For generations, we have lamented the growing disparity between the Haves and the Have Nots and blamed it for the degeneration that surrounds us. But this gap is a result of something more fundamental: the disparity between the Wills and the Will Nots.
I had the privilege of attending the graduation ceremony for Leadership Waukesha on April 27 as a group of 31 adults was recognized for successfully completing the program. Over a period of nine months, these individuals chose to do things that friends, colleagues, family members and the general populace did not do. It was not a matter of whether they could or not—the Cans and Cannots—rather it was a matter of whether they would or would not. Wills will always succeed in ways Will Nots won’t.
On the same evening, Baltimore, Md. erupted in violence, rage and riots. The Will Nots demonstrated the inevitable fate that results from an inability or refusal to take responsibility, to seek help, to learn and improve the circumstances of their lives. Are they to blame? The question is a distraction. The end result is stark and unforgiving.
Wills say yes to discipline, challenge, and perseverance. Wills ask for and accept help when they falter or get stuck. Wills admit when they need to rest in order to come back to their efforts refreshed. Wills set priorities and make choices. They are not special in the way they are made; they are special in the choices they make.
Parents who will take time to see and understand their children, teach them the importance of self-discipline, respect for self and others, and the basic notion of sharing equip their children to make wise choices as they grow up. These children learn their capabilities as well as their limitations.
Teachers who will enforce discipline in the classroom, award grades based on comprehension and application rather than mere attendance, and maintain lines firmly drawn around such grading decisions teach children about how to develop their capabilities, whom to trust, and consequences for poor decision making.
A community that will expect decency and respect from its members and shun those who choose to violate its values teaches everyone who lives within it what they are capable of rather than what they must accept in resignation.
The Wills are not perfect. They struggle, get discouraged, and sometimes want to give up. They get disappointed, frustrated and angry. They wish their path could be easier. Some wish they had a fraction of the attention Will Nots get. But they find a way to keep going. They reach out or pray or take a break. They don’t quit.
The Will Nots don’t know how to do these things. They get lost in their frustration and anger. Perhaps no one sees them; perhaps no one ever did. Perhaps no one ever taught or showed them what they are capable of, what discipline and perseverance look like, or why these are good things to practice. That’s tragic.
And it’s not a socioeconomic issue. It is a human issue.
The outcome is predictable. The Wills build. The Will Nots destroy. And the gap between the Haves and the Have Nots continues its unchecked expansion.
What will you do to forge a different outcome?
Susan Marshall is the founder of Backbone Institute LLC and a BizTimes Milwaukee columnist.