In an essay on modern university student life is a seed of wisdom regarding negotiation. Leaders must understand their subject (do your homework) and also face up to their attitudes toward conflict–the good kind that challenges, incites, and moves forward, not the knee-jerk, reactionary, argumentative-type. Ultimately, it demands an ability to stand on one’s own feet:
Reading those two confessions reminded me of a dynamic I’ve observed during class. Students who speak up on the heels of another student almost always preface their own thoughts by saying something like, “First of all, I agree with what you just said. … ” That statement speaks to more than just a refreshing tolerance for consensus. It also reveals the same knee-jerk reflex that my two student informants spoke of: Worries about breaking the peace or falling out of the loop ultimately translate into fear of standing in opposition to, apart from, the proverbial crowd. Which leaves me wondering: If so much of our consciousness is focused outside ourselves, on our social relevance, can we remain present and open to the interiority needed for learning?
That interiority is what Barbara McClintock was talking about when she answered a question about how to achieve “great science.” “To do great science,” said the geneticist who received the Nobel Prize for her groundbreaking research on corn, “you have to learn, somehow, to lean into the kernel.” In other words, to get to the kernel or heart of understanding and real knowing of a topic, to really lean into it, we have to remove the gaps. What’s really required is a kind of intimacy with what we are seeking to understand—moving into the space within ourselves where resistance between the seeker (the learner) and the sought (the knowledge) disappears.
When we allow for intimacy, we open ourselves to two of the most dreaded conditions in our culture—vulnerability and failure