board break

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ending a friendship ... Firing a student

I was a bit socially awkward as a kid, and when I got invited to hang out with a b-list cool kid one summer, I couldn't believe my luck.  Mom took me shopping for a new bathing suit and sent me off for some fun.  It was a great bathing suit... turquoise and pink one-piece, with a flattering cut for my tentative 'tween figure.

As we were getting ready to go to the pool, my social-ticket friend saw that bathing suit and said, "Hey, why don't we trade suits... I'll wear yours and you can wear mine."  Now, let's not even think about the hygiene issues, because there weren't any in those days.  Just focus on the dilemma: brand new bathing suit ... potentially important friend.
 Aiming for the status, I gave my new suit to the cool kid, who proceeded to snag it on every concrete surface at the pool.  (You can tell why I needed some martial arts training at this point.)

So what did Mom say when all this came out?  As usual, she started with, "Oh, honey," followed by a hug and a sigh.  See, my Mom gets it.  She instantly knew that I had chosen between my own fun, and someone else's.  Then we had a long talk about the line between generosity and getting stepped on.  Turns out that if I had to be unhappy in order to make someone else happy, then probably I need to reconsider the options.  There are some lines you just don't cross.

Something similar applies for the students at my martial arts Academy.  These boundaries take the form of the protocol found in any martial arts culture.  We enjoy a broad range of personalities and usually they blend together beautifully.  But occasionally, a student or parent will exhibit an attitude of selfishness or disrespect that dampens the atmosphere for everyone.  Of course people are there to learn, so my first action is to have a meeting or an on-the-spot discussion to address the issue.

So what does a Black Belt do? When someone is causing a permanent disruption in the Academy,  I politely and clearly end their membership.  I write a pointed letter explaining my decision and include a pro-rated refund of any money that may be due back to them.  Now let's not think about the financial implications, because money cannot excuse bad behavior.  Just focus on the issue... a member refusing to maintain protocol ... other members witnessing that breach.

If a parent continually comes to the Academy under the influence of alcohol (true story!), or refuses to allow our staff to contact them by phone, then there is no way that we can balance the positive influence for that student with the negative impact on the entire academy.  Although there is always a sense of loss at not having been able to help someone overcome a personality conflict or to create an understanding of our Academy's culture, there is also a sense of relief at choosing to maintain protocol. That is the deciding factor: when a student or parent's conduct takes away from the advancement of other students' goals, then they simply cannot be a part of a martial arts academy, even if the student is their own child.

In one case, several people came up and expressed gratitude that so-and-so didn't seem to be coming around much anymore.  In another situation, the students who observed an incident, relaxed noticeably when they found that there were real repercussions.  We cannot always know the extent of the damage one person's negativity can cause; but we can be sensitive to our own impressions and be strong enough not to allow bad behavior in our martial arts schools.  Isn't that why people come to us in the first place?  to be around others who want to improve themselves physically, socially and even spiritually?

Thank goodness adults don't have to be cool anymore.

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