The middle way between yes and no

A wholehearted “yes” or “no” is always welcome; but sometimes I find it quite difficult to get there. On the one hand, there is the “yes” that comes from FOMO, or from wanting to please, which seems closely related to the fear of disappointing the person who asked. On the other hand there is the “no” that comes from fear of disappointing someone in a different way; fear of being held accountable for something not well done; fear of judgement or blame; from lack of self-confidence; from impostor syndrome. One one side, “I can't turn that down”; on the other side “I'm not good enough to do that”. Worst of all may be the conflict that comes from both of these in play at the same time!

Autobiographical aside: I recall as a child being given a poster with a photo of a giraffe (why a giraffe? no idea) with the message “I'm giving you a definite maybe.” I was indeed an indecisive character, and whoever gave me the poster was aware of that!

That kind of misguided “yes” misses the basic ability to say “no”, to maintain self-determination, self-respect, not be a doormat. Saying “yes” while staying in that prison opens the way to a lot of time spent fruitlessly, pointlessly, which could have been spent better. On the other hand, that kind of misguided “no” misses the basic confidence that leads to saying “yes”, together with having a grip on what my real opportunity is here, what I will really enjoy, and being able to navigate round the social field to stay with that.

I've heard or read about both of these unfortunate life patterns, but I don't recall reading about them all in one place, and somehow the jigsaw puzzle is clearer now that they are both in view. If I think about each one separately I find myself taking the other side, to supply what is missing. But both together now, that's really getting there, recognising that there are two sides to this life hack, not one.

Two examples from very recent life come up for me. One is a project I have just been invited into. Now, I have plenty to do and I'm not scrabbling around trying to find extra pieces of work, but this one looked inviting, and the person who was doing the inviting was very persuasive. At first it looked like there was a risk of being asked to do something beyond our experience or expertise, so I was hesitant, but she kindly persisted. I outlined what I would actually be interested in contributing, what I was keen to rise to the challenge of, and she thought that fitted well, and made allowance for that. So it has come to feel more and more like a good position to be in. While there was a real risk of me saying no out of uncertainty and lack of confidence, the others around me helped me to find that way forward.

The second example comes from my experience of little community networks – there seem to be more and more on Discord these days. (I'm currently on five so-called ‘servers’.) But I'm starting to wonder what exactly is the point? There are some common points with the previous example: I'm invited by people I know and respect. Many of the conversations are at least interesting. Occasionally I might come across someone I didn't know saying things I resonate with a lot. So I say yes. But why? Is it FOMO again?

Which has led me on to reflecting on the meaning of, the reason for, the dynamics of such social media groups. Lots of discussion happens, to be sure. But how much dialogue – by which I mean the kind of conversation where we are able to get beyond our habitual patterns, to listen deeply, to touch on some hidden, unrecognised or forgotten value, and, ultimately, to be changed, to be transformed, even if only a little, and even if only after the event. When virtual places can be hosted to enable dialogue that might not otherwise happen, that is indeed valuable. But how much more do we actually see sounding off, trying to impress, getting one over someone else, displaying social status, and the fragile ephemeral power that comes from being at the centre of a small in-group?

Apart from faciliating dialogue (or indeed “conversations that matter”) I recognise the possibility of other valuable functions of these groups. If people are in need of a community where there are others who they feel comfortable with, a kind of social identity, that can make up for feeling excluded or isolated elsewhere. They are valuable for coordinating work – though for whatever reason, I've noticed people tend to work with tools like Slack for work and leave Discord for play. And they can, in principle, be learning communities, where the focus of the group is on learning about some area of life, whether broad or narrow. However, for whatever reason, it doesn't seem easy to put together an effective learning community. First, there is a danger of genuine expertise being confused with group status. Second, there may be a strict leadership, dictating who are the ‘sages on the stage’, but I don't like that kind of social network any more than I have liked conferences with one or a few speakers and the rest audience. But if there's no clear leadership or organisation, how much learning gets done? I was a school teacher once upon a time, and I recall very clearly what is probably also in other people's memories of school – without clear organisation and structuring, learning comes a very late second after what I might call competitive (and often non-inclusive, divisive and unkind) socialising. Of course, if you're good at that kind of game, you might enjoy it. Can anyone tell me, though, where does it lead, really?

I am still a member of those 5 Discord servers. I'd love to see them showing their potential as real learning communites, but naturally it takes a lot of time, energy and commitment, and I've been doubting for a while that it will happen. The Stoa has been good, under Peter's exemplary ‘stewardship’. He has written about the challenges, and maybe in the end it is too much for one person, long term. Community leaders have their “yes” and “no” challenges, too. Will we find that narrow way through?


By chance, came across a pair of posts that speak to this:

See also The ontology of half empty or half full.

Topics: Complex psychology; Learning communities

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