Croskey’s Corner: Flexibility
Adapting to Change
When my wife, Nancy, began a new workout class, the trainer started by giving each class member a Flexibility evaluation. She was told that she was very Flexible. Must come from being a teacher for more than 30 years! When thinking about the Character Quality, I like the term Adaptability as defined by Character First! – “adjusting plans or ideas without getting upset.” But I prefer the word “Flexibility” because it conveys the idea of being willing to change while being able to bend, but not break. That seems important to me when facing change.
Educators certainly have to be able to handle change. State-wide, high stakes testing, Common Core standards being adopted, challenges to accepted ways of negotiating teaching contracts, attacks on pension plans, rising insurance costs, lack of teaching job availability, as well as the Usual Gang of Educational Stressors, all make being an educator less secure and more frightening these days. That which has not killed you has made you bend almost in half.
I have been pondering what it is that makes change so difficult. Perhaps some of the challenge comes with our personal philosophies. Adapting to change has an odor of “giving in.” One might be fearful of not standing up for personal beliefs. “Stand up!” we tell ourselves; we must Stand and Deliver! Have standards. If we don’t stand for something, we will stand for anything. We have to hold out for our standards. Enough? I can’t stand it!
Interestingly, though, with Character First! the opposite of Flexibility is not Giving In. It is Resistance. I researched the quote, “Resistance is Futile.” There are a whole lot of references to Star Trek and other modern science fiction stories. I recall it from 1950’s sci-fi movies in which the aliens (stand-ins for Communist governments!) demanded that Earthlings surrender and reminded them it would be useless to resist. Is that still true? Does resistance end up being an exercise in futility? It seems like it depends on whether you see the change side or the resistance side. If you are an American colonist in the 1770s, Great Britain is asking you to remain a subject of the King and you are insisting on changing the colonial system. Change seems good for a colonist, bad for a Tory-supporting Parliament and King George. But if you are asking the colonists to change – to start paying for a previous war and sharing the financial bounty of the prosperous American colonies – change seems good for a Tory, bad for a colonist. No, all change is NOT good. But it may help us to be Flexible by improving our skill at finding the good in change. I had often heard that, in ancient times, the wine was made and stored in animal skins. But then I found out that, as it fermented, the wine’s volume changed. Makes sense. But, apparently the “stretchiness” of the animal skin also changed, as the skin matured. So, as one made wine in an animal skin, the wine and the skin adjusted to each other! When you are confronted with change, you are being asked to make new wine in older skins – You! (Notice I did not call you an Old skin.) You have done your stretching and adjusting at an earlier time in your life. Yet, you are continually being asked to make new batches of wine and to accommodate these new batches with more stretching. This leaves some of us older “skins” with stretch marks – even if we are Men!
So, how do we combine the process of looking for the good in change, being flexible through stretching, and still stand up for our standards? Part of this involves remembering that we, though adults, do not stop our growth and development. Life is a roller coaster of change. The name says it all. Part of life is rolling (with change) and part of it is coasting at a more comfortable speed and angle. The cycle is something like this: Coast a little in comfort. Be confronted with a change (a hill). Coast up to the hill. Climb. Accept the new change (careen down the hill). Assimilate the change into what we are used to. Coast a bit. Accommodate and accept the change. Then prepare to have to assimilate a new change (hill) into our way of looking at the world. And once we have survived the change (gotten to the bottom of the hill), we accommodate flexibly. Repeat as often as needed. You know, Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget told educators about this a long time ago. He described children as going through these assimilation/accommodation cycles. Nothing new under the sun! Especially change. Well, just because we grew up does not mean that we don’t still have to go through this assimilation and accommodation cycle.
But some of us hate roller coasters. Maybe we have been eating right before we have to ride the coaster. Some of us hate wine. We don’t believe in raising animals for our drinking habits. Some of us are afraid. That is not a taunt. If you are never afraid, you are either foolish or dead. So, try to stretch. Don’t snap. Try to bend. Don’ t break. Remind others to cut you some slack, even if they can’t unhitch your leash.