The first part of this question is a phrase used in many circles, and the origin has both positive and negative connotations. For context purposes of this blog, if you are “drinking the Kool-Aid,” you might be a subscriber to reckless and dishonorable motives instead of moral and virtuous deeds.
What happens if someone is all in the Kool-Aid and doesn’t know the flavor? You may have members in your organization reluctant to buy into the vision and momentum of change but want to be in the “know.” The reason why this happens is due to the hesitation to believe that better exists. When you live, come from, or exist in an environment with limited exposure to new ideas, different ideologies, and a singular hue of perspective thought. With belief systems, you risk your organization’s potential idling to be stagnant at best.
This complacent behavior is immovable and quickly becomes quicksand of negative thought processes. The refined grains of sand swallowing up great teachers and exceptional leaders led to an abyss lined with the phrase, “we have always done it this way.” I call this the “bathwater.”
Imagine it’s time to exit the tub. Your first thought will be to look down into the tub and see the dark ring around the perimeter. This ring in the tub signifies the culmination of ineffective ideas, demeaning procedures, baseless routines, structures built to oppress, and policies that have deteriorated the soul of young people. These individuals never realize the magnitude of stagnation because they sat in the water too long. If your organization does not seek diverse thought or engage in non-progressive problem-solving conversations, you risk growing the ring around your tub. This dirty ring is seen too often in the workplace, schools, and across the landscape of education. When your programs don’t apply to the needs of students, schools, or communities, you sat in the bathwater too long. The result…we continue to run subpar programs with lackluster outcomes that harm students’ development and growth.
The bathtub mindset can frustrate individuals who come into the system or organization with fresh eyes. Their frustration lies in the convoluted and antiquated thick ring around the tub. The ring is so wide around the tub that the people lying in their organization’s bath water will resist any change, even if it benefits their organization and its stakeholders. If we don’t focus and refine our “why” behind the growing ring in the tub, progressive and innovative leaders won’t have enough Ajax to remove the layers of mediocrity and stagnation. Recycled bathwater will frustrate newcomers to the organization. When “fresh eyes” are faced with pressure to conform and adjust to the mainstream culture or stay in the perceived “warmth” of the bathwater, we will continue to be sucked into inauthentic pressures due to being forced to adapt and not thrive.
Quotes you may have heard that signify the bathwater mindset
“I don’t see color.”
“We have never done this before?”
“We don’t worry about kids.”
“It’s about us, and students will do whatever [we] say.”
“They are animals.”
“They have broken homes with unreliable parents.”
“That will take too much time.”
“Why are you listening to the students.”
“They have no experience.”
“What were you thinking when you made that decision?”
“We’re comfortable with our lives, and if we listened to anyone who raised questions, we’d have to get engaged in changing things. If we don’t listen, things can stay as they are, and we won’t have to expend any energy.”– Wheatley
Having new ideas and creative thoughts are the catalyst for innovation. Leadership requires us to ask ourselves about the world around us and investigate how current “troubles” mimic trends in the community. Then, ask yourself this question: “Is my existence improving the organization, or am I the cog in the chain?” If we are honest, we need to get out of the bathwater and listen more, not less. Listening is for everyone, leaders, followers, bystanders, benchwarmers, etc. In triathlon, those courageous enough to endure pain and discomfort, not live in excuses, will soon find the results they trained for. We need to transition to an uncomfortable place and escape what is easy. The “we have always done it this way” is hurting people.
We do not develop leaders or communities by stagnation; leadership resides within those willing to confront common sense and long-standing beliefs through fresh eyes, authentic voices, engagement, and collaboration. If the community is unwilling to get out of the bathtub, they will continue to lose future leaders because they will see the writing on the wall or the dirt along the sides of the bathtub.
“The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”– Nathaniel Branden
Where is the depth of our willingness to push back on counterproductive actions and behaviors? When you sit in the bathwater too long or drink the Kool-Aid indefinitely, we limit our capacity for growth. Our bathers and Kool-Aid drinkers need to ask questions like, “Is my leadership style hindering progress? Am I more concerned about getting credit than creating change?” We must also remember the power of asking the right questions. Leadership is not about having all the answers but asking the right questions. For example, “Why is there an exponential number of students by demographic receiving the majority of the discipline referrals?” Or “Why are our minority students underrepresented in our highest-level science courses? Why are most discipline referrals happening in classrooms with only a subset of the student population with certain teachers? Why are students of color five times more likely to be diagnosed as intellectually disabled than any other demographic in an educational institution?
The water in your tub may be warm, full of scents, and has a light aroma; however, it soon becomes less aromatic as time passes. The ring around our bathtub represents stagnation and complacency that has slowly poisoned us. Visionary leaders will only succeed if their ideas are implemented into your organization’s structure. Through honest conversations, leaders must seek diversity of thought to drive organizational success with their people. The room will always yield the best ideas, but the leader must be able to walk into the room. Leaders are often pushed out and pushed down into dirty water. We must ask ourselves, are we complicit in sitting in lukewarm mucky water?
It’s time to get out of the tub.
Darryl S. Diggs Jr., Ed. D