In the last post I started a series called “Stats Lie.” That post was focused on stats and partial truths. This post will explore the relationship between stats and tunnel vision. As mentioned previously, this is not a series against statistics or measurements, but about our relationship to and how we access the truth of a situation.
I currently minister in the context of an ethnic minority specific ministry as part of a larger ministry that is mostly homogenous (majority culture/white). Even today, there are great challenges to ethnic minority staff and students joining our organization as well as staying once they have joined. The experience of cultural marginalization on multiple levels just so often is too much to overcome for longevity in this particular environment.
So 2012 is challenging for ethnic minority staff in my organization.
Let’s take a moment and go back 40 years….
In the last year, I and others I work with have had conversations with more people that were pioneering ethnic ministry in the earlier years of our organization. One of the nuggets we learned was that in the early 70’s, some of the few ethnic minority staff pioneered a leadership development program that created space for all of the ethnic minority staff to be together for contextualized training, development, outreach and community in which they could invest in the areas that were making or breaking ethnic minority staff success.
It was ahead of its time. It was producing fruit. It’s what we’ve been working to do in our own context these last 4-5 years! So what happened?
Stats lied. Among other things.
At the time, the head of the organization looked primarily at one stat – evangelistic production. This test case of a leadership development program for ethnic minorities was not producing the number of outreaches and evangelistic contacts that were up to speed with the expectations of the day.
The program was canceled (without real discussion with the ethnic leadership, but that’s another discussion). Leadership was shuffled. There was then an exodus of Asian American, Latino, and Native American staff especially over the next couple of years.
Now I’m sure I don’t know the whole story and I’m sure there’s tons I don’t know, but I’ve heard enough to see the impact of one statistic on the entire culture of my organization. One decision that resulted in losing almost a whole generation of Asian American, Latino, and Native American staff. Furthermore, what was experienced by those early staff would end up being a repeated experience for many over the years – and even now. Opportunity lost.
A judgment was made on the bases of 1 criteria – and I believe we’ve been paying for it ever since. (This leader made many great decisions, but there was a price to pay with this one).
That’s one way stats lie. In the hands of someone or a group of people who have tunnel vision, a rigid over focus on one area while losing sight of the bigger picture and other elements, stats become powerful protectors of the status quo.
Can you imagine, if you are one that serves in the same context as I do, what might have been different or what might be different had a different decision been made at the time – one that was made with enough awareness of all the significant variables at play for those pioneers of the day? How much pain could have been spared over decades? How many ethnic minority leaders might have otherwise helped shape the direction of our organization?
Even today it seems we’re often fumbling around, making the same mistakes, all the while somehow managing to feel like we’re just staying focused on our “priorities.” I wonder if a modern day tunnel vision is protecting tradition and the status quo, keeping eyes blind to the rest of the picture. But this is a dynamic present in many contexts and not just my own.
One criteria lends itself to the trappings of certainty, rigidity, and over-confidence. All of these things hurt our ability to see and understand how actions may impact a diverse group of people in different ways.
Fixation on one criteria + blind spots/lack of cultural awareness/rigid views = Lost Generation of Leaders
Are we making any of these same mistakes today?
What stats or standards of success do you think can block the bigger picture? What stats can deceive us into perceived success or failure when it may not be the case?
**For more on tunnel vision, check out a past post here called “The Disability of Competence.”