I made enough mistakes as a youth in school to last a lifetime. The thing of it is, though, is that the mistakes I made weren’t the first or the last ones I made. I’m still making them, and I always will. If any of the adults in my life had failed to give me an opportunity to learn from my mistakes, even at the risk of me making them again (which, I did), I’m certain I wouldn’t be where I am today. The mistakes we make are very real and very important, but they’re only beneficial if we’re allowed to learn from them.
A bully, a drug abuser, a fighter, a rule breaker needs love and grace as much as he or she needs to change. There is absolutely nothing wrong with sending a clear message about what is right and what is wrong. We should promote safety for all at every turn; however, we should also be promoting a welcoming environment for all as well. Consistent consequences should be the norm rather than the exception. Unfortunately, along the way, we lost sight of what we’re here for: Directing positively instead of shutting down negatively.
So, a phrase like “zero tolerance” became all the rage. It felt good to demonstrate that making a mistake in a “major” category would result in a response so serious that potentially people would feel they no longer had to deal with it in any way at any point, now or in the future. Oh, how silly and misguided we can be. Pushing a problem further away doesn’t solve anything; rather, it makes it more impossible to actually do something meaningful about it.
Aside from the fact that zero tolerance policies have proven to be ineffective, something far more disturbing has happened because of them. Zero tolerance sends the following message: Not only do I give up on you, personally, I give up on believing that any positive change can happen for anyone. This message of hopelessness is not what we want to promote, so let’s stop promoting it. I want the young people I work with to know that I will never, ever, give up on them, no matter what. I want the young people I work with to know that I will invest as much time and work and love and grace as I can possibly muster in order to help them.
It’s not at the expense of others. It’s for the benefit of all. It’s the opportunities that were given to me, and quite likely or at least hopefully to you. It’s what we all deserve.