The parking attendant

Sometimes I get a parking ticket. Sometimes because I’ve parked too long, sometimes because I’ve missed a sign (it is difficult with date zone parking right?) and sometimes because I’ve taken the risk. That’s how it is.

But I have discovered that when you get a parking ticket people have two different approaches:

  • Some people choose to see it as a consequence of incorrect parking.
  • Some people choose to see it as a consequence of the parking attendant being an idiot

If you take the first position, there is a good chance that you park the car differently the next day. Then you get no more parking tickets for a while. It’s the good way.

If you take the second position, there is a great risk that next day you park the car in the same spot. Then you might get another parking ticket. And then the most unbelievable thing happens: The parking attendant being an idiot is confirmed. Which does not mean that you’ll park the car better next time. After a number of fines you might start writing letters to the editor about the absurdity of all these idiots patrolling the streets, or perhaps even start chastising a parking attendant. Which of course means that the parking attendant either yells back or calls the police. Which in turn confirms the opinion: They’re bloody idiots.

The metaphor

Sometimes I meet staff in school, psychiatric care or other care settings who take the second starting point in a similar situation:

Josh has a rough day. His teacher is sick, so there’s a substitute in English. The substitute begins with a review of adjectives. Josh doesn’t really understand what he’s talking about. After a while the substitute says: ”Write down all the adjectives you can think of.” Josh can’t think of a single one. He doesn‘t know what an adjective is. So he sits down and draws patterns on the paper instead. After a while he starts getting bored and makes a paper airplane that he throws at Lisa, who he has a small crush on. When the substitute discovers it he gets angry: ”When I say that you’re going to work, you should work! You should not throw paper airplanes in my class. Let me see what you’ve written? ”

Josh hasn’t written anything. Then the substitute continues: ”Haven’t you written anything at all? Then take your stuff and go to the headmaster’s office. Ask to sit there and write adjectives. And don’t think that I won’t tell your teacher!”

This substitute has a problem. Josh isn’t working in class. Who gets paid for Josh to work and learn? It’s the substitute. When the substitute fails his task he can take one of two approaches:

  • There’s a problem with the teaching
  • There’s a problem with the student

The substitute chooses the second starting point. And fails. If this substitute has Josh’s class again, he may not understand that Josh can’t really keep up with his teaching. Then the whole situation might very well repeat itself. Then there is a risk that the substitute is confirmed in Josh being a waster who never does what he should. And it will not help the substitute change his way of working so that he becomes more skilled at his job and succeed better. Both the substitute and Josh fail.

This was a story about a substitute. It’s easy to understand that a substitute may end up in that situation. Unfortunately, I see that sometimes it’s the child’s regular teacher, the service user’s regular staff, the patient’s regular attendants, who ends up in this position. It may be that the student is not sent to the headmaster, but that the student, service user or patient is reported to the police because of zero tolerance. And keep in mind, we are not getting even a bit better at doing our job this way. Only by taking responsibility are we able to exert influence and make a difference. It’s only when we are looking for ways to change a situation ourselves that we are able to. Therefore, it is important to understand that when you get a parking ticket you’ve probably parked the car incorrectly.