“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” –Roy Disney
My grandfather used to tell me that if you are lost in the forest, you will ultimately walk in a circle. I assumed it was an old Southern myth, but a recent study demonstrates its veracity. Jan Souman, a German psychologist, instructed nine people (presumably college sophomores or white rats that looked like people) to walk as straight as possible in one direction for several hours in a forest or the desert. Some of the study participants walked in a relatively straight line. Others literally walked in circles without realizing that they were crossing their previously traveled path. The difference? The weather. Yes, the weather predicted the straight line or the circular path. Walkers who could see the moon or the sun walked in a straight line. Those without the benefit of celestial landmarks walked in circles.
Other than confirming that psychologists are sadistic, so what? Well, it demonstrates that without a steady focal point, people lose direction, dramatically and quickly (in some cases the circles were as small as 20 meters in diameter!). Community corrections professionals work in a complex system with many subsystems, branches, and decision makers. Part of the system refers an offender to us. Who is our Client (with a capital “C” to mean primary)? The judge? The district attorney? The victim? The parole board? The offender (little “c” client)? No. Wrong. Close. Try again and thanks for playing. Each of these players are important stakeholders, but you only have one Client: The Community.
The community is made up of employers, children, the elderly, and all of our “next door” neighbors. Each of the above players represents part of the community, but none of them represent the community as a whole. That is your job. Believe that clients can change and allow them to earn greater community freedom, but do not hesitate to put on the brakes if there is reason to believe that the community will suffer harm. It is not an easy balance, and you do not get points for overreacting or being ultra conservative. Still, “your freedom stops where my nose begins,” as my father is fond of exclaiming.
Suggestion: Leave an empty chair in your conference room to represent your Client, the Community. It will help everyone remember who they serve and the importance, and potential impact, of their decisions.