Crafting Gentleness

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Summer begins ...?

Well, that's another semester nearly over. It's been an interesting one for me, learning how to make space for myself, learning how to make space for the students. I've also come to think that work is always going to be less important than family, that close by can be more relevant and challenging than far away, that sometimes small is okay. I've learned that sometimes it's no coincidence that the word 'do' (or 'path') is the start of 'dogma'. I've learned that collaboration happens most helpfully when it comes from companionship, that words of togetherness can mean very little unless there is an openness and generosity to go along with them. I've learned that maybe it's time. I've learned how much my parents mean to me, and how much I've learned from them, and how much I still have to learn from them. I've learned to leave windows open in the knowledge that people can fly both in and out, and that's very much up to themselves. I've learned that I'm still pretty shy in some respects, and that doesn't look like changing any time soon.

I've been reading Carl Rogers this week, A Way of Being. Carl Rogers was a very influential psychologist whose ideas weren't terribly welcomed by many of the psychological establishment - he dared to suggest that maybe it was more important to have a people-centred practice than a diagnosis-centred practice. He's probably best known for his 'non-directive' approach. He passed away in 1987. This book is a collection of essays and presentations that he offered near the end of his life, sort of a culmination of his learned wisdom, and it makes for beautiful reading, at least it's precisely what I feel I want to be reading right now. He's very strong on listening, on being present, on being with, and it's written with great clarity, and wonderful heart, and a special generosity. I think it's probably a good place for me to start with his writings.

I was reading Derren Brown's Tricks of the Mind last week. Derren is a showman, conjurer, stage hypnotist, and autodidact psychologist. He's also one of the new wave enlightenment, along with the likes of Richard Dawkins, arguing the case for more critical thinking in the light of superstitious and unquestioning belief. I'm with him on the critical thinking bit, and I find a lot of his work inspiring, but I'm still not quite sold on all this faith in the 'scientific method'. Something still doesn't sit right with it for me, even though I am quite persuaded by the rhetoric. I have wee alarm bells going off in my head, which is usually a sign that the ideas in question run against the grain of some of my basic working assumptions, and that I need to find out more and let myself sit with them for a while. I found the book very enjoyable, and perhaps the more so on account of its occasionally ranty character. If you're a devoted Christian be warned that he was and definitely isn't - religious faith comes in for quite a bashing in the book, and as with any bashing there's not a lot of subtlety involved. I found a lot of interesting and provocative ideas to think with in the book, not least of which was the work on techniques of persuasion and sleight of hand and rhetoric. It got me thinking about what I'm beginning to call 'Academic Magic', ways in which academics practice rhetorical sleight of work or persuasion/suggestibility techniques in the classroom. There's a lot going on there, and I really do wonder how much of academic work is simply the performance of cleverness, the performance of complicated things on a stage, dressed as wisdom when it's far from it. Words, it seems to me, can be very cheap, and very powerful in their cheapity.

I'm not sure what's going to happen this Summer. There's a lot of family heartstuff on the cards. I'm also hoping to get writing done. No one else is going to do it for me.


  • I've never had sufficient faith to wholeheartedly endorse 'scientific method' - it has too much of a tendency to confuse an hypothesis with a fact in order to renounce / denounce that with which the practitioner disagrees. This is of course, in itself,bad scientific method.

    By Blogger Malcolm, at Monday, 19 May, 2008  

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