Are You Your Own Worst Enemy? When Policy Masquerades as Principle
Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. We create battles we don’t need to fight.
I avoided an unnecessary skirmish recently after receiving a call from one of our elementary principals. She called about a clear violation of our dress code policy.
The problem had to do with the language of the policy prohibiting non-school pictures or logos on clothing except for small monograms. This created a problem for parents who wished to purchase, or who had already purchased, tops for younger children with flowers, animals or similar imprints. Several parents were complaining about the policy. The principal believed we should enforce the “letter of the law” because it was clearly written and to “protect” the school’s culture.
I reminded the principal to always think about first principles when trying to make a policy decision. I asked her, “What is the purpose of the policy?” The answer is to eliminate students coming to school with shirts displaying the logos or images of people, organizations, movies, etc., of questionable reputation or that are contrary to the biblical values and culture we seek to nurture. After discussing the “first principle” issue, I suggested we quietly change the policy to say, “Pictures, imprints, or logos of movies, sports figures, and celebrities are prohibited.”
This subtle change protects the school’s culture while permitting sports logos, team mascots, flowers, animals and other innocuous imprints. We upheld our first principle and avoided conflict by not allowing a policy to masquerade as a principle. We also had happy parents.
Policies do not exist for their own sake. We create policies to serve principles. Focus on first things first. Before rendering a decision about enforcing a policy, ask, “What is the fundamental purpose of this policy? Can it be modified or eliminated without compromising an important principle?” If the answer is yes, do so. You will avoid an unnecessary battle and live another day to fight those that are necessary.