Mutual recognition

Continuing with mutual recognition. Some philosophers think that the self arises in a social process of interaction with others – we know the ‘I’ through a relation with the ‘not I’. The same for ‘we’: we know who ‘we’ are from the associations and organisations we belong to. Both as individuals and as members of groups, knowing who we belong to also describes who we don’t belong to. Inclusion and exclusion arise together. One theme that comes up a lot for people working in organisations is the difficulty of dealing with the ‘otherness’ of others. So, it is far more straightforward for us to have a relationship with people who agree with us, or who are like us, than it is to deal with people who are very different. To be genuinely open to this difference would imply being prepared to be open to changing ourselves, of being open to experiencing the otherness of others. Paradoxically, this radical openness to difference implies our having a strong sense of self too.
Hegel talked about the dangers of ‘indeterminacy’. What he meant by this is we can be so wrapped in ourselves (lost to the self, egotism), or so taken over by who we’re dealing with (lost to the other, suggestible), that we no longer have a sense of who we are in relation to others. If we can open ourselves to the difference of others, then they in turn will be opened to our difference.When we engage with others are there alternatives to being only partially present in the engagement, or to silencing oneself? What other ways of acting are there in our practice as managers or as teachers where we can be there in our practice as a strong self open to the otherness of others?There is a lot of pop psychology written about ‘being there in the moment’, but there is nonetheless something of value being alluded to in this phrase. And many people are able to recognise those moments when in their practice they come alive, feel enlivened, in their interaction with others. These moments don’t happen very often, nor can they be predicted or engineered (like the spurious idea of spending ‘quality time’ with family) but we can be more alert to the possibility by being present in, and increasingly conscious of, our practice.
Recognition in school
Recognition, or lack of it, is a big part of students’ experience of school. Where school could feel like being part of a bureaucratic regime run with a strong power relationship between staff and students, like a prison, or like a factory for example, recognising students in the corridor, ‘Good morning Gemma’, or allowing students to have a genuine say in the way the school is run so that they recognise themselves in the behaviour policy, will make a big difference to the way they feel about the institution. They will see themselves in it, in being recognised they will in turn recognise, they will experience what gets described these days in management speak as ‘ownership’ (very suitable for a country so dedicated to owning property). My own son talks about the difference in recognition between GCSE and A level: in the former case, students are just cattle class, all treated uniformly and sometimes by megaphone. At A level students become individuals to their teachers. They seem to go from monochrome to technicolour. Obviously with reduced numbers and older kids it is easier to do this. But all institutions have lots of routine ways policies and procedures which have a tendency to systematise and homogenise people. How can we find ways of acting to mitigate this process?

The dominant way of understanding management these days is to see everything as a ‘problem’ which needs a ‘solution’. By taking our daily practice as managers and teachers seriously, what we are trying to do is uncover what we are doing, the assumptions we are bringing to it and the way we have come to think about it. If you like, we are making our taken from granted assumptions about what we are doing more explicit. This makes what we are doing richer, but also more problematic. This is the difference that Heidegger was making between ‘dwelling’ and ‘building’. Most management theory is about building, whereas reflective and reflexive practice is more about dwelling.

Let’s take the idea of ‘best practice’ as a very good example of a building assumption. The idea here is that one can find examples of best practice elsewhere, learn from them and describe them, then pick them up and apply them as a model at home. Someone in an organisation I worked with once described this to me as the idea that you can cut and paste a formula from one cell in a spreadsheet to all the others. Clearly, it is not going to be as simple as that. On the one hand, there are obviously good ideas to be learned from elsewhere, otherwise the practice of writing would never have taken hold in human civilisation. But if it were just a question of applying a formula, sometimes referred to as a blueprint, or in the Middle East these days, a road map, then everybody would be able to do it and do it quite quickly. The interesting question for me is what is the experience of applying the ‘best practice’ in the institutions that have developed them in the day to day in the minute by minute interactions between people? How do they dwell in their building? This, I suspect, cannot be bottled. A map can get you from A to B but will give you no sense of the marshy field you have to cross full of bullocks, the sense of the wind in your hair, how you will feel half way up a steep gradient on a hill.


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