Sansaku: The Job Will Undress You
I’m about to do a training for the new residence hall directors, the RDs. I’ve done these things for years and enjoy telling the same old stories. The stories are like a magician’s hat; except, when I reach in, I don’t quite know what’s coming out. It’s usually not a rabbit. Just now a bat flew out, but I can’t count on that happening again.
The majority of what students learn and remember comes from outside the classroom. It’s not even close. I like what David Whyte says about his zoology degree. “It turned out that the animals had not read the same textbooks as I had.” It’s easy to guess what he really needed to study.
When I think about what they’re really learning, all I have to do is remember a check-in. One time, the president, Joel Jones, made some comment about the 24 hour learning community, and I invited him to visit a residence hall with me. I said, let me ask the question. I did a check-in. He was still talking about what they said at commencement.
I lived and worked at a boarding school for more than a dozen years. I understand what 24/7 means. This kind of a job is more a marathon than sprint, although you’ll be expected to up the pace. And it’s more about who you are than what you say or do, although that counts, too.
We used to joke that the reason we had so many rules at the school was because no one seemed to follow them. And for that reason, we made more and more rules that no one followed. I’m not joking, just watch. We all make the same mistake.
The teenagers, who ruled the night, talked about the faculty with psychological precision. They knew who we were, even when we tried hard to hide it. I’m thinking about one student, who would wait in ambush for a teacher he didn’t respect. He called him Sgt. Fury, and there was nothing Sgt. Fury could do about it. My sister says, if you don’t want someone to get your goat, don’t show them where it’s tied.
In counseling we say that the main instrument is your personality, who you really are, and the quality of your relationships. It demands that we need to be the change and influence we want to see in the other. If you’re trying to calm down a crowd, don’t stomp and shout.
One calm person in a raft can keep a whole boatload of panicked people calm. Emotions are contagious, and just as a group can take them down, we can also lift them up. It’s the concept of limbic resonance, attunement, entrainment, or the doctrine of affections.
Most definitions of mental health are not about an absence of problems. No problems, no life. It’s not what happens or is done to you, but how you respond, face and deal. And there are higher order problems, like choosing to be a residence director.
Implicit in that definition is needing to know yourself and your problems, and not turn your back and avoid, deny, or repress. If we’re not careful we can turn neurotic in a heartbeat or look like the monkeys who see nothing, hear nothing, and say nothing. We can even become the elephant in the room.
One reason for all of the team building each year is because it’s mostly about the team. Last night, I heard a speaker at the convention say, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Since you’ll be going alone for much of the time, you really need to value the time together. That’s what I remember.
If there is any lesson we’ve learned as a team at the counseling center, it’s how to be a team. That’s the open secret. Training is all about this, and it’s how we learn about ourselves, which is how we’ll do the work. The job will quickly undress you,