When faced with tough times, head for the Goldilocks Zone

The government has to skate the tightrope of being too controlling, and being too lax in response to COVID-19 — and both spell disaster.

What is maturity? If you look the word up in a dictionary, the meaning is hard to pin down. There are different types of maturity: physical, mental, spiritual, political and age-related. So, I’m going to give you my definition: maturity is the ability to live in the Goldilocks Zone.

What’s the Goldilocks Zone? It’s a place where decisions are made just like in the Goldilocks fairy tale: “Not too hot, not too cold, not too hard, not too soft, but just right.” It’s finding the balance rather than going to extremes.

The first example comes from my first year of teaching at a public high school. I was hired to teach in October. The students were used to the previous teacher whom I replaced. They were resentful of me because they chose the class because of that teacher. They reacted by openly challenging my authority in both overt and passive-aggressive ways. I didn’t know how to react to their challenges so I first got very angry and yelled at them. Then I felt guilty for being so dictatorial and became very permissive and conciliatory. Neither approach worked to bring about order. I vacillated between being too hard and too soft.

In those days there was no mentor to help me so, in desperation, I found a book called “Teacher Effectiveness Training.” After reading it, I realized my approach was immature. The solution to my problem lay in becoming both firm and flexible. Getting angry told the rebellious students they were winning. It only encouraged them to act up more. When I reacted permissively, I communicated weakness and therefore was like a wounded animal being attacked by a pride of lions. They smelled blood.

I found that rather than getting angry at their actions, I should remain calm. Rather than being permissive, I should stick to my principles and not give in to them. It took a while to learn but, eventually, with each passing semester I got better and better at it. I had found the miracle of “The Goldilocks’ Zone.” Doing so allowed me to successfully complete 31 years of teaching in a public high school.

As a second example, when I teach about the Constitution, I point out how this document is filled with examples of the Goldilocks principle.

An 18th century French philosopher by the name of Montesquieu came up with the concept of the separation of powers. He divided government into three parts: legislative, executive and judicial. The legislative branch is given the power to make laws and investigate the other branches. The executive is given the power to carry out those laws. The judicial branch’s job is to decide whether the other two branches are doing their job according to the Constitution and to make judgments about complex legal issues between the state and national governments, and between individuals and the state.

It’s a simple concept, but complex when actually put into practice. You can see its complexity in the recent impeachment and trial of the president.

A third example is very up-to-date: the coronavirus crisis. How much power should the government use to fight the disease? Use too little power and thousands of people will die. Use too much power and the government will strangle the economy and plunge the nation and the world into recession or depression. If the president and Congress handle the crisis badly, their jobs are at stake. If they handle it well, they will be re-elected. It’s all about finding the sweet spot.

What’s your maturity level in this time of crisis? Are you panicking and reacting emotionally or are you thinking rationally and acting calmly? Times of great stress reveal our level of maturity.

Becoming aware of our emotions and then using self-discipline to act in our best interests tells us how well we are dwelling in the Goldilocks Zone. Maturity brings us a level of peace and harmony while immaturity only exacerbates problems and makes them worse. The choice is ours to make.

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