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Picking My Battles Part 2: Validation, Lessons Learned and Being a Role Model

how you teachYesterday evening, I walked my dog through a section of the public park near my house. Children screamed with joy as they chased each other and played on playground equipment. Youth shot basketballs as parents watched from benches, and individuals waded in the creek. A young man with an accent rested his bike against the pavilion and joked with me about my dog.

And I smiled.

Had I not followed my gut and taken a risk of making a lot of people mad at me, none of those individuals would have had the opportunity to enjoy their evening in the same way. They would have been prevented from entering that part of the park by caution tape and overly eager volunteers.

But because I instinctively knew that no one had a right to prevent the public from enjoying that space, these people enjoyed a beautiful Friday evening.

But they didn’t enjoy it without a price – a price I paid.

There’s no need to recap my story of the Boy Scouts telling me I couldn’t walk in a public park since I’ve already written about that (see blog here). But if anyone is interested in the epilogue to the story, here’s a condensed version:

After being told by a staff person with our local parks and recreation office that the Boy Scouts had not received permission to section off and prevent others from entering that area of the park, I once again attempted to take my dog for his usual evening walk. And I was once again confronted and told I wasn’t allowed. After basically being accused of being a liar, I walked through the marked off section of the park anyway. And (shocker), I didn’t bother anyone or provoke any tragedy. In fact, the only tragedy that occurred that evening was all of the people who were once again chased away.

I later ran into the director of Parks and Recreation who apologized and reinforced that the group had not been given permission to close off that section of the park. In fact, groups were never allowed to be close that section of the park. In other words, my instincts were correct, and my resistance was justified.

When I told the director that the caution tape was still up and that bright orange signs proclaiming the area to be off-limits had been added, he promised he would address the issue with the group.

Unfortunately, the whole situation was a result of miscommunication. The local parks and recreation office had booked the Boy Scouts for the wrong park, and, because of that, the Boy Scouts really did think they had permission to seize control of that area of the park.

But, despite that, I have to question where the common sense was in this whole situation. Why would anyone think that particular section of the park was appropriate for an event that the organizers believed required a great deal of security? And why hadn’t other people who had been chased off spoken up? (I’ve since heard from plenty of other people who were angry but didn’t question anyone.)

If I hadn’t asked the tough questions and pursued the matter, the people I saw enjoying the park last night wouldn’t have been enjoying it.

The situation is resolved, and I finally received an email from the Boy Scout executive with whom I had been trying to communicate. He didn’t apologize but neither was he rude, and since I was becoming increasingly rude with the group, he deserves credit for that. He did emphasise that safety of their scouts was a top priority.

I understand that. Over the years, I’ve had responsibility for thousands of young people. I just didn’t bully others to ensure their safety.

Which goes back to my question about why a group so concerned about the safety of young people would hold an event in such a well-used and public section of the park.

I, and many others, use that part of the park as a point of entry, and hundreds of others enjoy it every day.  It is also the only area that provides access to a public stream (although the stream wasn’t roped off by the Boy Scouts, and people could still use it if they walked around the park to get to it.)

The bottom line is, if security were such a concern at the park, the Boy Scouts should not have chosen that particular location for the event unless they had another purpose, such as training volunteers to be guard dogs. The only other obvious benefit was the visibility of their recruitment signs.

But, regardless, the whole situation is now behind all of us, and the boys who were participating in the event weren’t hurt or prevented from enjoying their activities. In fact, as I walked my dog by (not through) their new and much more appropriate spot in the park last night, I was stopped by one young camper. (Just for clarification, he was outside the roped off area.)

“Is that your dog?” he asked. “He’s really big.”

“He is,” I said. “He also gets really excited so you don’t want to get too close because he jumps.”

“O.K.” the boy said, and then he changed subjects. “Hey, do you know what I’m doing here?”

“No,” I responded. “What are you doing?”

“I’m at Twilight Camp. And the Webelos get to spend the night.”

“That’s awesome,” I replied as the woman with the boy looked at me skeptically, as though I were lying and really didn’t want the boy to have fun.

‘Yeah,” the boy said. “It is awesome.”

“Well, have fun and be safe,” I said.

“I will,” he responded, then he and the woman in the orange vest walked away. But I was fortunate to hear the rest of the conversation.

“Do you want to know who that was?” the boy asked.

“Yes, I do,” the woman in the orange vest responded.

“That,” he said with obvious pride, “Was my Sunday school teacher.”

And I couldn’t help but smile. In the same week I had been labeled a security risk, a young boy was proud that I was his Sunday School teacher.

And that made all the trouble of the week completely disappear. It also reminded me that I am a role model, and sometimes being a role model doesn’t mean succumbing to the pressure or demands of others. It also doesn’t mean I have to be perfect or always use the exact right words.

Sometimes it simply means following my heart and doing what I know is for the greater good, even when people get angry with me or question my methods.

In the end, the smile and respect of a child is simply worth it.

Picking My Battles

As a write this, I’m a little angry.

Actually, I’m really angry.

And even though my neighbor is laughing at my outrage and my husband is telling me not to embarrass him, I feel the need to share my anger.

registrationEvery day, I take my dog for a walk through the park by my house. The PUBLIC (as in partly paid for by taxpayer dollars) park by my house. Sometimes, we even go there twice a day and enjoy a leisurely stroll.

Not tonight.

When I arrived at the park, there was caution tape haphazardly strewn up around a large section of the park. It had obviously been put there by amateurs, and I stepped over it.

