Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God. JL 2: 12-13
Lent begins with a reminder to rend my heart. As I looked into the courtyard outside my office I thought it is a lot like my heart. The mess of fall leaves has not been cleaned up and with all the rain they are now a mushy mess. Daffodils and the tulip tree are in full bloom heralding the coming spring and the hope of green grass, sunny skies, and warmer weather. Yet it is impossible to enjoy the beauty of spring without cleaning up the mess of fall.
Recently, I have had two college students to contact me. Neither are current students of mine, but both wanted advice. Their requests were simple enough to answer, but in both cases I found myself thinking what they really needed was someone that could be silent and listen. It is easy to listen quietly, but it is much harder to shut down the inner speech while listening that is screaming at me that we must change our culture in nursing education.
I knew both students had the answers and what they wanted was confirmation. Largely, they wanted someone to say it was okay to challenge a faculty member. As I listened it was hard to stay true to my belief that one should always first refer the students back to faculty to work out their issues. It is good practice for professional life. It builds professional negotiation skills and it builds honest working relationships. That is what I did after listening long enough for them to find their courage.
My question to my nursing friends is why does it happen so often? Why do students fear us? We should be the model of kindness and compassion to them, but instead, it sometimes feels more like we are the inquisitors. We blindly and harshly apply rules to students. Rules that can profoundly impact their academic success. Of equal concern is that when we show them such harshness we are modeling the behavior we claim to detest.
We absolutely should challenge students intellectually and ask them to dig deeper into issues. We should ask them to think out of the box and explore options that will require hard work. But we should also make sure they know that it is always safe to challenge us. I worry that the problem is we are not comfortable being challenged. Personally, I would much rather deal with the person that challenges me to my face than the one that walks away without speaking their mind only to then complain to anyone who will listen. I wish teaching inner courage was an expectation in every class.
Maybe my heart feels like a fall mess because I haven’t done enough to change the status quo. I know I want a better environment for the young nurses we are teaching, but I need to dig deep to find what it takes to change the culture that sees conflict as win-lose rather than an opportunity to understand divergent perspectives and grow.
Relational trust is built on movements of the human heart such as empathy, commitment, compassion, patience, and the capacity to forgive… If we embrace diversity, we find ourselves on the doorstep of our next fear: fear of of the conflict that will ensue when divergent truths meet. Because academic culture knows only one form of conflict, the win-lose form called competition, we fear the live encounter as a contest from which one party emerges victorious while the other leaves defeated and ashamed. To evade public engagement over our dangerous differences, we privatize them, only to find them growing larger and more divisive. — Parker J. Palmer