Archive for December, 2012

[Gentle reader: please see my postings for 22 & 23 December, 2012 for the context for today’s entry]


My good friend, Tamyra and my daughter, Rebecca have a number of characteristics in common, one of them being that patience is not their middle name (this is their self-description).  However, since they are, as you gentle reader and I are living paradoxes when it comes to caring for others they demonstrate great patience.  Patience is a crucial tap root when it comes to caring (serving).  Simply put: patience allows the other to grow and develop in its own time and in its own way [as I am fully aware, the growth of an idea can no more be forced than the growth of a person].  When I am patient with the other, I provide her the time she needs; when I am impatient I not only withhold ‘time’ I actually take time away from the other – ‘hurry up’ is the message sent and received.  A number of posts ago I shared the story of the man who had sought to help a butterfly get free by breaking open the butterfly’s cocoon; the butterfly ended up dying in the man’s hand.  Our impatience as one who cares can hinder the growth perhaps even kill the growth, in one or more of the other’s P.I.E.S. dimensions.

Patience = an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay; quiet, steady perseverance; even-tempered care.

Patience it seems to me is not waiting passively for something to happen.  In caring (serving), patience is a kind of participation with the other in which I give of myself by providing the other the space and time needed – space and time are provided, both are necessary.  When I patiently listen to a person who is distraught – when I am truly ‘present’ to the person in this way – I provide space and time for the person to think, reflect and speak.  In a real sense, when I am patient I am providing the one cared for space and time to live, to enlarge the other’s ‘living room.’

Being patient also requires that I embrace various levels of ambiguity, confusion, and perhaps chaos.  I am tolerant – not out of obligation; I am tolerant because I care and because I respect the other’s rhythm and pace.  I do not label the other as being wasteful of time because the other’s rhythm and pace are slower than mine.

I choose to be patient because I believe in the growth potential of the one cared for; I trust the one cared for will, indeed, grow and develop.  In doing so, I also care for myself – I take the opportunity to learn about myself and my own growth/development needs.  As in the other tap roots, the one cared for must affirm that I am being patient.  There have been times when I thought I was being patient only to learn that the one being cared for did not experience my being patient at all.  Sometimes the person could identify the specifics of what I was doing that communicated impatience and at other times the person ‘just knew’ that I was not being patient.  I have learned (well, actually, I am still learning) to trust the other’s experience when it comes to judging whether and to what extent I am being patient.  I have also had the opposite experience; I have thought that I was not being very patient and the other would thank me for being so patient.  I am truly blessed and deeply thankful that when I need my friend or my daughter to be patient with me that patience does, indeed, become their middle name.  Their patience with me also enables me to be more patient with others.


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[Gentle reader: please see my postings for 22 & 23 December, 2012 for the context for today’s entry]


 As an educator there are times when I strive to explain a concept to another.  I also seek to discern whether what I am sharing is understood.  If I have not succeeded I give it another go, generally this requires that I adjust, change, or reframe my approach or my explanation.  When I write my blog entries I read and re-read what I have written – ‘Is this what I really want to say?’  ‘Is this how I really want to say it?’  There is an alternating rhythm that I follow in both cases: action/experience followed by reflection.  As an educator or as a writer I act with certain expectations and outcomes in mind; I am open to both intended and unintended consequences.  What are the gaps between what I intended and what unfolded?  Do these gaps need to be ‘closed’ or simply embraced?  Charles Handy noted that experience plus reflection is the learning.  Experience plus reflection is a key rhythm when it comes to caring (serving).  I must be intentional and purposeful and I must be awake and aware when it comes to engaging alternating rhythms.  Although ‘habit’ comes into play, I cannot care out of habit – I must learn as I go along; hence the need for experience and reflection.

This ‘doing’ is at times quite specific and at other times involves ‘no action’ (another paradox); my caring might well involve in my ‘doing nothing.’  There are times when I do not directly bring my voice; I simply wait patiently.  This non-action also requires me to stop-step back and reflect.  Upon reflecting I might then choose to act directly or I might choose to continue to simply hold ‘space’ for the other; to be there in case the other chooses to ‘call me forth.’  On my good days I am quite patient and on my not so good days my impatience moves me (or is it drives me?) to act.

There is another alternating rhythm or set of rhythms: one is ‘broader’ and ‘deeper’ and another is ‘wider’ and ‘narrower.’  So, in my caring there are times when an act of caring is relatively isolated and there are times when an act of caring is experienced in a wider context.  There are times when my caring directly affects one dimension of the other (say his intellectual dimension) and there are times when my caring directly affects two, three or even all four dimensions (remember P.I.E.S.).  When I reflect upon the ‘broader’ and ‘wider’ affects I can also discern patterns or trends or tendencies and so I might well shift or change in response to one or more of these.  For example, if I am caring for a person who is feeling insecure or incompetent (say a student) I might well choose to focus on the ‘now’ or I might choose to focus on the insecurity or feeling of incompetence as reflecting a deeper aspect of the person’s character.  In both cases, the one cared-for must help me and guide me.

