June 23, 2020
Remember the Why
Saying 2020 has been a strange year is a gross understatement. The challenges and crises that have arisen has made us change the way we do things professionally and personally. It has made us question ourselves personally and as a society about who we are and what we stand for. It has made us concerned about our health and economic wellbeing.
One word that could be used to describe the first half of 2020 is “stress.” Fair season often seems to be the apex of our annual stressors and our reactions to it, and, right on cue, I have been witnessing the effects of stress as our regional directors and department heads talk about issues they are encountering with the units under their charge. I have sensed it lying just beneath the surface of email and TEAMS chat traffic. It can be experienced in the tenor of some of the questions submitted for our JCEP discussion this Friday. In fact, the atmosphere is getting downright chippy.
“My colleague isn’t adapting to digital Extension as fast as they should be!”
“Can you believe ____? They want to remain working at home instead of coming back to the office.”
“This year’s livestock show at the fair is not the 4-H I remember!”
“The state office is overstepping its bounds!”
“The state office isn’t doing enough!”
I want to give us a tragic pause for thought on remembering the “why” behind what we do. One of our 4-H youth lost his life this year. His family will no longer be able to hear him laugh, celebrate his successes, or watch him grow to become a competent and confident contributor to our society. The agents and volunteers that worked with him will miss mentoring him in not only project lessons but all of those life lessons that so often transpire between a 4-Her and their mentor. Neither his family nor his agents will get to witness as he transfers that competence and confidence he has gained from our programs into leadership as he mentors and guides younger 4-H members on their journey. We will not benefit as he matures and becomes a wonderful contributing member of our society. No one close to this situation will place much importance on the color of the ribbons he could have won or how the projects he wanted to learn from were run.
What this sad situation teaches is that we will miss all of the positive outcomes associated with the “why” behind what we do. Extension professionals almost always agree on the why. Our disagreements often center on the how and what. When we concentrate on achieving the why, the stressors of the how and what become immaterial. If this agent achieves the why through traditional means, great! If this agent is better able to achieve the why via working remotely and reaching the people we serve via technology, great!
Focusing on the why better enables us to create greater understanding between us and the people we serve. Focusing on the why allows us to reach out and adapt our programs to the needs of those we underserve. Focusing on the why creates understanding between colleagues. Focusing on the why makes us a better organization.
As we enter the fair season, let’s not get worked up over and fractionalized by the stressors associated with the how and what. Let’s work on being better public servants, educators, colleagues, and a better system by remembering and focusing on our why.