"Step on a crack and break your mother's back."
Over the past month, I have engaged in two training experiences
as a participant rather than the facilitator. Each experience was excruciating.
I usually at the beginning of each workshop ask my Mastering Projects
participants how they learn. I've learned to respect and encourage the
different ways people assimilate new information. This is because I have
learned to respect how I learn. I learn by savaging the offered information,
curing the meat and tanning the hide, before finding some way to incorporate
it. This process always surprises and often confuses me. How do you learn?
The first workshop was meant to qualify me for providing a service.
I entered the workshop overwhelmed by the hundreds of pages of assigned
"prereading" I had not completed. I stayed until the end, but refused to
sit for the qualifying exam. I felt so disqualified by the end of the workshop
that I did not want to be associated in any way with the "qualifying" organization.
What was my problem? The workshop was focused upon passing a multiple
choice exam. Since the concepts were simple and the exam had to be challenging,
much of the test was centered upon remembering details of arcane research
methods rather than on certifying an understanding of the central content
of the material. It was a barrier to entry.
This felt unsafe. I was deeply offended by the idea that qualification
was based upon irrelevant issues. Colleagues counseled me to simply jump
through the hoops, but I could not engage. I internally savaged the material,
the teaching method, and the qualifying examination. Once I'd savaged it,
as the workshop's meat cured and as I tanned the hide, I was able to pull
useful material out of the experience. I left the workshop feeling qualified,
for I had found a way to qualify myself, but I was shaken by the passage.
Why couldn't I simply sit and absorb? Why all the fussing?
The second workshop was very different. This one focused upon personal
work, dealing with the gunk that clogs effective engagement. I learned
more about this gunk than I had expected to learn. I was unsure about this
workshop, entering off center and curious. Over the first days, the facilitators
helped the participants create a "safe" environment. We outlined rules
of engagement. We worked in small, non threatening groups. We were each
encouraged to engage as we prefer to engage. I have never been to a workshop
where more care was taken creating safety. Yet each safety-encouraging
activity left me feeling more threatened. By the afternoon of the second
day, I was nearly shut down, running on about 5% power, present but unavailable
even to me.
I fled to my room, sub vocalizing a savaging commentary, where I spent
the next hours hiding out, curing this latest meat and tanning this curious
hide, working the contradiction through my mind. I felt more threatened
as safety increased. How strange. Others came looking for me- to console
and encourage- but I wouldn't answer my door. I felt impaled. I was in
no shape for reassuring conversation.
A dialogue with my partner helped. She noted that she had first engaged
with me because she wanted a "safe" relationship, but that the more the
relationship deepened, the less safe it felt. This was clearly not because
I had become more threatening. She had encountered this same contradiction.
But was it really a contradiction?
I concluded after several hours' struggle that my threatened feeling
was not the real issue. The real issue was my expectation that I would
not feel threatened there. My feelings shocked me because they seemed so
alien to the context. But the rules we created and the exercises we engaged
in to make safety were really no more than whistling in the dark, because
we were preparing ourselves to do some seriously scary work. The problem
was my expectation that I might engage in such high-wire antics without
feeling threatened. I shifted my expectations and felt my energy rise.
We require seat belts, even though some will be trapped by them. We
add air bags even though they kill a few. We create safety devices but
none of them are fool proof or infallible. At some level our sense of safety
is mere whistling in the dark, an artificial palliative to real threat.
This place is not safe and cannot be made unconditionally safe. The rational
response is to feel threatened, but so encumbered we can't make much headway.
So we make up stories about how secure we are in absolutely insecure places.
This is a lesson worth remembering. As I reengage as a facilitator,
I will remember to take the time to whistle in the dark. I will be more
deliberate in encouraging these feelings of security, even though they
don't make anyone anything more than feel safe. Most importantly, I won't
take it upon myself when a participant feels threatened. We do important
work and important work is inherently threatening.
This realization fits neatly into my learning process. Perhaps I savage
new information because I feel threatened by it. I should feel threatened
by it. New information always has the potential to tangle my internal model
of the world, which is the most scary possibility for me. I cure the meat
and tan the hide to find a way to assimilate the new stuff, and this leaves
me feeling safe, whistling in the dark as my model of the world quietly