Do people do well if they want to, or if they can?

The phrase, people do well if they can, has been echoing in my head for the past few weeks. It’s a new way of thinking about others.

My upbringing included the “work hard and don’t complain” belief.  One of its underlying messages was that people do well if they want to.  That meant if you didn’t do well, there was something wrong with you. You were lazy. You didn’t try hard enough. You didn’t want to. You chose not to do well.

I suspect that I’m not alone in this.  I can see it clearly in how our society deals with people in our homes, in our workplaces and on the streets.

What if we switched the script? 

Dr. Ross Greene, author of The Explosive Child and Lost at School, has done just that.  He believes that people do well if they can. Under the leadership of Shelley Woon, our district is beginning to try to change the script as well. Educators are using Greene’s ideas with children in classrooms to create environments where they can do well. We start with this idea that students want to be successful, to be happy, and to do well. If they aren’t, we try to figure out what is missing for them and what we can do to help. It’s not about children choosing to behave well or trying harder.

But it’s not just about our kids.  It’s about all the people we serve.

I’m thinking about the employee whose attendance is very irregular. Or the dad who comes in to the office yelling about a situation. Or anyone else whose actions seem problematic to you. Understanding what is behind someone’s behaviour is an important part of working with them. It doesn’t mean that we accept the behaviour or want them to shirk their responsibility, simply that there has to be more to it than someone who doesn’t feel like doing well.

If I believe that people do well if they can, what part can I play in creating an environment for them to do so?


3 Responses to “Do people do well if they want to, or if they can?”

  1. Sue, I love how our Board has taken Greene’s belief that “children do well if they can,” and have applied it to all “people.” I’ve been thinking a lot about these words this year as well, especially as I look at solving problems in the classroom (yes, right now, my focus is more on the child component). To create this kind of environment, I think that the key is “time”: taking the time to really understand the person’s point of view and collaborate on a solution. It’s also be proactive: investing the time prior to a big problem, so that we can avoid the problem in the first place. How do we make sure that we find and invest this time, so that all people can “do well?”


    1. Perhaps it’s not about solving problems, but an approach that expands the conversation to include everyone and their viewpoints, including all adults.

      1. I can see what you’re saying here, Sue. I think that we still want a solution, but instead of having the pre-planned solution, we’re really digging deeper into what’s causing the problem and solving it together. It’s about hearing all of the varied voices, I think (including those that aren’t always heard). Thoughts?


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