Friday, August 5, 2016

Slow Week 6: Collegiality and Community

While the last two chapters focused on teaching and then research, this week's chapter focuses not on service, but on collegiality.  Berg and Seeber begin the chapter by focusing on the necessity for academics, as professionals in one of the helping professions (to be jarred by this distinction is, I think, a feminist issue), to see "psychological wellness" as a "ethical imperative."  One kind of self-care is social support and this means that there is an ethical imperative to have positive emotions in the workplace in order to do our work well.  By contrast, in the corporate university social support is not there because people are too busy and people instead have negative emotions because of loneliness and isolation.  (Yes, Yes, Yes!!!)

They go on then to describe how isolating and rude a space the corporate university can be with people texting at meetings and instead explain that we need to be able to vent, understanding that venting isn't whining (especially with colleagues, I've found, since they can come up with interesting ideas), and that we really need emotional connection and support.  

And so if you really identified with all that, and you're hanging on by your fingernails trying to figure out what on earth you can do, Berg and Seeber tell you that the conventional advice about making more opportunities for community through creating series and events is wrong. These kinds of events can just be an additional onerous obligation when the point is to create more positive emotions and community. 

I'm skipping some pages in this synopsis because I felt a little bit that Berg and Seeber were long on explanation and short on help, resistance, or solace.  For example -- and I am not claiming here to be a representative reader -- I am super-sensitive and anxiety-ridden -- but the knowledge that social support has a powerful effect on health just gives me another thing that I can't control to worry about, another stressor, another reason to be frustrated at my job, further harming my health.  I don't think the Slow way is to leave us all depressed about the state of things.  Slow Food is premised on countering the dehumanizing and homogenizing qualities of Fast Food by embracing, savoring, and anticipating flavor!  I wanted Berg and Seeber to come up with some resistance, something we can embrace with gusto here, so I was disappointed to learn that Berg and Seeber weren't going to include practical advice in this chapter because an individual is not in charge of his/her community and because useful advice to promote community is hard to give.  Isn't there something we can embrace here? 

Luckily, the "themes for reflection" are actually really good.  One took me right back to my grad program and this wonderful, alas unbloggable, aspect of my grad school life that allowed me to really feel part of things in a weird way and to have different connections to people.  I had tons of pleasurable emotions from that.  I miss it terribly.  Definitely ask yourself what you miss.  That brought up other things, like intellectual engagement, which is why I usually think a speaker's series is a good idea.  I can see why it could be a nightmare and feel mandatory by the tenure-track.  Maybe I want a reading group -- where we're all just reading something that none of us has written and discussing ideas (hopefully without trying to one-up each other, as sometimes happens).

One thing that I've been trying to do is champion people's work-life balance and telling them not to apologize when they have family obligations or plans in the summer.  But the discussion of collegiality and community is weird right now because my department is now in major upheaval.  We're trying to figure out what to do and move forward, considering the changes that are happening.  We need to come together.  But at the same time I personally really need to be away.  And I feel bad about that. 

What were your thoughts about this chapter?  Do you have a safe space and supportive community to vent (rather than whine)?  What do you miss?


JaneB said...

I was interested in the choice to talk about collegiality rather than service, and personally thought it was the right one - because service is, or should be, a manifestation of collegiality, of 'all in it together'. I recognised a lot from my own situation in this chapter, though for me as for EE making self-care an obligation and social stuff at work necessary is just another thing to worry about (and boy am I good at worrying about things). I was slightly surprised by and definitely in agreement with their argument that many of the structured things imposed in the cause of collegiality can have the opposite effect... and also felt that the TLQ group is an excellent example of the sort of positive interactions they recommend, as is my real life writing group (where we do NOT read each others' work...). Given that I felt I had these real world examples of what they are advocating, I found this chapter felt more complete that the others. The reflection points at the end gave me the sort of pointers towards what might be done, and because I can think of times in my professional life when I have experienced effective, supportive, 'Slow' collegiality - in my PhD group, at particularly good small conferences, in writing group and TLQ, I felt like I got both what they were arguing against AND what they were arguing FOR in a way I didn't quite with the last two chapters.

JaneB said...

