“Why do you hate me?” My father said abruptly to me. It was late and we were the last people up in the house. I was a bit stunned by the question. My dad would proceed to tell me why Jen and I adopting was spitting in his face. I was shocked and frustrated with the conversation that would follow. The depth of my shock was built upon the fact that our decision to adopt was largely a result of the faith I had developed growing up in my father’s house. Years of church and youth group telling me that love of God was love of orphan, care for the stranger, and the willingness to give up one’s life for the other. Adoption was (and still is) the natural outgrowth of the values transferred from a faith built in my childhood. Up to that point I would have attributed a lot of my desire to adopt upon my parents insistence that I go to church.
In Dare to Lead Brené Brown argues that the primary reason leaders fail is a lack of courage. Through her research in social work, using grounded theory, she and her team discovered that there are four skill sets necessary to increase courage: vulnerability, values, trust, and the ability to overcome struggle and rise.1 The most interesting of these topics, to me at least, is her work in values. Brown argues that values are “a way of being or believing that we hold most important.”2 But for values to be of value they need to come with us everywhere and not be watered down or discarded at difficult times.3
I was fortunate to have a conversation this week with the leader of a non-profit in town about the work of motivating people to action. He made the point that moving people from inaction to action is about changing the perception of what is being asked from novel to being normal. So long as the act is itself novel the common response will be, “I could never do that” or some variation on how it is weird. So long as the leaders keep the courage of their convictions – or values in Brown-speak – they will be able to move the perception from novel to normal.
Thinking through my interaction with my father that night, I can understand why it seemed so strange to him that we would adopt. It was something no one in my family had ever done. There was risk involved and no guarantee of success. It was novel and it was different. But by the time we began the process of our second and third adoptions his perception of it had changed to one of delight with the process.
While all this moving from novel to normal was a result of Jen and I not backing down from our shared values that adoption was both good and a calling from God, there is still the question of why my father’s reaction was so severe. I think the answer to that is that we had contradicting values. My father’s values were tied around having a grandson with a last name of Dean that shared his DNA – one of his arguments that night was that I was destroying the Dean line. The conflict of values caused what Haidt might call an elephant fight. My dad’s emotions and instincts were running his half of the conversation. My emotions and instincts were in on it as well, except I had thought through what I believed beforehand, so my elephant was working in conjunction with its rider. This combined sense of self allowed me to get through that conversation and continue on the path Jen and I had decided to walk. I believe this is why Brown argues that you need to work out your values before they get challenged.4
Thankfully, my father loves our sons now, but the only way for us to get from that night years ago to today was through a firm set of values. I am rarely brave, but I can see that Brown is onto something and I am thankful for the work she is doing to help us all become a little braver.
1. Brown, Brené. Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts. London: Vermilion, 2018. 11
2. ibid. 186
3. ibid. 186
4. ibid. 186