In last week’s blog, I anticipated a visit to a class in Domestic Violence – an opportunity to reflect with others on how the creation of spaces to evoke the tenderness of truth does effect sustained peace. I was prepared to examine how the effort to prevent violence against women and children does support women’s voices, their senses of selves, their refusal to further submit themselves or their children to violent partners.
Why did I not anticipate (you would think I would be prepared by now) the unconscious ways in which that space devalued my experience rather than a statistic-drenched voice?
I know classrooms, feel at home in them, know it is not the concrete block walls, the airlessness, the unwieldy tables and chairs which facilitate disengagement.
So, it’s not a question of interior design, though surely, surely we can do better than classrooms which resemble factories.
What facilitates engagement is the presence of a welcoming consciousness I call leadership, conscious feminine leadership. (Men can lead this way too, and some women don’t!) In my working-class family, where I learned most of what I know about leading and failing to lead, it was called good manners.
So, yes, I was perplexed by the professor’s reluctance to honor my request to have students sit in a circle: too much trouble, got to put them back, who’s going to do it?
Amanda, who invited me, jumped in to lead the students to a re-arrangement, made sure the chairs were replace at the end. And how hard was that?
Perplexity gave way to dismay when the professor did not join the circle, sat behind it / us working at his computer, now and again listening in, once asking a question. When he walked out while I was talking I was REALLY amazed. I stopped, noted to the students the power of reflecting on what is happening in the moment, sometimes called the elephant in the room. Hmm, I’m sitting here wondering why your teacher walked out of the classroom. (Silence, shock, smiles, fear.) I only felt a little silly when he returned a few minutes later, realizing he’d likely gone to the restroom, but still. . . His lack of listening, lack of engagement signaled to me–and to his students—lack of value in my voice, my presence.
I truly, truly believe there was no animus there, no design to rudeness, yet I wonder how to read the lack of engagement? I was invited by a student—with the teacher’s permission of course—-but does that mean I was of less value?
It is fashionable theses days to lift up the value of stories, but I don’t see much beyond buzz coming out of that. I don’t experience grant proposals, or classrooms, or boardrooms, as being hospitable to stories or to experience, unless it can be counted or quantified. Never enough time; never enough space, never enough money to listen to and to tell stories.
So, we do more research, commission another study, publish another scholarly book,
invite another expert from out of town to lecture several thousand people who go home largely unchanged, or changed by not knowing how to connect the change to action.