Seeds Will Land in Thorns

A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places where they did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plants were scorched and withered when the sun came up because they had no roots. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop — a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.” — Matthew 13:3–9

Sometimes the best intentions are developed in a vacuum and result in trouble. This week let’s see what chokes the plant, what crowds out the good ideas from taking hold.

Years ago, we created the community service system. It grew for a while to include options, creating options, expecting achievement, and celebrating it. Somewhere along the way, we changed our tune. When things went wrong, we needed to come up with rules and safeguards to make sure it never happened again. Some of those rules ended up being more cumbersome than any human being can master. It was possible to see these developments unfold, and at the same time it was impossible to stop them.

Consider this reality of our work today, and the last major regulatory “update” in Pennsylvania. I sat in a work group to advise the state. I was very happy to be there — to be a force for positive change. The work group was discussing training requirements for agency staff. There was much debate. Questions were asked like “how many hours should a DSP have?” “What subjects must be covered?” “What needs to be updated every year, least you forget?” One person reported that her daughter was spoken to unkindly by a finance team member of the agency that supported her. That, she said, was unacceptable. And so the requirement was born to add administrative staff to the group who must be trained.

The spiral did not end there. The ball started to roll into the repeating of subjects. Multiple times I tried to assert that training is a proxy for confidence and competence. It really doesn’t matter if you went to class if you don’t behave in keeping with the teachings, values, and needed approaches. I really wanted us to get serious about how we could provide a great place to work and provide the person the right support and approach. That is all what happens after class. Instead, we still have hour requirements, and retesting requirements repeating learning without ensuring that it’s being followed. The good idea of focusing on capabilities was choked out.

I apologize that you all need to take fire safety basics one more time. I apologize that it is inevitably boring. I am sorry that I too need to sit though incident management one more time. My husband noticed me taking that training and said, “Hon, can’t you teach that class?” I imagine you can teach it too.

There have been many good ideas choked out over the year. But anyone who has a garden knows you do need to dig in. You need to find ways to pull out the weeds, get rid of the thorns, and create a space for the good plant to flourish. I hope you will question the way things are. I hope you will suggest ways to minimize thorns, so that there is space for what matters and what needs to grow.