Croskey’s Corner: Availability
(originally published in 2018)
You may remember a while back when I wrote about my comic book collection. Superman is my favorite. Well, a character that has been around since 1938 and before needs revamping from time to time. In the 1980s, a new storyline was developed in which Clark Kent was a less mild-mannered and more assertive, crusading reporter who went on to win a Pulitzer Prize. Nevertheless, he hid his superpowers, and no one guessed he was the strongest being in the Solar System. In the series, Superman’s arch-enemy, Lex Luthor, was a corporate CEO who wanted to control the world. All that stood in his way was Superman. So, Luthor decided that defeating him meant finding out Superman’s secret identity through a supercomputer program. All the data was entered, and Luthor asked the computer who Superman was. The answer was: Clark Kent. Luthor became enraged because he thought the computer got it wrong! Why? If Luthor had all the power that Superman has, he would not be able to pretend he was a mere reporter. Luthor refused to accept the notion that the world’s strongest man would pretend to be a relatively weak one. The paradox of great power being contained or controlled eluded Luthor. But I think even those of us who are not super villains see this contrast all the time.
Legends and popular myths are full of stories like this. For example, in The Lord of the Rings, a small being called a hobbit is the only possible hope for carrying the Ring of Power into the enemy’s home territory and destroying this most powerful weapon. Gandalf, the wizard, says (in the book) that the Fellowship has to beat the enemy at a game he never even imagined playing. The best defense is an impossible, seemingly foolish, offense. Irony! Or, a boy, the future King Arthur, does what no knight could do: pulls the sword Excalibur from a stone to signal he should be king. Paradoxical! David, a shepherd boy, defeats a giant Philistine, Goliath, with a sling and a small stone. Our culture seems fascinated with the “underdog” and the idea that often, the only way to defeat a great evil is to ask the weakest among us to lead the fight. Not only are we attracted to the idea of the Meek Inheriting the Earth, but we are also drawn to the notion that the weak are, in truth, the strongest and a source of hope and inspiration.
Maybe this is more than a myth. Sometimes, to solve a problem, we must use great strength. But other times, we need less power, more finesse. We might even have to give in to great power aimed at us and, through leverage, deflect the attack back to the source – or sidestep it. This can apply to more than just epic battles. Think about the people and ideas which are in our way – obstructions in the paths to our goals. Our instincts may tell us to resist, to fight these obstacles. But I sometimes ponder whether I might do better if I “gave in” to some of these opponents rather than fight. As is the case with martial arts, my best hope may be to turn my opponent’s strength to my advantage by “giving” or accepting the thrust of his attack and letting his momentum send him reeling. (I avoided saying “win” because often we get sidetracked trying to defeat our obstacle rather than trying to get past it to continue on our way.)
This all seems connected to the Character Quality, Availability. When I “am willing to change my schedule and priorities to meet a need,” I am the opposite of self-centered. When I am self-centered, I am a prisoner of my viewpoint. I think I have the best solution, the high moral ground, the noble, inspired position. When I put my needs and plans on hold, I can center my thinking on those needs of others.
In school, being Available may apply to a situation where a parent attacks the decision of a school team. I recently heard of a school that had to re-evaluate a student with special education needs. A re-evaluation team met to plan the assessment, and the parent did not attend the meeting. A re-evaluation plan was developed. The parent refused consent for the evaluation plan presented by the team and planned to have her child evaluated by “a professional who knows what they are doing.” The team decided to proceed with the evaluation using the existing data they had and notify the parent of its intent. The parent told the team she would be contacting an attorney. Though the family is new to the district, the parent already has a reputation for litigious behavior. The person who presented this scenario wanted to know if proceeding without parental consent was legal.
What do your instincts tell you to do in this situation? Go to court? Bluff the parent into backing off the threat to “lawyer up?” Hope they move? The Un-Available approach is to fight back. I think the Availability response would be to call the parent, invite her in to talk, and see if the team and she can get on the same page. In this situation, the same page would involve everyone remembering that they have (or SHOULD have) the same goal: to help the student to be successful. I am not sure of the best way to make that happen. Still, I am pretty certain it involves giving in to the attacking, listening as part of an effective dialogue, and problem-solving a mutually satisfying plan. The question of who is RIGHT or who is more powerful is of very little help in building bridges with the families of our students.
I know you are smart and have much experience with education. Often, you DO know what is best for kids. But, unfortunately, not everyone can easily see how wise and insightful you are. So, you are left having to be persuasive as well as smart. It may feel like surrendering or even giving up when you put your plans and ideas second. But the outcome of an Available approach may end up giving your student the best result possible – success in school! Superman could build a dam to stop this flood in an instant. But, in your secret identity of Clark Kent, you may persuade a home-school partnership to build the dam together. Or even find a way to divert the floodwaters. That can feel pretty good, too.