Regardless of what your political bent is—Democratic, Republican, Independent—there is one thing I think we can all agree on: leaders make more careful choices when their decisions directly impact them.
Let’s take the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) and the current government shutdown. Our Senators and House Representatives are debating a national health care law that none of them, nor their families, will ever use. They, of course, have a different medical plan, a much more exclusive one.
Even with the current government shutdown, none of our elected officials are forced to miss a paycheck. This, in spite of the 800,000 federal employees who are now furloughed and more than one million workers who are mandated to work without pay.
Our government leaders don’t play by the same rules as the citizens they represent, so it’s no wonder we are experiencing a government shutdown. And the sad truth is that many of them would still be rich if they, on principle, refused to accept a paycheck during the shutdown.
Top-down government never works. Politicians who claim to represent the people but are indebted to the special interest groups that funded their campaigns are never effective.
I have always cringed at the signs in church parking lots said that read “Pastor Parking Only,” or those in school parking lots that say “Principal Only.” I understand that leadership is a tough and important role, but the best form of leadership is when the leader takes on the role of a servant.
Why should the pastor or the principal get the premium parking spot when the followers or the staff, who typically are much less privileged, make tremendous sacrifices to be supportive? Why shouldn’t the person who rises first and works the hardest to get to church or school first be rewarded with a the best parking spot?
Perhaps I’m being petty, but I’ve worked at schools that had “Principal Only” parking spots and worshipped at churches with “Pastor Only” parking spots and the leadership, coincidentally, felt more top-down and controlling. I think these exclusive parking spots might symbolize a deeper leadership philosophy that indicates, “I’m the leader and I’m better than you.” Should one commit to leading by example or by intellect? Is it possible to do both?
I currently work at a school where the parking lot serves as the playground for recess, so no staff member is allowed to park there—not even the principal. This is a very telling detail because street parking around my school is brutal. Angry neighbors will key your car if you park in front of their house, someone stole a fellow teacher’s car, and three weeks ago a misbehaving student doused my minivan with soda in retaliation for writing him up. If ever there were a case for a “Principal Only” sign, it would be here.
My new church is located in downtown Chicago and it’s the same way—there’s no special parking spot for the pastor. If he gets to church late, which he never does, he has to park at the next nearest lot, three blocks away. For some reason, that makes me feel good.
If (God forbid) I ever become a principal, there’s one thing that I know I would do. I would take down the “Principal Only” sign in the school’s parking lot, if there were one. I’m fully aware of the praciticalities of such a perk, and I believe that most effective principals and pastors view it as an innocent, time-saving benefit. But the reality is that such a public sign creates an unwanted distinction between the leader and his community; it suggests that the leader is superior to his followers. Worse, it could gradually lead to the leader believing that, too.*
That’s what I think has happened in Washington.
If Congress and the President would argue about policies that include them when they say “the American people,” then I think they would actually agree more often. (Imagine if they all had to live off the food stamp allotment for an entire month before they could be sworn in!) There would never be any partial government shutdown because all federal employees would be considered too “essential” to furlough. They would simply cut “non essential” positions, thus tightening the budget.
If anything, a true government shutdown would mean that our elected officials stopped their own pay until they came to a budgetary agreement. They would remove their “Me Only” signs and demonstrate what it means to be public servants!
*Content updates made on 10/3/13
The opinions expressed in Charting My Own Course are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.