I’ve written about “values” here many times, especially last spring as I was considering a career change that would help me connect more directly to my core values, especially around social equity and integrity. I’ve been thinking about these values a lot lately and how hard they are to achieve.
While I was thinking about this blog post, I happened to turn on the HBO documentary about Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor. When I was a small child, each day I would watch Mr. Rogers change into his sweater, summon Mr. McFeely, and lead me into the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. No doubt Fred Rogers helped me learn the values that guide me today. There was a snippet from an early episode that seems prescient today. In this selection, we see Mr. Rogers reading a newspaper with the headline “King Friday the 13th Establishes Border Guard: King Against Change.” We then enter the Neighborhood of Make Believe and see King Friday charging his minion to “remember our battle-cry: Down with the changes.” The two then sing, “we don’t want anything to change…because we’re on top.”
Sound familiar? It probably does if you’ve read a newspaper in the last two years. It may also feel familiar if you’ve sat in on the meetings of a nonprofit board that is constituted predominantly of members from one particular group or another, some of whom may lose seats if changes are made and barriers are opened. It is really hard to ask someone with power to cede some of it to someone else, but only when power is authentically and transparently shared can an organization feel inclusive and practice equity. And that’s a valuable lesson.
Sharing power is not something that comes naturally to leadership of arts organizations I think. It’s my observation and what I have experienced as a minion of the culture of personality.