A Saturday Morning Story

This is a story…
for the conscientious professional who feels embattled in a time of transition, a time of assessment and accountability.  I am being vague on purpose, as I want both higher education faculty and physicians to read this story in their own contexts…and probably other professionals too, as you all seem to be in the same predicament at the moment.  

The following is a summary of (or possibly an elaboration on) something I read for a class on program planning and facilitation for adult learners two years ago. Thank you in advance, Dr. Terry Carter.
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Once there was a community situated in a city which was situated in the heartland of America.  At the center of the community was a park.  Children played on the swings while their mothers talked.  Old men sat on the benches reading their newspapers and drinking coffee.  The high school track team ran along the paths, practicing for one regional meet or another.

 One day, city commissioners announced the park would have to go. “We need a road,” they said, “a road that can only go right there.”  The city, it seemed, had grown far beyond the original urban planning.  There were unique geographical features at play; a road must be built through the middle of the park.


“You will not divide our park!” cried the community. “It is the heart of our community. You will destroy us!” They were angry, impassioned. They brought signed petitions to every commissioners meeting.

“There is another park two miles away.  You can go there. And this road will reduce noise pollution and commute time for three other city sectors,” the city commissioners reasoned.  Let’s be honest: None of the commissioners had spent time in the community’s park.  None had seen or experienced its magic, its charismatic connectivity or the relationships built there.

And so a battle ensued for months, energy expended in the same arguments, over and over again.  Energy dwindled, bitterness grew, respect dissipated. Nothing ever really got done.

And then, one day, a new idea, from another sector: “Wait a minute. Is it possible to build the road under the park?” And even though both sides grumbled, eventually they decided this solution worked for them both.  Construction ensued, and the problem was solved.

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An overly simplified metaphor, to be sure.  It’s the sort of thing you would read in a children’s book.  But there are lessons here for administrators and practitioners, if they can step to the side of their righteous viewpoints and suspend the disbelief and skepticism of adulthood for just one second.

Often times both sides have similar long-term goals with oppositional views on how to achieve them. It is no wonder the views are oppositional, since each side has their professionally-based philosophies, epistemologies, vocabularies, practices, and daily experiences.  But chances are that both sides are right in their own way.  Both sides have merit.  Both sides have something to contribute.  The trick is that we must back out of our fighting stances and listen.  Really listen, and then talk. Then really listen again.  And together, we can generate an innovative path towards our similar big-picture goals.  If we are successful, we will take a path that looks nothing like the original paths of the two sides—even less similar than the bridge under the park.  My story is probably not the best story, and not the best illustration.  That being said, I’m not trying to tell you how to think, I’m just asking that you think.  


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