the Orchard Park Central School District, he or she feels and is supported, much like one would experience within their own family.  Because such professionalism, support, trust, intelligence, and confidence are prevalent within the school system among adults, these qualities and values are also purveyed to the children and students.  Also, because so many adults within the school students’ families are educated and maintain high standards and expectations, this is also what is often reflected within the students, as well.  Not only are the students generally intelligent and creative, but they are typically respectful and honorable.

It was most certainly my pleasure and privilege to have been employed as a substitute teacher within the Orchard Park Central School District more than one decade ago.  Though I applied to the school system for a salaried teaching position once I acquired my educator certification, I believe that I did not have enough of a stake, influence, or network within the community to be considered.  Orchard Park would have been my dream school system within which to teach as a full-time educator.  Though such an opportunity was not afforded to me, I will always carry the memories of the wonderful experiences that I had within this outstanding, exceptional school system.  Thank you, Orchard Park, for being the best you can be, and for always striving to do even better…for the students!

References:

Orchard Park Central School District.  January 18, 2013.  http://www.opschools.org/spotlight.cfm?&school=0 .

Orchard Park Central School District.  “Olweus” (Bullying Prevention Program.)  January 18, 2013.  http://www.opschools.org/spotlight.cfm?sp=6&start=1&end=25&school=0 .

“People in Authority who don’t Listen aren’t Leaders” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

People in positions of authority who don’t listen to or consider others aren’t leaders.  It’s as simple as that.  It seems that there are so many more people in our world who don’t listen to or consider others than there are those who do.  What is extremely discouraging, disappointing, and disturbing is when an individual of common, everyday status approaches and/or comunicates with someone in authority about a serious issue or concern that can be changed or improved, and that person does not listen, does not care, and/or does not even consider what the other person has to say.  We, therefore, must be very thankful for those people who do listen – whether or not they are in positions of authority and whether or not they are in a position to change a situation for the better.  Those people seem to be getting fewer and fewer these days.

In my own experience and throughout my life, I have met, encountered, interacted with, and/or communicated with many people in positions of authority who, by their refusal to listen to, consider, and/or understand certain issues and concerns, are not true leaders.  Leaders are those people who take charge and lead all others in a positive direction of beneficial development. 

Sometimes, however, people in authority and in positions of leadership are unwilling and/or unable to listen to and consider the needs, issues, and concerns of others.  Therefore, in my definition, they are not true leaders because they are unable to be open to truly hearing, considering, analyzing, and understanding issues that may bring about positive change that may and can be good and beneficial for everyone.  People in positions of authority who are closed to others and who shut others out, by this definition, are not leaders.

It seems that there are sometimes too many people in our lives who are unwilling or unable to hear what we have to say.  Perhaps our information is too uncomfortable for them to hear, or they are threatened by it in some way, or they are unable to cope with it.  That is unfortunate for everyone because they are missing out on an opportunity to do something good for others.  They, therefore, don’t even realize that they have missed a chance to improve something, to help another, and to potentially assist many others.  They believe that they know the only right and correct way; they have closed themselves off from others, and believe they are protecting themselves from others. 

In my life and experience, I have met, interacted with, and communicated with several people who, through their own discomforts, feelings of being threatened in some way, inability to cope, and/or simple refusal to listen caused them to shut me out, turning away from me.  These people have included certain authority figures in higher education, churches, schools, businesses, family and friends, and even former intimate partners.  When people are unable or unwilling to listen to information they don’t want to hear and/or with which they are unable to cope, they may shut you out, turn you away, deny you, discredit you, and/or even demonize you, simply for being direct, honest, truthful, and assertive.

It is, therefore, extremely important to be thankful and grateful for those who ethically and morally consider and listen to others, particularly when their information has, not only the potential to influence and assist that person in a positive way, but the potential to benefit many others, as well.  There are some individuals out there who can and do listen.  There are some folks who take positive and beneficial actions to help and protect others when they are informed about it.  There are certain people – within the same and other groups that I mentioned above – who do act to help and benefit others, who seriously consider and analyze others’ actions and information, and who do not demonize and condemn the individuals who are providing truthful and honest information, even though it may be information that they don’t want to hear.

It is these people for whom we must be grateful.  For these people, we must recognize and be aware of their personal and internal gifts and talents of truly being leaders.  True leaders are strong in the face of persecution, even though others may have condemned and demonized them simply for stating or doing something with which others disagree or with which they are unable to cope.  We must recognize, therefore, that the majority may not always be right or correct, ethical or moral, honest or truthful.  What we must recognize is that even one or a few people can be correct over the majority, that perhaps even one or a few people who stand up for what is right even in the face of abuse, injustice, and persecution may have only the best interests of everyone in mind, not just that for themselves. 

If you are a leader of a group, organization, business, or institution, how do you behave and what do you say to others in order to include, consider, and hear the concerns and issues of others?  How do you examine, analyze, and research the information that has been given to you?  Do you simply believe what others have to say about another person, simply because they may be in a potentially powerful position of authority over the other person?  People in positions of authority are not always right and correct. 

I identify Pope Benedict XVI as a good example of a person in authority who does not always do what is right and correct, in hiding and covering up the abuses of clergy throughout the world.  I identify college or university presidents who do not listen to students who have concerns or issues about crimes committed against them by other students, or other college officials who will not consider other serious issues brought to their attention. 

I identify school principals who bully teachers and students because they do not wish to draw attention to particular issues.  I identify clergy who shut others out simply because they are unwilling or unable to cope with what others have to say.  I identify governmental and political figures who won’t consider a different and perhaps better or more fair way of doing things in consideration of others.  I even identify family members or relatives who are unable to hear or consider truthful and honest information, particularly when such information may potentially be to their benefit. 

It is, therefore, very important to cultivate and maintain relationships with others who do consider, hear, listen to, and understand you.  When you are completely honest and truthful with yourself, others who are also honest and truthful will recognize and appreciate your truth.  It’s like the old sayings go, “Birds of a feather flock together,” and “they are like peas in a pod.”  People who are similar understand, appreciate, and respect each other.  People who stand up for what is right and correct find, understand, and appreciate each other, as well. 

Thank you to all those who are able to hear, understand, listen to, and consider the truth, and what is right and good, even if it’s something that you don’t want to hear.  For those of you who are unable to do so, I pray for you that your eyes, ears, and mind will be open to what others have to say.