A similar rhythm occurs when I write.  I might choose to focus and go deeper or I might choose to look more broadly and look for a number of interconnecting themes.  I might spend time defining one word (I have learned that a word can be – and generally is – interpreted differently by different people so I might seek to define a word as I write in order to help the reader understand more clearly what I am attempting to say).  I might also spend time exploring a number of interconnecting ideas or themes in order to capture the internal complexity that I am experiencing.  What’s important for me to hold onto is that in caring (serving) relationships there are alternating rhythms that are present, that do occur, and I must be aware of them and choose which to attend to at a given moment or which ones I need to revisit after some period of reflection.

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[Gentle reader: please see my postings for 22 & 23 December, 2012 for the context for today’s entry]


Knowing = to know and be known.  Caring (serving) requires more than good intentions or warm regard.  I must come to understand the other and the other’s highest priority needs; this requires that the other and I engage in a deep searching conversation so that we can discern who we are and name the high priority needs and so that the one cared for can affirm that I do, indeed, understand.  Once I am affirmed in my understanding I must then ‘know’ (discern) the ways I might respond (my good intentions and a caring heart do not guarantee this).  I have learned (am still learning) that to care for someone, I must ‘know’ many things.  I must know, for example, who the other is (I realize that I will never really know the person just as I will never really know my ‘whole’ self); I must know the others powers (power = one’s ability to act), limitations and potentials; I must also know what is conducive to the other’s growth – what will support the other’s growth in the four dimensions of P.I.E.S.  I must also know how to respond to the other’s highest priority needs (remember, I can ‘serve’ the person’s needs, I cannot meet them).  I must also know my own powers and limitations.  All of this knowing is a combination of the specific and the general; it is knowledge that is focused and broad, shallow and deep.

What I know in caring, I know in different ways.  I know some things explicitly and some things implicitly.  To know something explicitly is to be able to tell what I know to be able to put it into words, by contrast, to know something implicitly is to be unable to articulate it.  I know, for example, more about my good friend than I can verbalize or I know more about what is occurring within a group I am guiding than I can verbalize or I know more about what is occurring with me that I can verbalize.  Then, there is the difference between knowing that something is so and knowing how to do something.  Many years ago I knew a great deal about the theory of teaching AND I was not able to teach well at all.  There is also a difference between ‘directly’ and ‘indirectly’ knowing something.  By knowing something ‘directly,’ I mean encountering it, understanding it as existing in its own right; I do not mean simply experiencing it.  In caring, I know the other directly; the relationship I experience with the other is intertwined with my awareness of the other’s separateness and individuality.  As a caring teacher, for example, I sought to know the student as an individual; I sought to experience the student as a person in his own right and not as a stereotype or a generalization (i.e. this is what a student is).  On the other hand, indirect knowledge refers to knowing about something, to having information about it.  I may know something indirectly without actually experiencing it, and I may experience it without knowing it directly.

Caring, then, includes explicit and implicit knowledge, knowing that and knowing how and direct and indirect knowledge.  All are employed in various ways to helping the other grow in his/her four dimensions of P.I.E.S.  The one caring and the one cared-for are both accountable for nurturing this tap root of ‘knowing.’  Anyone who has sought to ‘know’ oneself or to ‘know’ another understands the immensity and the challenge of this tap root.

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[Gentle reader: please see my posting for 22 December, 2012 for the context for today’s entry]

In caring for [serving] the other I strive to not impose my own direction; I allow the direction of the other’s growth to guide what I do, to help determine how I am to respond and what is relevant to my response.  Any direction that I may give [and I am directive at times, partly because I am imperfect and partly because I have a sense that a certain directive might be helpful – even in this case I strive to ensure that the other always has ‘choice’] is governed by my respect for the other’s integrity and is intended to further the other’s growth; I show respect by the interest I take in determining whether my actions do in fact further the other’s growth and then by being guided by what I find.  When I become aware that my interest is waning I strive to understand what is occurring within me [as Greenleaf suggests, the servant begins ‘in here’ first] rather than consider that it is the other’s ‘fault’ that my interest is waning.