I continued up a hill as a shrill voice called after me.

“Ma’am, you can’t walk here.”

I ignored the voice, partly because I just don’t like being called ma’am.

The voice got closer.

“Ma’am, you can’t walk here.”

I turned around.

“You have to leave, you aren’t allowed in this area. We are holding an event for Cub Scouts and you’re a security risk.”blocked playground

A security risk? Really? I gave her a look that said as much, but my words were “This is a public park. I walk here every day.”

“We rented it.” she said.

“I have a hard time believing that,” I said. “You can rent a shelter, but you can’t rent a section of the park.”

The woman, who wasn’t in the best of shape and had obviously exerted herself chasing after me, tried to puff out her chest and exude her importance in her orange day-glow vest, “We did. ” she said. “And you can’t be here.”

I didn’t want to get in a fight. I just wanted to walk up the hill, but I turned around muttering under my breath.

Apparently, I’m loud even when I mutter under my breath.

Three young people, who had also been chased off, smiled at me and pumped their fists. “Power to the people,” one of the young men said. We walked together along the outside the park fence, and when we approached the “open” section of the park, we said goodbye.

But I wasn’t done.

As I watched more “security guards” (i.e. parents in orange vests) walking the perimeter of the taped-off section of the park, three more young people, one of whom was carrying a basketball, walked down the hill from the PUBLIC basketball court.

“Were you chased out too?” I asked.

“Yes ma’am,” said one of the young men said, and I didn’t mind that he called me ma’am because he said it with respect.

“Don’t worry.” I said. “I’m going to complain on behalf of all of us.”

They nodded and walked off with their shoulders slumped while the Cub Scouts (all 15 or so of them) cheered behind them.

bbcourtI’m sure the Cub Scouts weren’t cheering because the teens had been chased off, but the sound made me even angrier.

I walked the perimeter taking pictures with my phone.

One of the parents in an orange vest, this time a man, asked if he could help me.

“I’m just taking pictures,” I said. Then I clarified, “but not of the few boys you are protecting. I’m not a security risk. I’m just taking pictures of how you aren’t letting me use a public park.”

There was no answer.

Maybe I AM blowing this out of proportion, and I DO understand the need to protect young children.

But I have issues with how this whole situation was handled.

Every day, there are dozens of children playing on the playground that was blocked off, and no one has ever before prevented me from walking my dog there. If the parents were that concerned about security, there are plenty of other more private and secure locations where they could have held their event. Even if the group had rented the park, and not just a shelter, they could have actually put up polite signs rather than tape that signaled anyone who crossed it was a criminal.

Most of all, there just weren’t enough boys attending the event to outweigh the members of the public who were prevented from using the PUBLIC facilities.

And all of that means I’m angry.  I am angry not only about the arrogance with which I was confronted but also about the self-righteousness with which I was told I was a security threat.

And because of that, this is one battle I am willing to pick.

Late comment: For those who think the park was well-marked and I should have walked away, here’s what it looked like from where I entered:   entrance

tents

The Boy Scouts Are Misinterpreting the Meaning of Moral

Last year, a fourth grade teacher at my daughter’s intermediate school was arrested for soliciting a 13 year-old girl (or so he thought) online.

Also last year, a teacher at my son’s middle school was arrested for child abuse and identity theft. Two weeks ago, she pleaded guilty to the identify theft, but she is still awaiting trial on 11 counts of child abuse.

Other than the fact that both were teachers in Berkeley County Schools and neither is gay, I don’t think the two have much in common. Yet, they were both engaged in immoral activity because their behavior was harmful. They used their power to hurt, control or take advantage of others, which I think most people would agree is anything but moral. The definition isn’t that fuzzy, at least I’ve never thought it was.

Unfortunately, some people are trying to redefine the meaning in order to fit their own narrow and bigoted views.

This week, the Boy Scouts postponed a decision to “sort of” lift its ban on anyone who is openly gay. I say “sort of” because the potential policy change would simply allow local organizations make their own decisions.

Photo/Richard Rodriguez)            NYTCREDIT: Richard W. Rodriguez/Associated Press

Photo/Richard Rodriguez) NYTCREDIT: Richard W. Rodriguez/Associated Press

I was reading about the situation in the New York Times. While the content of the article bothered me, I was even more disturbed by the accompanying photo, which showed scouts and their parents holding signs that proclaimed “Keep Scouts Moral and Straight.”There was so much wrong with that photo, and I felt sorry for the young boys who are obviously being taught that discrimination is appropriate.

My kids are taught that discrimination is immoral:

Moral people don’t exclude but instead include.

Moral people don’t make broad judgments but instead ensure that every individual is given respect.

And moral people don’t define others by who they choose to love but rather by how they treat others.

Rex C. Curry for The New York Times

Rex C. Curry for The New York Times

Just as important, national organizations that demonstrate moral leadership don’t waffle on potentially controversial issues and, instead of taking a stand, cower by relinquishing their decision-making authority to locals.

Even more importantly, they don’t bow to bigots who make unsubstantiated and untrue generalizations about any group of people. Yet, the decision to delay a decision on the ban on gays came after rallies like the one at the Boy Scout headquarters in Irvine, Texas where protesters claimed that prohibiting gay membership equates to protecting their children.

After the incidents last year at my children’s schools, no one rallied with signs asking the school system to protect my children.

But maybe that’s because there’s no organized effort to rally against straight people who commit immoral acts. But maybe there should be.  After all,  I’m pretty sure statistics would show that’s where the real “danger’ lies.