Out of the Mouths of Babes…

Today is Friday, so this post is on interpersonal competence.

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal ran a very interesting article on the front page – “Detroit Politician Gets lesson in Civility From a 13-Year-Old.”  It began…

“When Monica Conyers, president pro tem of Detroit’s City Council, called the council president ‘Shrek’ during an angry exchange at a hearing in April, one city resident found the remark immature.  ‘That’s something a second-grader would do,’ says 13-year-old Keiara Bell.   ‘You’re an adult.  We have to look up to you.  We’re looking on TV and we’re like this is an adult calling another adult a Shrek’?”

In case you’re not up on your popular culture, Shrek is an animated movie character who is an ogre.

A few weeks after the incident at the council meeting, Miss Bell was part of a student panel convened by The Detroit News to ask questions of Ms. Conyers.

During the discussion, Ms. Conyers told Miss Bell that she felt that council president Kenneth Cockrel’s behavior was disrespectful.  Ms. Bell said, “But you didn’t have to call him a name.”

Ms. Conyers responded, “But now you’re telling me what I should have should not have done.”  To which Miss Bell said, “You’re an adult.  You have that choice.”

“I’m what?” said Ms. Conyers.  Miss Bell replied, “You’re an adult.  You had that choice.  Sometimes people need to think before they act.”

If Miss Bell isn’t on her school’s debate team, she should be.  She demolished Ms. Conyers in this brief one.  Of course, she was just pointing out simple common sense about interpersonal competence.  We can all choose how we react to provocation.  Interpersonally competent people don’t react by calling names.

But then it gets worse for Ms. Conyers.  She declined to comment for the WSJ story.  However, her chief of staff, Linda Bernard said that Ms. Conyers feels she is being targeted by the press because her husband, US Representative John Conyers, “Was recently in New York City and is considering having hearings about police brutality.”

Miss Bell makes for a compelling story.  Not too many 13-year-olds can hold their own, let alone triumph in a debate with an adult, let alone a seasoned adult politician.  Had Ms. Conyers been using her common sense, she would have used the WSJ article as an opportunity to salvage some dignity, not to lash out – through an aide — at “the press” in general.

Had she asked me, I would have advised Ms. Conyers to admit that it was not appropriate to call her colleague a name, and to apologize to Miss Bell, the children and citizens of Detroit for setting a poor example.  The story would have died there.

Now, you have people like me blogging about it.

The common sense point here is simple.  Interpersonally competent people take responsibility for their actions.  They don’t call their colleagues derogatory names.  If they slip up and do so, they apologize immediately.  Leaders need to be aware that they are always in the public eye.  As a remarkable 13-year-old by the name of Keiara Bell has shown us, they need to set a positive example for the people they lead.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website www.BudBilanich.com for more common sense and to subscribe to my weekly newsletter “Common Sense.” 

I’ll see you around the web and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand, my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to www.FirstGiving.com/TheCommonSenseGuy to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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  1. I especially enjoyed this story, as I am a teacher who is continually trying to teach these same principles to my kids!
    Madame Monet
    Writing, Painting, Music, and Wine

  2. Thanks Madame Monet:
    I’m sure you do a great job getting these points across to your students.
    All the best,
    PS — I really appreciate your comments.

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