Chances are you’ve never heard of Richard Enty. He’s the executive director of Metro Regional Transit in Akron, Ohio where there are firm safety policies in effect. Consider texting. For the first texting/phoning offense, a bus driver will be suspended for three days (executives will be suspended for five days). Second offense requires a 15-day suspension and a third offense can result in dismissal. The policy applies specifically to those who are driving revenue-producing vehicles, such as buses or trains.
Enty is tuned in to accident prevention. He was once a passenger when two trains collided, an accident that cost another passenger both legs. His current job involves ensuring a climate of safety. So one day when was driving his own car, just as a bus pulled up next to him, he was startled to realize what he was doing. He had a texting problem. Even though he wasn’t driving a revenue-producing vehicle, he decided to turn himself in. The board wanted to respond with a letter of reprimand but Enty asked to be treated like anyone else. So he was suspended without pay for five days. He tells the local newspaper,
As the leader of an organization that stresses safety and always striving to do the right things, even when no one is looking, I had to make this [decision]. Because, again, we are all human, we all have certain habits and what I have learned in accident investigations…is that accidents usually result from series of bad habits that go unchecked over a period of days, weeks, months, or possibly even years.”
This man walks his talk.
Truly living out what we believe is never easy. It’s essential to be attuned to the positive, to see how we’re making progress rather than focusing on where we’re going wrong. That said, we’re never going to live up to our ideals all of the time. Not even close.
It helps to understand what’s called the four stages of competence as we learn a skill or act on new knowledge. For example, say you became aware of an issue a few years back such as sweatshop labor. You were troubled to realize how much your purchases contributed to the problem as you grabbed great deals without thinking. You were in the first stage. Finding out, becoming conscious of your incompetence, is the next stage. It can be a blisteringly self-conscious process as you struggle to figure out what you didn’t know and how to react. You’re aware of what you’ve done wrong without having sufficient tactics or information to do a whole lot better, although you try. Working to adopt new behaviors is the third stage and it requires sustained effort. For this particular issue, it might be shopping less, seeking out sustainable and local sources, thrifting, advocating for change, and more. You’ll still make mistakes, falling into old patterns when you’re stressed or rushed. The fourth stage is effortless. The knowledge and skills you once sought simply become habit.
I’m somewhere between the Conscious Incompetence and Conscious Competence in many parts of my life. Blurting out what’s on my mind before thinking. Starting projects I don’t have time to finish. Not making enough time for those projects in the first place. Worrying. Pouring another glass of wine. Not remembering conflict resolution tactics until after the moment has passed. Skipping pleasure for work when I know damn well life is to be savored. But castigating myself isn’t useful. Paying attention is.
Kids certainly do their best to assist. They have a way of spotting hypocrisy and tossing our words back in our faces. I can’t rant about a crazy driver or duplicitous politician without getting one of my adages right back at me, like, “Everyone has a beautiful gleaming soul.” Ouch. Yeah, I believe it but don’t always feel like applying it. I have all sorts of standards I don’t entirely live up to. That’s okay, it’s a process.
Those four stages aren’t comfortable. That’s just who we are, people continually unfolding. We make mistakes, struggle, and slowly grow to new ways of being. Even our small personal changes make a difference to the larger reality. I’ve spent a lot of time teaching courses on non-violence. When I work with teens, many weeks into our time together, we start talking about what is important to us. Everyone has strong opinions, everything from “being respected” to “making the planet a better place.” Then they come up with how to live that in their daily lives, from acting in ways that draw respect to making decisions that benefit the ecosystem. When they’re ready, I get out permanent markers and we write on the soles of our feet, reminding us to walk our talk.
That’s why I want to remember Richard Enty. He knows it’s easier to mandate how others should behave rather than follow it ourselves. He’s walking his talk even if it costs him five day’s pay and more public attention than he expected. He seems fine with that. I bet it’ll help him move on to the next stage.
Do you see yourself in Enty’s story? How are you trying to walk your own talk?