by GM Jeff Helaney, 9th Dan

There is truth to the assertion that our society has changed significantly in the last 25 years. Some attribute these changes to radical improvements in technology while others take the stance that our societal moral compass ceased to point north. Both statements take an extreme stance and paint with a large brush stroke yet neither provides any definitive proof of symptom or illness.

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I am not tackling the big picture in two pages. I do not want to debate whether or not we have become desensitized to violence because of video games, nor do I want to talk about the decline of our youth intellectually, morally, or spiritually. I want to be very narrow in scope, tell a few stories, and perhaps throw some analytical thinking to the mix. I will let the reader decided if this post was worth a read.

I was sitting at a meeting a few weeks ago when the conversation turned to hiring personnel. The people involved in the discussion were of my age group give or take 10 years. One of the participants spoke of a person who came in to interview fifteen minutes late looking disheveled and unprepared. He was angry that his interview was canceled and that he was not considered for the job. He lamented that it wasn’t his fault that he overslept and that he would be a great employee. This drew mild chuckles from the business owners present. The conversation quickly became a story telling session of every frustrating interview, job performance review, or termination that the group had experienced.

Through this cathartic conversation a strong theme emerged. Entitlement. Whether it was the college kid’s dad who tried to have the HR person fired he didn’t hire his young adult child (the job was given to a better qualified than the applicant with an MBA and 15 years experience), the drunk who wanted to have his parking validated after hitting the interviewers car in the parking lot, or the person who was fired after taking money from the till every day because she didn’t get a raise … it was all about entitlement. Right and wrong took on a very skewed perspective in these people and they had a strong feeling that the rules were for everyone else unless it benefited them.

I had a large dose of this type of thinking during my career in law enforcement and in government. It was very common for me to watch people re-write reality to fit their wants. Imagine my dismay when I found this behavior was so pervasive that it permeated every aspect of my life. Including my beloved martial arts. Now before I go any further, I am not one to cast stones in a glass house. I am far from perfect and I have made my share of mistakes in life. We are all fallible … the difference is I know I have been wrong and I recognize the mistakes I have made in life. They were choices based on life situations for me. I didn’t always choose wisely. I may even make a few more mistakes before my time is up. It is part of life. What I find incredulous is the amount of people who continually make life decisions without regard to potential outcomes. They see expediency and entitlement as part of their moral perspective. Everyone who does not don’t function within their expected parameters is against them, is evil, or simply doesn’t get it.

It is common for me to see parents who are upset because their child wasn’t allowed to test and I have had more than one student quit because our standards were ‘too tough’ or because ‘we asked too much out of them’.   I have even been told that, “I understand why you do that for (insert name here), but I don’t understand why my child should have to do that.” Hint … in case you didn’t guess it is they really don’t understand, but think they are making a case to change your mind.

It frustrates me when I see a good martial artist give into this type of pressure and compromise their values. Often time McDojo’s aren’t born they are made one compromise at a time. It often starts with a lessoning of standards to make an individual happy and ends with a school where profit is the only benchmark of success. I get the need to make a profit, but at the end of the day we are not teaching our students the right lessons if we let them drive our schools out of entitlement. It is better to lose a few than lose who you are.

Here are a few truths that make running a school easier: 1) If you set reasonable standards and administer them fairly and consistently to will retain more students than you lose. 2) You will always lose a percentage of your students no matter what you do or how good you are. You will always retain some students no matter how bad you are. 3) You will give of yourself and it will not be appreciated. Some people will forget it or never acknowledge it. Understand, some people will always view the world in a way that makes them feel good about themselves even at the cost of others. You are only a part in their play and they can write the script however they want. Reality is seldom a factor. You can’t control it and you can’t change it. Accept it and don’t let it control you. 4) People will lie to you and people will tell you the truth. Sometimes it will be hard to figure out which they are doing. It doesn’t matter as long as you react to both from an ethical place. 5) Being kind, consistent, and ethical is no guarantee of success … but it does allow you to live more easily with your decisions. Betraying who you are for profit or to make a client stay is no guarantee of success. It will, however; eat away at your soul. 6) You have to be true to yourself. You shouldn’t try to please everyone and you will NEVER make everyone happy. (Thanks Abe) 7) Life doesn’t owe you anything. Success most often is born of sweat and hard work. Be honest, be diligent, be truthful, be strong, and be kind. If you don’t live up to those values then you really don’t have anything to teach your students of worth.

This my friends is my lesson for the day: Allowing yourself to compromise your values for someone else is a mistake. Enabling an entitlement mentality in your students (or employees, or friends, or … well you get it) is not a favor to them, it is a disservice. It is incumbent upon us as teachers to try to do what is right for our students even if it is hard. Those that don’t want to learn the lesson will find somewhere else to go. You have to be okay with it. You did the right thing. In the end is that what we are supposed to do?

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