Dialogue Education and Love: The Power of Sacrifice
Love has different faces. In Dialogue Education and Love Part I (published December 22 2014) I reflected on 8 ways that Dialogue Education principles are really a practice of love. Below are three aspects of the costly nature of love that Dialogue Education invites us to embrace, for learning sake.
- Ego vs. learning. A skilled trainer chooses to invest in what people really need, even if this means sacrificing something of him/herself in the process. Indeed, what people really need sometimes demands that the trainer sacrifices his/her reputation, control of the process or desire to be honored, understood or valued. The ego needs to get out of the way!
Many trainers are familiar with this tension: choosing between the learner’s real (sometimes vital) learning or his/her own desire to be validated by the learners and other observers. This tension is not as easy as it seems and many times before, during and after the learning event, the trainer needs to be reminded of what really matters… and has to face the cost.
A short while ago I felt the cost: where I needed to lost my ego to let learning happen. My colleague and I facilitated a deeply reflective workshop focused on heart learning to approximately 180 students. The challenge was that we were forced to share a large open space with 2 other workshops, one teaching music and the other cinema. Although there was a great amount of pressure to teach a fun, noisy and high energy workshop (like those around us), we knew our students had registered for the workshop for different reasons. We stayed true to what we knew the group most wanted and needed, and resisted the urge to “entertain” the group or compete with the other groups. Observers looked on in wonder. Even our learners questioned if they were in the “right” workshop as we began our workshop. In the end, all were amazed at the important and personal learning that was invited and felt.
This act of love felt indeed costly: sacrificing our ego for the good of the learners. And boy, was it worth it!
- Comfort or safe disequilibrium. To enhance real learning, a skilled trainer also sometimes chooses to sacrifice his and/or the learners’ comfort. Challenging yet safe learning tasks are designed to progressively and intentionally lead learners into a secured disequilibrium. Because the trainer wants learners to have a direct and personal interaction with the object of study, he/she gradually leads learners to and through the critical content to be learned.
But this is far from being easy. Daring to focus on what has the potential of producing real and lasting change is an act of courage and love. Love is found in the trainer’s perception that a learner is naturally resourceful, relational and creative – even when learners themselves do not believe they are! The trainer is determined to give back to learners the power to choose, decide, think and create, and this can be deeply disturbing or confusing for a learner who may have spent most of his life learning in someone else’s shadow.
The trainer’s message needs to be: I already know you can do this – this is yours, this is for you, take, test, dare and create, and see how good it is to be alive, to be you and to grow as a person. I will give you time to find the resources you already have.
I once met a young woman who participated in one of my workshops who told me how she experienced the method I was using (Dialogue Education principles and practices). She said that task after task she began to feel a tension, fear, and even anger. She felt she couldn’t move, couldn’t really talk or interact, as if she was chained by an invisible belief that she was condemned to fail. At some point, a learning task invited her to be and do exactly what she really needed (but had been avoiding). She couldn’t stand it – she wanted to leave, run, escape and hide. But a friend of hers, enthusiastic about the task, asked her, “How do you respond to this?” Tears began to fill her eyes, blood rushed to her face, and she blurted out an answer in anger, fear and disbelief. She admitted that at that moment she hated me and my colleague as trainers.
Surprisingly, no sooner had she shared her feelings, she could finally see her real potential and, hand-in-hand with her friend, she continued to share what she was really thinking, hoping and wanting in life. It was as if something had been given back to her. When all of this was done, she finally felt loved…and told us so.
This is why in Dialogue Education the trainer never does for the learner what he/she can do for him/herself. What is at stake is far too important: an individual’s potential transformation.
- Unjust vs. just reinforcement. There is a certain type of learning that is often cherished by trainers. The one that produces learners who just want to understand by listening and reading, and who are able to recognize intellectual brilliance. These learners know presenters appreciate their passive interest, and PowerPoints slides and handouts are offered as “gifts”.
A skilled trainer recognizes the diversity of learning styles and wants to speak to everyone using each one’s learning language, even if this means some challenging tasks so that all learners are honored. Love is here found in justice. Dialogue Education is built on the belief that 1) there is no inferior or superior learning styles, and 2) the combination of learning styles will enrich the whole learning process because it will provide a variety of lenses to observe the object of study and thus complete its understanding.
The trainer is typically confronted by a difficult tension: those who can understand everything but not really learn anything (because usually a personal application is missing), and those who cannot learn because they speak another learning language than the one used in the learning event. The trainer is like a mediator in an intercultural context. He/she tries to speak each person’s language, then connect the learning styles with each other and finally create a common new language that everybody will be able to use and understand.
This courageous choice to leave nobody behind while facing the frustrated or angry faces of those who speak fluently the common learning language of our times, is in fact an act of love for those who are often left behind.
This is also an act of love for the object of study because the trainer knows that this is far beyond the grasp of one learning style and does not want to reduce it as such. But mostly because this connection between individuals is a prerequisite to love. When people do not understand each other and are unable to see or imagine other people’s perceptions, love is not possible. But when people begin to understand each other and begin to speak the same language… love happens!
During the same workshop (mentioned above), I met two very different persons. One told me that she didn’t need what we were doing. She looked completely disengaged and unwilling to interact with the learning tasks or people in the room. At some point in the learning event, she was shocked to finding herself “lost in the process” (and her learning!) because she was someone who prided herself in always being in total control. She wanted information and knowledge but I was giving her the opportunity to test different postures and practical skills. She was aware that this event was going to be interactive and experiential, and didn’t think this would be a problem for her. In fact, she couldn’t reflect on herself alone, she needed others to learn and deepen her thinking. Her challenge was that the other people around the table didn’t look as “clever” as she thought she was, and in the end was shocked to realize how much she actually needed them. She felt loved, despite herself.
The other person I met was an autistic woman. She was also shocked but not for the same reasons. She was included in the learning process from the beginning. She felt heard and she fully accepted. Despite looking, sounding, and acting different from everyone around her, people accepted her differences and added their own. I saw in her eyes a thirst for a freedom that she spent her whole life looking for. Dialogue Education principles and practices used in this learning event offered her this freedom. She felt loved…but even more, what she learned that day produced a deep awareness that she could learn, despite and because of who she was.
Dialogue Education and love are so intertwined because this way of working and being in the world focuses on what really matters. This is a method that says: learning is not a matter of self-worth or domination but a matter of justice, freedom and responsibility. Dialogue Education gives back to people their own responsibility to make a difference in this world. This is love. Love for humankind; love for the oppressed and the vulnerable; love for hope and for the future.
Frederic Defoy firstname.lastname@example.org is an ICF certified coach, a consultant and a trainer practicing In France. He graduated from Wheaton College, Illinois, USA. His passion is to contribute to people’s potential for living out their vocation. Recently Fred also became a CDEP with Global Learning Partners.