They say it is lonely at the top. In terms of making decisions, I guess. Being a leader, with the final word. A buck stops here thing. Maybe it’s true.
We held our staff meetings Wednesday afternoons, from 1 – 3. There was a long-standing tradition at Marble House, a residential treatment program for young adolescent girls in Providence, Rhode Island, that whenever someone graduated from the program we would hold a party to celebrate. Every other kid in the program and all the staff would take turns saying what they remembered about the party girl’s stay, how she came in, how she had changed, lots of good feedback. In this particular meeting the subject was Valerie, who was about to “graduate” – more accurately be moved along out of the program after her 18 months of abusing everyone in the house. Basically non-stop verbal abuse, an ongoing level of nastiness toward her fellows – treatees and treators. Suffice it to say, our staff team was not in a party-kind of mood.
Supervisor One – “There is no way we should have a party for her.”
Supervisor Two – “Having a party for Valerie would be such a disservice to every other girl in this program who has worked hard to change, and get better. And who didn’t feel the need to say something mean and cruel to her housemates all the time.”
Director (Me) – “I hear you and I completely understand. The day she leaves the ‘feel’ in this house will immediately improve.”
“Supe One – “Exactly. Why would we think of celebrating her time for any reason?”
Me – “Because that is what we do. That is what we always do. Everyone in this house understands this tradition.”
Clinical Director – “Everyone will understand why we don’t honor that tradition this time too. No one will have any problem with a few handshakes at the door and a few good lucks.”
Me – “Valerie will have a problem with it. We didn’t accept her under some condition that she have everyone like her before she could leave. We all knew her stuff when she was walking in the door. Now she has done enough to be done, to have a completion. And that is what we need to do.”
Staff member – “That is a bunch of crap and you know it Buddy. She has been cruel to everyone in this house, I can think of 20 times she has trashed you in front of everyone. You can’t give her any kind of reward now. It will tell everyone else that what you do here, all your hard work, doesn’t matter.”
Me – “Did you ever see the Star Trek movies? At the end of Star Trek Two, when Kirk asks Spock why he would give up his own life, Spock says, ‘Because the good of the many outweighs the good of the one.’ Which is what you are all saying. Hard to argue. But at the end of Star Trek Three, when Spock asks Kirk why he has put the entire crew and the Enterprise itself at the gravest risk to come and save him, Kirk says, ‘Because sometimes the good of the one outweighs the good of the many.’ That is what I am saying now. How do we respect Valerie completing the program? We do what we do. And that is what we are going to do. How many times do I have an opinion about what we should do and more of you have a different opinion and I go along with the majority? Almost always. But not today.”
Family Therapist – “Buddy, there are eighteen people in this room and seventeen of them think it is wrong to have a party for Valerie.”
Me – “But this time my vote is the only one that counts. Organize the party. We’ll have it Friday afternoon.”
It can be lonely at the top. Not one person spoke to me for the rest of the meeting or on the way out. Back in the office I shared with the Assistant Director, about 10 minutes later, Chris looked at me and said, “Dude, you are wrong.”
We had the party two days later. To say there was a chill in the room would be an understatement as vast as the polar ice cap. People strained to say anything that even remotely resembled something nice. At my turn I told Valerie that God don’t make no junk. Valerie, for her part, was Valerie, though on better behavior than most days. She did seem proud of herself for graduating. And then she was gone. By the beginning of the following week people were over it.
There is no moral here. You want one? How about this: Live long and prosper.