Friday, 24 June 2016

A Revealing Slip?...

I blogged recently about the shift in my self-understanding that was triggered by the Hogan Dark Side questionnaire. In particular, I reached an understanding that my social reserve (in informal situations) is not by fundamental orientation, but a learned defensive behaviour.  That shift has had some real, interesting and thought-provoking results.

The first thing I noticed was shortly after my feedback session, when I attended a reunion of participants on a programme I had run a while previously. Normally, such occasions are precisely those on which my social reserve is evident. Historically, I have engaged little and not particularly enjoy them. However, on leaving that evening, I noticed that I had engaged a lot more, in a more relaxed (and in Hogan terms, colourful and imaginative way) and as a result had enjoyed the occasion a lot more.

Interestingly, that was not as a result of any intention - I had not planned to do so, as a result of my new insight. No, my analysis is that the new insight itself, alone, was enough to change my behaviour slightly, and the positive feedback that elicited from others reinforced that, and that led to a different pattern of engagement.

The next notable point of interest, and one tending in the other direction, arose last week. It was the end-of-course dinner for a year-long programme at a university. Again I was relaxed, and allowing my habitual reserve on such occasions to slip away. And then I said something careless, that I wished I hadn't said, and which was picked up on (very gently) by someone at the table.

I was recounting the story of a film, The Story of Ruth (the 1981 one, with Connie Booth, not the earlier famous film of the same name) which had used our family house as a set - in fact a set for a number of different locations in the film. I mentioned that it was, amongst others, the respite home 'where all the loonies lived...' At that, someone at the table raised an eyebrow and muttered 'careful...' or something.

Reflecting on this later, I was struck by a few things.  Firstly, I was interested in the slip itself. Was it because I was relaxed, and thus betrayed an attitude I would sooner hide?  I don't think so: I really do not think, or talk, about those with mental health problems as 'loonies.' So where did it come from?  My best guess is that in telling the story, I was reverting to the teenager who first told his friends that story in 1981, and used the language I would have used then. Not an all together comfortable reflection, but I think an honest one.

But I was also keenly aware that such an embarrassing slip is precisely the kind of reason that I had developed my social reserve. When I was younger, I would have found it completely mortifying to have been in such a situation, with people (I would have imagined) forming all sorts of judgements about me. But now, I am better placed, emotionally at least, to deal with such embarrassment without being completely distraught. Also, when I was younger, the likelihood was that a social faux pas would lead to ridicule and possibly bullying or ostracisation. That is certainly no longer the case.

So despite the embarrassment of that moment, I remain happy with my less reserved self, and will continue to take the risk of expressing myself more on such informal social occasions - and just pray that I don't make too much of a spectacle of myself!

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Enriching the Plot - through film

This week, our first year of the Vice Chancellor's Leadership programme at Winchester came to an end. We concluded with a day of reflection, planning and celebration. As part of that, we invited participants to work in groups to make a film, summarising their learning from the year.

It is a challenge I often set groups, and I am almost always impressed by the creativity they bring to the task. This year at Winchester, we were treated to a Lego movie, a silent movie, an animated alphabet of learning, and a trip along a wonderful model/map of their learning journey.

But I was reflecting on another aspect of this task, this year, in the light of my recently completed book (did I mention I'd written a book?...)  At the end of a programme like this, people will naturally have many stories about it available to them; some parts were better than others, some days less useful than the very best, and so on. Likewise, different members of the group will have different stories about it too. In an academic context, and one in which we have run a pilot programme and are seeking feedback to improve it, there is a risk that the critical comments may come to the fore.

Yet in terms of sustained learning from the programme, and in particular in terms of a continuing sense of agency, which I see as a significant benefit from this particular programme, such a story is not the most helpful one for people to leave with.

So one of the benefits of the film-making (as well as being a lot of fun, which helps to meet the 'celebratory' part of the brief for the day) is that it focuses on the positive learning, and by the process of developing a storyboard, builds a narrative structure for that learning - a story. Then, by translating that narrative structure into an entertaining piece of film, participants strengthen that story in their own minds: enriching the plot, as I term it in my model.

So my hope is that participants will take away that positive story, as encapsulated both in the film and in the enjoyable and energising process of making the film; and that will the their dominant story about the programme: a story that will help them to retain and apply the positive learning from the programme with an enhanced sense of agency.

Monday, 6 June 2016

A Very Different Holiday

From reading this and the last post in quick succession, the casual reader might get the impression that I spend my whole life on holiday! That is not quite the truth (though living in the Lake District, it can sometimes feel that way) but it just so happened that the Chartres pilgrimage and an invitation from some friends to spend a week sailing with them came in quick succession.

So a rapid gear change from the rigours of Chartres (long days of walking, sleeping in icy tents, communal facilities shared by 8,000 people) to a week on a catamaran sailing off the coast of Corfu.

You can tell that I am not used to this ocean sailing lark; on arrival at the catamaran, I was greeted with 'A bit of a swell!' and responded 'Thank you!' I gather that was incorrect.

Actually, by the standards of Gouvia marina, I was anything but a swell. You could see the super yachts lined up in bragging order on a distant quay, and even the humble catamaran we were on probably cost more than my house.

Once again the contrast with Chartres was very marked; and it would be easy to stand on some moral high ground (high wave, at sea?) and denounce the pleasures of the flesh and the indulgence of the wealthy. However the truth is that we had a wonderful week, getting to know our hosts (the parents of our daughter's husband, who refer to us as The Outlaws, reasonably enough) rather better.  And very good company they were, too! I also learned some of the rudiments of sailing a large yacht at sea, as opposed to a small dinghy on Ullswater. We swam, played games, sampled Greek restaurants, bought and cooked freshly caught fish, read, chatted, and relaxed.

So comparing the two holidays, I conclude that they served very different purposes, and met very different needs. A life that consisted solely of cruising on the Mediterranean in the sunshine, having fun and eating and drinking in good measure and in good company would perhaps be lacking something - and it was tempting to make all sorts of judgements about the chap we saw doing his workout on a treadmill on the upper deck of his massive super yacht, while his staff motored ashore in a launch on some errand. But there is certainly a place for real rest and relaxation, and above all slowing down; and particularly in the context of building new friendships. And by the same token, I suspect that an ascetic life, full of the rigours of the Chartres pilgrimage without relief, is a vocation to which very few are called - and that to assume it inappropriately would also be deleterious.

But I don't think I need worry about either temptation too much: the Chartres pilgrimage only happens once a year, and as long as I have a wife and children, I will be ineligible for monastic life; and I certainly won't be chartering a yacht on the Med on a regular basis, either.

And despite our children acquiring a liking for such a splendid holiday, our next one will be back to normal - amongst the midges of Scotland...