Sunday, March 23, 2014

Relationship "failures"

Conventional wisdom has it that relationships (or lack thereof) consume more thought and reflection as we age and/or as we are reminded of our mortality through illness or death.  Our television and social media habits seem consumed with relationships--situation comedies, "reality" T.V., and dramas where the interactions among the detectives, sales representatives, doctors, attorneys, or other variety of co-worker are as important if not more important than the outcome of the specific case or incident.  And classic literature, whether prose, poetry, or play, is, essentially, a study in the nature and complexity of relationships.

And yet, in higher education, how often do we take the time to examine what constitutes failure or success in relationships?  How do we know we've failed? How do we define relationship "failure"? What did we learn from those interactions we deem to be other than a success?   And perhaps the most important question: Why does it matter?

If our emphasis is entirely a sense of urgency to accomplish whatever the objective(s) may be or how many countable things (dollars, sales, awards, grade points, tweets, houses, toys, etc.) we can acquire, why focus any attention in our education or in our lives to the relationships that will matter the most when those very lives are brought into sharp focus?

Perhaps we are too busy being successful in other areas to give relationships much attention. Perhaps that doesn't really matter, as long as our students get good grades, good jobs, and a good lifestyle.  Does it really matter if we get along with our colleagues, work well within our department, support our team, or take the time to put people at least on par with work?

Turns out that it may matter to employers.  And that we may need to help our students see and understand their relationship failures, something Google calls "intellectual humility." 

Without humility, you are unable to learn. It is why research shows that many graduates from hotshot business schools plateau. “Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure."  [How to Get a Job at Google.  The New York Times.  February 22, 2014.]

This may be a bit of a challenge in traditional higher education, where the emphasis on research, publication, and tenure may have left the mentors and teachers ill-equipped to mentor and teach. In my own college, for example, there is a strong commitment to using business simulations to prepare both our undergraduate and our graduate students for the world of business and the making of good business decisions.  

If one thinks about that for even a few minutes, one wonders why we would prefer a teaching method devoid of the relationship dynamics upon which future success will depend. And don't even begin to explain how the teams in which we place students for the purpose of completing simulations replicate future relationships in the workplace. They don't. Never again are our students likely to be with surrounded by equally bright co-workers focused on a single task that they all know how to address with the least possible work for the greatest possible common and equal benefit.  Legally and ethically, that is.

Perhaps the relationship failures (or lack of attention to them) in higher education start somewhere in the formation and preparation for an academic career.  One does wonder.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Lives and loves of others

My reading of late has been by or about Alice Steinbach, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Harry Gordon Selfridge, and Jackie Kennedy Onassis. And as I read, time collapses, bends, folds in on itself.  I am reminded of the predictable cycles (crises, some might say) through which all must navigate, as well as the transitory nature of life that seems long only for the first three decades or so.  After that, the speed with which we realize life's realities is matched or exceeded only by the speed of life itself. 

The changes and twists in our own lives are part of why we read about the lives of others.  To remind ourselves, perhaps, that we are not so different from others.  And to mine the short life of another (regardless of how long in years) for the wisdom to transform our own.  Life is a funny thing, understood by many of us far better at a distance or in the rear view mirror.

One of the things I fail to remember with any consistency is that nature--specifically the collaboration of gardener and garden to learn and honor the seasons--is where I find respite. Steinbach researched, wrote and traveled. Millay wrote and lived her poetry. Selfridge created the luxury experience we know today as shopping.  And Jackie Kennedy Onassis? She remained true through several recreations of self to her belief that "If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do matters very much."

And as a reminder of the speed of change, photos from my garden. Yesterday and today. Twenty-four hours. My role as a gardener is to collaborate rather than control, to enjoy the beauty in the moment, and to remember my relatively small role.  This, perhaps, is the best reason to read about the lives and loves of others.