Sunday, May 10, 2009

Conviction and action

I've had several e-mail exchanges with a former student over the last couple of weeks. He was a student I had in a first-year leadership seminar and saw only occasionally over the rest of his time at Miami. He completed law school and inquired if he could list me as a reference to pass the bar. Our e-mail exchanges caused me to ask at the end of one why he had come back to correspond with me after several years of no interaction. His explanation was what I've found repeated throughout the deeper relationships I've had with students - he described the "seed planting" that so often occurs which then germinates and takes root at a later time. The process goes something like this 1) solid foundation from prior family and educational experience, 2) leads to comfort and curiosity about others' experience, 3) resulting in discernment of core convictions, and 4) eventually leads to a willingness to act with courage.

This progression isn't earth-shattering but it does reflect the steps that we see in many young adult development theories and the progression is especially reflective of the stages of the "presence" model upon which Deeper Learning in Leadership is based. The progression also mirrors James Fowler's stages of spiritual formation where spiritual understanding begins with a solid base, strong enough to allow for questioning. Then the questioning and exploration of others' views allows for a deepening of one's own beliefs or convictions. Once the deepening occurs, it then becomes possible to act with greater courage because conviction has taken root inside of us, rather than imposed from the outside on us.

The challenge is that this progression comes in one's own time and it is influenced heavily by the cultural context. I've always understood that we experience the stages at the times when our heads and hearts were ready but I didn't realize how powerful the cultural context could be until I began to understand the Gulf, Asia, and other collectivist societies. In more collectivist cultures, the importance of family, kinship, and tribe are very powerful. In many ways the power of collectivism may look somewhat like the pattern of young women in North America coming to their understanding of values and core purposes through relational rather than differentiating (as is more characteristic of men) processes. Arab, Asian, and other groups have far greater reverance for their elders and deference for authority which may result in different dynamics during the curiosity and discernment stages.

My reencounter with a former student stimulated me to think of conviction in action and how it is in many ways the same across time and culture, but also how it might be different as well...

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