I know a mechanical engineer, who loved what he did even though he became an engineer not due to his passion for engineering but due to family pressures. However, over the years he found that he loved what he did and he worked for it. One of his colleagues got promoted every year, chosen over him for six straight years not because of better work but because of the relationships maintained with superiors. Even though our engineer never complained, his boss subtlety indicated that he needed to get better at connecting with his superiors too. Our engineer did not care because he knew he was being authentic and real to himself and his work. He connected with his workers, they cared for and respected him and that was enough for him. He did not need to connect with his superiors to gain this insight, he found gratification in his authenticity and his ideals rather than the approval of his superiors. Our engineer – a man a few words – my father, defying norms, did not care of organizational safety.
Safety – we all crave safety, don’t we? If we look at Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy, after our basic needs of food, water and air are met we move on to safety needs. Being “safe” means different things to different people though. In the professional world, I think it has unfortunately been equated to conformity – we conform with standards, we conform with norms, we conform with ideals of the company we work for because we want to be professionally “safe”. It is in the human nature, in our instinct to want to be safe. Fight, flight and freeze are real and all three of these instincts insure our safety depending on the situation we are in. Human beings are wired for it and that is what I believe Parker Palmer is getting at, when he questions why people don’t stand up to institutional ignorance or injustice. If we believe that our professional safety is in danger because we are not conforming to the norms of our workplace, then it is possible that people will chose safety over whatever is on the other side of the spectrum.
What is on the other side? According to Brene Brown, the author of Daring Greatly, it is shame – defined as the fear of disconnection or the fear of not being good enough to connect. How did I go from intellectual to emotional, left brain to right brain? Please bear with me so I can explain. Just as human beings are wired for safety, we are also wired for connection. In her research that focuses on qualitative data analysis of interviews with themes such as shame and vulnerability, Brene Brown has talked extensively about human connection and the lack thereof. In her TedTalk, The Power of Vulnerability, she states that in order for us to connect with others, we have to allow ourselves to be “really seen”. While reading Palmer’s thoughts about the “new professional” I wondered if that is what he thinks the new professionals need…the courage to “really be seen”. The willingness to be examined as a whole person – not just as a professional or an academic but as a whole. And that is where the image of a wholehearted, authentic educator appeared in my mind.
In describing the features of a wholehearted person, Brene Brown succinctly puts them as “the courage to be imperfect”, the compassion to be kind to oneself and others, the connection that is formed as a result of authenticity which is the willingness “to let go of who people think they should be in order to be who they” really are. And last but not least, the vulnerability that comes along with the belief that what makes a person vulnerable is also the sole cause of them being beautiful. In order to be vulnerable however, one has to be willing to put themselves under a microscope, to examine their own values, beliefs, ideals, and most importantly, as Palmer puts it, their “own shadows”.
Very few people sign up for self-inflicted interrogation though. Mostly we are “ok” with being safe in our lovely, comfortable cocoons and we lose our passions and we douse our fires that drove us towards our professions in the first place. Passions that made us want to be doctors, engineers, scientists, researchers, psychologists, artists, counselors, mathematicians, actors, economists…the list goes on. Personally, I agree with Palmer as well as Brown, and for myself want to integrate the concept of challenging what is wrong not only with the intention to stay sane but essentially because I want to remain authentic and genuine in my profession, to honor my own integrity as a counselor and live by what I believe is my deepest calling – to be an educator of new authentic and genuine professionals.