Every academic year, my classes would start the same way. I would take an entire lesson sitting with the classroom of growing personalities and set the boundaries for the year. They would write what they thought the rules should be, not what they ‘knew’ them to be, and think about why. We would then chat through all the contributions until we had a list that we all agreed to, even me. And the rest of the year would happen.
One year, with one class, I didn’t do it. Don’t ask why, I’ve no idea. I just know that somehow it didn’t happen. And by the first half term, I vowed to never let that slip again. There they were, a most lovely class, slowly but surely starting to shove against the general balance, pushing edges a little further. It wasn’t because they were malicious, it wasn’t that they had changed. It was simply that they didn’t know where everything stood. And as human beings, they wanted to know. So they tested… And I promptly set aside a lesson to do what I should have done all along.
It has always struck me as interesting that it’s ‘good common sense’ to discuss, negotiate and compromise on what we expect with kids at home and in the classroom but we never do it with adults. We are far more reticent to tell mates what we need them to do or not do. We actively avoid requesting support from peers in some cases. And we suppress what loved ones’ actions may make us feel. And I wonder if it’s because we worry. I could stand confidently in a room with little people and generally believe that we can guide a sensible way through most ensuing interactions. Until recently, I rarely had with adults. And I don’t think it’s because I didn’t trust the other person, I think it’d be fair to say I hardly trusted myself.
We ‘know’ our value in relation to kids. We have an irrefutably bigger bank of life experience from which to draw. We believe that means we know the system well enough to help them integrate into it, or at least understand the possible repercussions if they don’t. And we don’t believe kids will make us question ourselves, and that if they do, it’s a unique, amazing circumstance. But we’re so much less confident in the face of a peer. After all, by our stage in our lives, we like to prove maturity by knowing life and therefore, somehow, knowing ourselves at least nearly completely. By this stage, we’ve pinned parts of ourselves to philosophies, politics and personal sagas. And so when we go to talk about values or principles, needs and wants, perhaps we worry that we might have to defend what we think we express. Perhaps we worry that somehow someone else’s experience or opinion can invalidate ours, somehow unpick us from our pinned persona, somehow trump card our judgements. So we choose to rarely draw lines in the sand with close ones in the first place.
The thing is, by not explicitly voicing where we are and how we think we work, we set any partnership up for failure. They will push buttons, shove against boundaries, nudge up against our edges, without ever really knowing. And we sit and tolerate it until we don’t. And by the time we snap, we’ve started to take it personally, questioning the intelligence of someone: ‘how could they not see’ and ‘how could they do that’? But chances are, they aren’t doing it to be malicious, it’s not that they’ve changed. They simply don’t know what they’re doing day in, day out. Those niggly little things that are starting to explode in your brain as fire starters. And before you know it, they’ve failed without ever knowing that they weren’t delivering.
I can’t help but wonder, if we spent enough time working out who we are and what we believe in, that maybe we would be able to define that which we seek in a partner. And maybe, as a logical extension of that, then maybe we would know what we would be looking for , what a partner may demonstrate as indicators of said character. And maybe, if you knew why you appreciated someone and what they uniquely brought to you, you would respect that enough to learn their buttons and you could both work on appreciation. I can’t help but wonder if then, from a self-knowing and appreciation, a relationship on self-care and other-nurture wouldn’t be founded with space for individual goals and team visions. I can’t help but wonder if we knew our ground better and our soul’s outline better, if we couldn’t speak love to each other better too.