Stephen R. Covey Speaks About Positive Tickets

Stephen R. Covey Foreword to Breaking With the Law: The Story of Positive Tickets

Author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Prior to Stephen’s sudden passing, he wrote this passage for my book Positive Tickets. As Stephen so eloquently puts it ” Such creativity and focus in a community can lead to other breakthrough ideas aimed at keeping youth on a healthy, productive path.” I hope this inspires you to find your own creativity and positive problem solving approach. Remember – the ticket is the gateway to the relationship.

Many years ago, I heard a story about a waterfall. This particular waterfall was situated on a river that had recently become popular for whitewater sports—rafting, kayaking, etc. The drop-off to the waterfall was somewhat camouflaged. Most people didn’t see it coming until they were going over the edge. After several accidents at the waterfall, the agency in charge of river safety was called in to investigate. Of course, the public was outraged that such a waterfall was allowed to exist on this popular river. Politicians demanded action.

Members of the river safety agency conducted many studies on the waterfall. They measured its height. They determined the impact of various-sized watercraft that would be going over the falls. They studied the depth of the water at the base of the falls and the composition of the riverbed under the water to determine the types of injuries people might sustain. They partnered with local hospitals to prep them for waterfall victims. They partnered with the Search and Rescue department to have a diver on site to help people who didn’t immediately bob to the top. They worked with an ambulance service to set up a remote ambulance station on the banks at the bottom of the falls. Finally, they set goals with each partner and developed a scoreboard so they could track and measure their progress.

At the end of the whitewater boating season, the agency published its results. Of the 347 victims who had gone over the falls, only 10 had died immediately, a mere 3 percent. This number, they showed, had plummeted since the extra safety measures had been implemented. All of the surviving 337 victims were transported to the hospital within 10 minutes—a credit to the remote ambulance station and the dedication of its personnel. But the real hero of the day was the Search and Rescue diver. He had plunged into the river 102 out of 347 times to drag the bodies of the victims out of the swirling water. A feature in the local newspaper heralded his bravery. And though not as important as human life, it was also interesting to note that 95 percent of the watercraft boats were successfully recovered, though all were in need of repair.

By now you must be rolling your eyes at this story. How ridiculous! The solutions in this story are so obtuse that it becomes cynically comical. You’ve probably developed several much better solutions in your head already—post signs along the river warning people of the waterfall, build an easy take-out well before the waterfall, position a Search and Rescue boat at the top of the falls to help people who don’t make the take-out, build a fence or catch net across the river well before the top of the falls, or even close down this portion of the river to whitewater crafts. Any of these measures would be more effective and cost efficient. And instead of 10 fatalities and 337 injuries, you could have no fatalities and dramatically fewer injuries.

The answer seems so obvious. Now let’s take a real-world situation and see if it’s still as obvious. According to government statistics published by the U.S. and Canada, on any given day, roughly 92,800 juveniles are in custody in the U.S. and 1,898 in Canada. In essence, these are the kids who have gone over the “waterfall.” And we spend enormous amounts of time, effort, and resources at the bottom of the “falls.” We hire more police officers, we build larger detention facilities, we sign up more foster families, we develop inmate programs, we develop transition programs, etc. All of these things are “bottom of the fall” activities. They are reactive. The problems have already occurred and we are now trying to fix them.

This book, Breaking With the Law: The Story of Positive Tickets, is about one relatively simple, yet powerfully effective, proactive strategy in building relationships with youth and preventing them from “going over the falls.” Positive Tickets is effective for three reasons. First, it’s completely proactive. Second, it focuses on the root cause. And third, its source of energy is synergy.

Positive Tickets Is Proactive

In my book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Habit 1 is called Be Proactive. Be proactive is another way to say take initiative or take responsibility. For many years, I have admired and respected Ward Clapham’s work in law enforcement. When I heard about what he was doing with youth and with Positive Tickets, I was immediately fascinated and curious. As I learned more, I came to realize that Positive Tickets is almost a utopian application of Habit 1. The habit is really about living your life at the top of the waterfall instead of at the bottom. Think how much more efficient (in terms of resources and dollars) and effective (in terms of number of youth who stay out of the juvenile justice system) our work with youth in the community would be if we focused on proactive activities instead of reactive ones. Instead of catching kids doing something wrong, Positive Tickets is about catching kids doing something right. The program is not just discouraging youth from breaking the law; it’s encouraging them to lead an active, productive lifestyle.

This type of approach seems commonsensical, yet it’s amazing to me how many communities would rather focus their time and effort on reactive programs than proactive ones. Skeptics toss out comments such as, “Shouldn’t law enforcement officers spend their time catching delinquents and trouble-makers instead of hanging out at the park with kids and handing out free tickets? Why aren’t they doing real police work?” These types of comments shine a bright light on faulty logic. In essence, these critics are at the bottom of the waterfall looking around for the ambulance and Search and Rescue diver. They fail to recognize that the party has now moved its position to the top of the waterfall. What they also fail to recognize is that hardly anyone is going over the edge anymore. Proactive policing activities prevent juvenile crime from ever happening. Real police work is as much about prevention as it is about suppression. If hanging out in parks with kids; building relationships with them; and handing out tickets to fun, free activities reduces juvenile calls for service by upwards of 50 percent, then real police work is most definitely happening.

The free tickets themselves encourage youth to be proactive. Most tickets are to some sort of activity that encourage health and positive social interactions, such as bowling, skating, swimming, etc. Perhaps without the kids realizing it, the tickets are helping kids to stay fit, improve their social skills, and have fun—the part that matters most to them.

Positive Tickets Focuses on the Roots

American author and naturalist Henry David Thoreau wrote, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” Positive Tickets strikes at the root of youth problems. The program is not primarily about the free tickets. It’s about the relationship between the adult giving the ticket and the youth receiving the ticket. Building relationships of trust focuses on root problems that many kids experience. They desperately need positive mentoring and guidance from adults, which many are lacking. The ticket is simply the device that enables adults to build relationships with the kids. The ticket is the means to the end, not the end itself. Research shows that it takes three to five caring adults to raise a child. Positive Tickets is providing one of those important adults.

Positive Tickets Uses Synergy

Positive Tickets is a community effort. No one person or organization can do it alone. It takes the creative thought, energy, and passion of many people to make it work. In other words, it takes synergy. As you work together, the best ideas for implementing the program emerge. Your interactions with youth help you see what works and what doesn’t. Ideas and input percolate to help Positive Tickets leaders make the best decisions about the program. Such creativity and focus in a community can lead to other breakthrough ideas aimed at keeping youth on a healthy, productive path.

A Final Word

Leonardo da Vinci said, “I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” Our efforts to help youth in our communities grow up to enjoy healthy, successful lives come from action. Positive Tickets is an immediate, actionable program that yields enviable results. This proactive, preventive model inspires the best in everyone involved. It’s a program worthy of consideration by any community interested in helping the next generation make the most of themselves.

Stephen R. Covey
Author, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

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