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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Wanting a Space, Part I

Wanting a Space, Part I

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

There I was, face-to-face with my new adversary subsequent to the scream of two 3rd-grade girls (my daughter and her friend next door belting it out for all its worth) – a 3-foot black Coluber constrictor atop my front porch.

Snakes fascinate me.  This black racer certainly did.

And … I have a healthy respect, so I made sure to check its venom potential on-line before making contact.  No venom to speak of, but I DID learn that he bites. 

The black racer is not-at-all docile.  He’s very quick, slithering left and right as I approached.  Though gloved-up, garden-style, I thought, “Too bad I left my stick-proof, law-enforcement-grade gloves for my K-12 successor and her vehicle searches.  Those would have come in handy.” 

It was now man-versus-reptile.

As I chased him across the porch and into the adjacent bushes, he then “went perpendicular,” climbing a weeping, ornamental tree near our berm’s corner. Slithering up branches and watching me all the while, he s-curved his head and neck (if snake’s have a neck), ready to strike, as I got near.

This was all happening to the delight of my children, who were jazzed that I was on-the-job, addressing this snake-issue. 

As he fortified himself within the branches, I decided to stand down, finding him later that evening burying half of himself, head-down, in our mulch, again near the front porch, adjacent to where my son, Sean, digs holes in our yard for his golf’s short-game.

Hmmm … I thought (alone now, as our children were at soccer practice), having Sean, Katelyn, or the girl next door bitten was not my idea of good parenting or neighborliness. 

I could chop him in half, I considered.  No, that just wouldn’t be right.  I then flashed back to my years in K-12, which helped me decide what I must do. 

Neighbors probably watched from their windows with delight as I used a plastic snatch-‘em-up tool (probably procured at the county fair, the Covered Bridge Festival, a Monster Truck cub scout event, or in a holiday stocking stuffer from my most-eclectic father) to “encourage” this snake to another part of our property. 

After a few dodges and parries … relocation successful. 
Family saved. 
Neighbors satisfied. 
Respectful co-existence, person-to-reptile assured.

That respectful co-existence part was very important to me, as I settled into a front porch rocker. 

My thoughts again went back to K-12.  I pondered this snake; then of another thing that fascinated me, yet at the same time could be foul, nasty, and certainly not with my best interest at heart … something that intermittently dared me into its personal space with an intent of self-righteous striking … yet something that often exposed its vulnerability, giving me a choice about what to do when confronting it …

K-12 Parents.

I remembered the one who arrived at the school to discuss her son’s suspension, wearing a shirt that said,  “F$ck You and the Horse You Rode In ON.”  The shirt didn’t have a dollar sign.

I remembered the dad who shared with me over the telephone, “Ryan, if it weren’t for the five warrants out for my arrest, I’d come up to that school right now and kick your A@s!”

I remembered the overindulgent business type who Rotary’d with my superintendent and whose son organized a sit-down strike in my high school.  While I pondered a good-ole’ fashioned kick to this boy’s behind, my boss suggested that I turn this one into a “Win/Win.”  That one really got under my skin.

I remembered these … and more.

Then, something occurred to me:  These folks were just like my snake. 

They were trying to bite me while I was in their personal space and in doing so, they were most assuredly in mine.

Yet, could it have been that they were simply Wanting a Space?

Could they have simply wanted a space to live their lives, and through circumstance, we were bumping into each other?  Could these folks have been doing the best they could with what they had, even if it felt short of my expectations?

I think so.

And it is often a parent’s nature to strike at obstacles, if they have no greater resources.  I perceived that they were reptilian, limited and overindulgent, yet in considering my next move – chopping them in half or using another implement to redirect – I often would pause and think of their positive characteristics, as people deserving of my effort:

They were working hard to make present circumstances work, as they were dealing with the hand they were dealt;

They needed a place to live, and because of geography, they were forced into a relationship with ME;

They loved their offspring and were simply trying to provide them with a good life in the context of what they knew and believed.

And I was in actuality, an obstacle to them.  I was the snake.  I was providing more than a distraction; I was providing barriers to their preferred paths of least resistance, affixed between their present and future.

It didn’t matter who was right; what mattered was, “What Was.”

Did I at times, chop?  Yep. 

Did I more often, move to co-exist?  Assuredly.

In dealing with others who are very much different from ourselves, shouldn’t we, at times, ask, “What are we doing for those who are poised to strike, yet just Wanting a Space?”  

The how of the answer is for future conversation.


Dr. Ryan Donlan is pondering snake charming and other aerobic exercises of leadership and looks forward to sharing strategies for handling those who are difficult in future weeks.  If you can help him unearth what he seeks and provide additional information for our readership, will you please consider contact him at (812) 237-8624 or at

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