I am reminded of a conversation I had with a student who played football for Bo Schembechler, the charismatic coach at the University of Michigan. The young man was a very big lineman. I asked him what he thought of Bo. He replied, “Bo is the only person in the world that I will let kick me in the butt—because I know he loves me.”
We expect authoritative discipline from leaders on the football field, but we seldom think of it as evidence of caring. We do not expect a big, tough lineman to use the “L word.” Yet he did. He even suggests that it is love that makes the confrontation possible.
When others are practicing tough love, they are in fact supporting me, and I can feel their genuine love and concern. They are doing what they are doing because they want to call forth my greatness. For this to happen, I must become a more independent actor and take increased accountability for some aspect of my life. For me to transform, I must be attracted to a kind of learning that happens outside my comfort zone. The others must disturb the patterns in my mind and behavior.
They disturb the way I choose to see myself by asking me tough questions or by making tough statements. Such distortions cause me to think deeply. Such thinking causes me to see my own stagnation. I continually run from pain, so I choose slow death. I go to sleep in some part of my life. The change agent challenges me to awaken, to stretch to my full limits (Quinn, Letters to Garrett: pg. 188-89)