Tuesday, May 05, 2009

On pointing fingers

One of the things I have learned about human beings is our tendency to combine finger-pointing and denialism.

Let's consider a few scenarios:
There's a pregnant teenager who is being ostracised by her peers. There is a great deal of scandalised finger-pointing and 'oh my word!' going on... quite often by people who are also sexually active and therefore also at risk.

There's a woman sitting listening to a sermon in church, thinking how much she hopes X is listening to this, because this is something he should address in his life. X is thinking exactly the same about her.

Yesterday, this exchange went down on my Facebook page:
The closing riposte was perhaps unkind of me. But I was irked by the implied assumption that we had to put up with a barrage of 'when we' without contributing anything similar ourselves. Zimbabweans who emigrated to South Africa were sharply aware of how different life was there from what they had known. Zimbabweans and South Africans who have both emigrated to the UK share reminiscences as if life in the two countries was largely the same.

Side note: I am embarrassed when I remember my own attitude to immigrants to South Africa. At a time when I had only ever called one country home, I was intolerant of their longing for the life they had known. My view was that they had chosen to leave that life and they should now just get over it and get on with it. Many of my friends who are still living in South Africa still demonstrate that attitude, as you can see. If you have only ever lived in one country please, please believe that it is a whole lot tougher than you can imagine.

But I wonder to what extent this blind spot tendency can impact our learning. When a learner is working through a resource about management skills, instead of taking on board something to change her own practice, what are the chances that she's thinking, "I hope Mike is going to work through this stuff, he really needs to learn this..."

In my seventeen years as a classroom-based trainer, I regularly heard learners say things like "I wish my boss/colleague/secretary/whoever would come on this course. S/he really needs to learn this stuff!" Of course, chances are that if/when said boss/colleague/you-get-the-picture does come on the course, they will be thinking exactly the same about someone else in their turn.

Of course, much depends on the drivers impacting the individual in particular and their employment sector in general. An academic person may well react very differently from someone working in the non-profit sector, who will be different again from the rather more cut-throat world of the big corporates, and so on.

Because we work with knowledge and learning, because this stuff matters to us for its own sake, we may tend to overlook the tendency of some (many? most?) learners to assume that a particular section applies to the mythical 'someone else'. But it would probably do us good to design with this tendency in mind...

And I'm not pointing fingers, here - I'm thinking of my own practice, too!


Brighid said...

Hello, I have just finished this very interesting piece, and saw some actions of mine I wasn't aware (denial) of. Have you read "The Tao of Leadership" by John Heider?

Karyn Romeis said...

@Brighid I am both glad and sorry to have shed some light on behaviours you weren't aware of. But learning is about being uncomfortable much of the time.

I haven't yet read the book you suggest. Perhaps I should look into it.