So perhaps this is where MY fight to get more 'Slow' into my 'Professing' (Professor means something different from the UK perspective than the UK, and I'm NOT a professor & likely never will be) should start? Because I know that when I feel part of something and valued, EVERYTHING about it is easier, however hard the actual thing is - and that the corporatisation both of itself and in the person of our current Head of Department (who Believes strongly in many aspects of the 'Fast University', such as the forced socialisation activities) makes it hard for me to act in ways which foster collegiality (we want our tea room back ::pouty face::).

Do I have a safe space? Have you met my blog?? :-) This chapter reinforced something I've noticed in myself, that I'm doing too much of the 'just silly me' kind of phrasing lately, referring to my perfectly reasonable disgruntlement as whining and allowing myself to frame some of my issues as weaknesses and flaws. I'm by no means perfect, but I don't need to keep diminishing myself and my needs like that.

Our current Head of Department is really really down on what he calls 'gossiping and negativity' - that is, ANY conversation between colleagues which is not directly about a concrete work matter (preferably involving acquisition of grant money or raising student numbers) or which seeks to express negative experiences. The norm for my 'circle' in the department has tended to be a lot of venting, usually leading to a lot of brainstorming, some really out-of-possibility solutions, a good laugh, and some practical changes or suggestions. Sometimes it takes us weeks to get there, but we usually do. Losing our tea room lost the space where a lot of that happened, now it pretty much happens only in committees (where the composition of people is externally set, and that creates problems) or in twos and threes as we run into each other in corridors or drop into offices for other matters, which DOES create more of a gossipy type of environment.

What do I miss? Feeling safe - safe to rant knowing I won't be considered crap for doing so, safe to make silly suggestions knowing I won't be laughed at or told I'm stupid, safe to be myself rather than this phantom super-being who seems to loom disapprovingly over what everyone does these days, and to whom we all fall short in different ways. I know that because the prohibition on gossiping doesn't work... and starting and keeping writing group going remains my biggest act of defiance (because we don't work how our current boss thinks a research-supporting-group SHOULD work).

heu mihi said...

Good comments, EE and JaneB. Not that you need my affirmation! --But I agree with much of what you've both said, even though you disagree somewhat on the satisfactoriness of the chapter. While I see what you're saying, JaneB, about having a clearer sense of what the authors are arguing for and against in this chapter, I"m also with you, EE, in wanting a clearer sense of where to go from here. The recommendations are perhaps necessarily vague, but that vagueness is disappointing, even so.

So I'm thinking about what *I* miss, and to tell the truth, it's been a very long time since I've felt like I had close friends (other than my partner). I had one or two in grad school, and I miss them, but, although I had a blast as a student, I didn't really feel socially integrated in the way that I felt in college and in the years immediately following, when I lived in a city but in a neighborhood where I knew a lot of people and just *hung out* with friends. At my previous job, we had a great departmental culture--very supportive and fun--but under a pretty toxic administration, so a lot of our bonding was against that force. And, while I had good friends there, I seldom saw them because we were always so damn busy with our high teaching load and onerous service.

Soooo..... Current department. A little messy, a little cranky, but there are some good people there, and I have one colleague down the hall (in a different program but same umbrella dept.) whom I've adopted as a friend-mentor, so that's good. But honestly? What I want isn't even the brainstorming sessions, or supporting each other's work, etc.--that's all important, and I had a lot of it in my previous jobs. I want people to hang out with socially. I want people that I feel close to. I want *friends,* dammit.

So I think that I'll make going out for coffee with a colleague a perfectly reasonable "interruption" to my day, and, if it happens, then it's ABSOLUTELY FINE if I cut down on my research time for that afternoon, or whatever. Because we need friends, don't we?

JaneB said...

Oh my goodness, yes, we need friends! An excellent priority!

Earnest English said...

Friends are so important! I feel like it's difficult to have real friends at work for a bunch of reasons. (This may be a function of my position within my institution where I have totally different -- I would say complementary -- values in contrast to the dominant ones.)

But I admit that I appreciate a colleague who many find difficult to appreciate because he stops and talks in the hallway about things that zie's interested in. Most people run away from this person because zie wastes their time. I think I stop and talk to hir because it feels so much more human and friendly for me to have conversations with people who talk about things that aren't "on-task." For me, though, it's often the only non "on-task" conversation I'll have all day.