Maybe this is another blog I shouldn’t type… but that won’t erase my observations…
Every year schools meet up in my area to listen to a unified motivational speech. There was a different approach this year as we met up at a school and had a speech on leadership which was followed by team-building exercises of the mentally challenging kind. The initial speech was by a previously high up employee of Alexander Forbes, before that he was in combat with the army. He shared some of his life experiences with us as the parables for his objectives. He opened with a brief intro and then asked the large group of us our ideas on the meaning of leadership. We had some great answers: humility, being inspirational, being motivational, having followers, being a role model, setting the example and so on… He didn’t scribe our points as he had pre-written his definitions on the next page of the flip-chart positioned on the stage: “Aligning people and vision, setting an example, developing, resolving conflict, motivating, maintaining discipline, focusing on results and developing other leaders”. My guess would be that these are the summarised textbook meanings. He emphasised that the most important thing for a leader to do is to develop themselves (life-long learning) and to “trust yourself”, not to host fears of success, failure and/or ridicule and/or the like. His second emphasis was on “respecting and appreciating people’s differences”; and his final emphasis was on listening. Not ‘pretended listening’ or ‘selective listening’, or ‘attentive listening’, but on ‘empathetic listening’. In other words, the listening where you do not use yourself as the reference point, but, instead, you ask lots of questions and build up the real truth the other person holds, not your own truth.
Once the Q&A was done we were all broken into various groups and sent off to competitively win as many tokens as we could. At the end of the afternoon the group with the most tokens would win. Then came the ‘rub’. One of the organising leaders stood up and told the teachers that they could “earn” tokens through seducing the men running each task. I stood there thinking “how odd”, that’s a strange thing to say, never mind discriminatory against the male teachers. I knew I wouldn’t be ‘seducing’ anyone, it’s just not in my character scope, I’ve never been bothered with all that. Anyway, we moved along. In the end, however, it turned out that other teachers did not possess the same inhibitions that I possess!
By the end (completing 4 tasks where we could win a maximum of 2 tokens per task) one group had won 11 tokens! That’s 4 wins and 3 seductions! I was in awe. How on earth could anyone manage to have the self-confidence to go ahead and follow the optional instruction of seducing the task leaders? At the token announcement session they asked for any confessions and the teachers who had flirted away openly laughed and joked about it. It sounded like they had had a lot of fun enjoying the optional flirting task. I had a good giggle and enjoyed their energy and that they were able to stand out in front of all those people and be true to themselves. That takes guts, or audacity, or self-confidence, or however you frame it, it’s quite something, and of course they had the most tokens, so they won.
Then Shannan steps out of lala land and into reality. The fun team-building exercise morphed into a session of moaning that the results were “corrupt like the country”, that the winners were “unfairly and unethically” chosen, that the flirts were xyz (no need to get into details here) and they degraded the exercise. My mind wasn’t computing it all… the instructors told them they could flirt; the whole point was to have fun; how else were they going to have a tie-break between all the teams that got 7 or 8 tokens because we are all highly intelligent… My brain baffled.
At the social function afterwards the battering of the flirts continued over their appearance and how they should be excluded, or repelled for their behaviour… I went silent and didn’t respond to the judgments and harsh criticisms of the people I was in awe of. I had been bleak with the instructors for bringing in the ‘seduction’ option. I thought THAT was unprofessional and unethical. The idea of the task leaders wanting their ego’s brushed up wasn’t something I was happy with. The idea DID NOT come from the teachers. Then my mind went to the hypocrisy of it: If we as teachers give our learners instructions, we expect them to follow them. If we put suggestive ideas in their minds on a different way to do a task, we hope they will follow them. In this scenario we were the learners and the ‘flirts’ were being the learners who take the teacher’s instructions to try a different way as another ‘safe’ option in the ‘controlled’ environment. How can you expect learners to do as you instruct for a task, but adults must do differently to their task instruction? It did not sit well with me… or am I the “unacceptable” teacher for seeing it “incorrectly”?
I sat their in my observational silence. I sat there with this feeling inside that was totally supporting the flirts, totally chuffed that they had fun and enjoyed themselves. I sat there listening to people who had taken the focus off the exercise and placed it on the people who were being true to themselves. . . I sat there wondering if I was the only one with an inner child who was saying: “If I wasn’t going to be judged like those ladies are being judged and ostracized, then maybe I would have had enough self-confidence, self-love, spunk, pizzazz and non-stuffy, non-conservative-social-system-locked-and-imprisoned guts to flirt myself. It would’ve been fun”… I sat there wondering if any of the people so openly raging their opinions had read the quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character”… I sat there thinking that maybe it’s not only empathetic listening “to others” that people should practice, but maybe they should practice empathetic listening “to themselves” too… never mind the: “respect and appreciate people’s differences” part of the talk…
Of course these are only the thoughts in my head… but they ran very deeply for me… I’m not advocating affairs or sexual misconduct by any means. I’m exclusively referring to the exercise and how people responded to what was essentially supposed to be innocent ‘fun’… or do we distrust ourselves so much that we must never have ‘fun’?