Question 230 of 365: What is a proportionate response?

I once found a Nike hat in a Best Buy parking lot. No one was around and it looked to be in pretty good shape. I picked it up and wiped off the little bit of dirt that had gathered on the brim and I put it on. I walked through the store as the new owner of the hat. I quite liked the way that it fit and the story behind it. For a number of my young teen years, it was the only hat I ever wore.

I wasn’t particularly into Nike clothing, but I did have an affinity for free and storied items. So I wore it with pride, on long biking trips over to friends houses and while playing baseball in the cull-de-sacs around my neighborhood. It was because of this very affinity that led to my freinds stealing the hat and playing a big game of keep away with it. Because they knew that I wanted it back, they knew that they had quite a little bit of leverage on me. They kept the hat away from me, passing it back and forth to one another for what seemed like forever, but I’m sure was only about 10 minutes.

After those 10 minutes were up, though, I went into my friend’s house and unplugged his zip drive from his computer. I took it outside and I held it high above my head and told my friends that I was going to break it if they didn’t give me back my hat. They immediately complied. However, I was also asked to leave.

It seems as though that was not a proportional response to having your hat taken away. They told me that I was ruining a perfectly good game with a very uncool act. I told them that I wanted my hat back.

Even though they complied, I knew that there was something inherently wrong and unfair in my approach. I knew that I was not entering the right variables into the equation in order to get my hat back. Rather than waiting until they tired of the game, I escalated into extenction. It worked, but it also distanced me from anyone else participating.

And that to me is the problem with a disproportionate response. You are never really a part of the conversation. You are always just looking for a way out. There is no negitiation, there is only victor and victim. We have taken ourselves out of emotional response and problem solving that doesn’t require an adversary.

Which is why when tending a community, I do not ban. I do not remove accounts. I do not send emails off to supervisors or parents. I make myself a part of the conversation and inject my own influence into the actions of others. My response becomes measured through the act of using words to describe disappointment and to propose solutions.

Communities don’t require wholesale policing. They require community leaders. They require real people to model for them the right and wrong way to do everything. They need a little help from their friends.

No amount of rules is going to change this equation. The best communities are self regulating. The best communities recognize the game of keep away before it gets to the zip drive level. They value every found hat for the story thst it brings along with it. Because in the best communities, stories are currency.


  1. Jacqueline L Cahill

    In my eyes, this is directly connected to one of your other posts regarding having everyone involved. If you are truly involved (and honest and fair), people of all ages know it and respect it. This was one of the biggest points I continually tried to make throughout my teaching career. I’d have a student with a tire iron going to take out the windows of the principal’s car. I’d get called (after every administrator is already out there and the police were on their way…oy) and I would simply walk up to my student and calmly request that he put down the tireiron so we could talk. He would. We’d talk. All was fine. The whole point that I ALWAYS tried to explain was don’t attack someone who is no longer thinking clearly due to so much anger and have someone speak to the child who he respects and knows what is said will be done. If we would all be people of our words, I believe the world would go around a whole lot smoother.

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