Legacy, Assumptions and Ginger Nut Biscuits

I am a member of my local school board and at each board retreat our superintendent asks us the question, “What legacy do you want to leave?” 

Before I tell you my answer, let me tell you a story about the stranger and the ginger nuts. It goes like this:

At the airport after a tiring business trip, a lady’s return flight was delayed.

She went to the airport shop, bought a book, a coffee and a small packet containing five ginger nut biscuits. The airport was crowded and she found a seat in the lounge next to a stranger. After a few minutes’ reading, she became absorbed in her book. She took a biscuit from the packet and began to drink her coffee. To her great surprise, the stranger in the next seat calmly took one of the biscuits and ate it. Stunned, she couldn’t bring herself to say anything, nor even to look at the stranger.

Nervously, she continued reading. After a few minutes, she slowly picked up and ate the third biscuit. Incredibly, the stranger took the fourth ginger nut and ate it. Then, to the woman’s amazement, he picked up the packet and offered her the last biscuit. This being too much to tolerate, the lady angrily picked up her belongings, gave the stranger an indignant scowl and marched off to the boarding gate, where her flight was now ready.

Flustered and enraged, she reached inside her bag for her boarding ticket and found her unopened packet of ginger nuts.

It’s easy to fall prey to assumptions.

As a school board member, I want to leave a legacy of making decisions based on facts not assumptions. It goes back to an early experience I had on as a new member on the board.

At times, parents of a special needs child wanted to send their child to an out-of-district placement. The previous board, assuming the parents were “greedy” or “angry at the world,” fought out-of-district placements and often entered into litigation to keep the child in the district. Newly appointed to the board, I added up our legal fees and discovered litigation had cost us about $100,000 a year for several years.

The new board did a comprehensive survey of staff, parents and students and found that trust and communication between families and special education staff needed to be improved. I heard from a dozen families who had been in conflict with our district and most of the families said the reason they asked to send their child to an out of district placement was because they had lost faith in us. 

Decisions, based on assumptions, were made that caused trust and communication between the families and staff to break down, cost taxpayers money, and were not in keeping with our mission of putting learning first. With facts in hand, the board made very different decisions moving forward.

A quote I love about assumptions is from Alan Alda is this, “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”

Now, what did I do with my ginger nut biscuits?

About the Author

Judith Lindenberger

Judith Lindenberger is President of The Lindenberger Group, an award-winning HR consulting agency. She has over 30 years of experience helping clients create effective human resource management strategies to drive success for their organization and their employees. Lindenberger Group’s seasoned team of consultants offer expert guidance on all aspects of HR from recruitment and staffing to training and development to payroll and compliance. For more information, email info@lindenbergergroup.com

4 Comments

Amy Wilson

I loved your story Judy. I think women should leverage facts more. There are so many hidden assumptions out there that hurt women. Good facts, evidence and math will serve women well in the future. Great post!

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HR Introvert

Judy- I love that story, and the way you handled the school board situation. I used to teach a problem solving class that started with a unique problem that people couldn’t solve (usually) because they were unaware of their own base assumptions, which were incorrect.
I think our biggest challenges are when our assumptions, or biases, are about the limitations of others. If we keep our windows clean, we are capable of so much more!
HRi

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