Commitment is essential when it comes to caring [serving]; when my commitment is at risk or breaks down so does my caring, this I have learned about myself.  I have learned that my commitment is deeply rooted in the worth I experience in the other; the other is inherently worthy of my commitment, he/she does not have to earn it.  My commitment is expressed by my entire being; the four dimensions of my being – Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, Spiritual – are expressed.  My commitment is demonstrated by ‘being there’ for the other; it is demonstrated by my being consistent [I am not perfect but I can become more and more consistent] and by my being persistent ‘over time.’  [I am aware that caring/serving as I am describing it can occur within a brief encounter; for my purposes at this time, however, I am focused on caring/serving that occurs over time.]  I have also learned that caring/serving in this way means that I have obligations.  These obligations are a by-product [my current thinking] of my commitment and devotion to the well-being of the other.  As a teacher I become available to a student in a number of ways AND I do not experience this as a burden; I experience it as an opportunity to care/serve.  It seems to me that it is always some one or something ‘specific’ that is being cared for: the author cares for THIS idea, the teacher cares for THIS student, the parent cares for THIS child and the service provider cares for THIS customer.

To help another person grow is at least to help him to develop in healthy ways – P.I.E.S. again.  To help another person grow is to help her to find and create areas of her own in which she is able to care for another [Greenleaf believed that part of the ‘test’ for the servant is that the one served will, more likely than not, choose to serve others].  To help another person to grow is to help the person to come to care for himself and by becoming responsive to his own need to be cared for and to care to then become responsible [response-able: to accept that no matter what, I am capable of choosing my response and I am responsible for how I choose to respond].  Responsible for what – for his/her own life.  One way we grow is by becoming more self-determining – it is, after all, my life – by choosing which values will be core to my being, by choosing which principles, assumptions, beliefs, etc. will guide my choices.  By choosing to be a reflective-participant –observer in my own life.  It is crucial that the one caring/serving be awake and aware to the effects and affects of caring/serving on self and on the other.  It is crucial for the one caring to be awake to and aware of the possibility that one’s serving might be immoral.  Greenleaf asks us, ‘When is serving potentially immoral?’  This is a ‘hard’ question for care-givers to embrace.  There are some tap roots that can nurture us so that we are more likely to care in ways that are growth-producing (moral) rather than growth-depleting (immoral).  Check back tomorrow as we begin to explore nine of these tap roots.

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For the past several weeks I have been thinking about Robert K. Greenleaf’s theme of servant and Nel Noddings concept of caring.  In his ‘Best Test’ for the servant, Greenleaf asks, ‘Do those served grow as persons. . .’  Consider that to serve another person is to care for the person.  This caring is done in order to help the person grow.  For me, a person will grow within four dimensions: Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, Spiritual (P.I.E.S.).  This type of caring is a process of and a way of relating to the other in a focused manner such that these four dimensions have an opportunity to develop more fully; the person’s health and well-being are positively enhanced.  This type of caring is rooted in deep mutual trust and the growth that results occurs not only within the one being cared for but also occurs within the one caring; in close relationships, the relationship itself is also cared for.

Consider that in addition to caring for a person I might also care for an ‘idea’ or for another sentient being or for a community or for a relationship or even for an ‘ideal.’  The common pattern in all of these ways of caring (or of ‘serving’ as Greenleaf would say) is that ‘growth’ occurs as a direct result of care being extended and care being received and care being returned.  For example, as I have been ‘caring’ for the ideas that have been emerging for me the ideas have grown (become broader and deeper in scope) and I have also been cared for because I have also grown more broadly and deeply in my own thinking.

Serving/Caring is a major tap root that promotes growth and, in turn, Serving/Caring is nurtured by other tap roots; thus far I have identified nine of them and it is these nine that I will be exploring beginning with today’s posting.  Here are the nine: knowing, alternating rhythms of experience and reflection, patience, integrity [‘honesty’ for some], trust, humility, hope, courage [having ‘heart’ for some], and being vulnerable.

In caring as helping the other grow, I experience what I care for (a person, an ideal, an idea, etc.) as connected to me AND at the same time as something separate from me that I respect in its own right.  For example, I find that when I cling dogmatically to a belief (principle, deep assumption, stereotype, prejudice, etc.) I become so attached to it that I am unable to experience it as ‘separate’ from who I am (it becomes part of my identity if you will) and I am not then able to critically examine it and find out what it ‘truly means’ let alone determine whether it is true or false for me; my surety hinders me from searching and seeking and also blocks me from embracing experiences or feedback that invites me to question my belief.

In caring I serve, as Greenleaf writes, the other’s highest priority needs.  Serve does not mean ‘meet.’  I cannot ‘meet’ the other’s needs but I can serve them.  In addition, I am not called to serve just any needs (and I am not called to serve the other’s wants); I am called to serve the other’s highest priority needs.  This means that somehow we must determine what the other’s highest priority needs are.  This is no small endeavor.  This requires clear agreements as to what constitutes the other’s highest priority needs.  It could well mean that the other is not aware of what these are and so discerning them and naming them becomes the challenge (Students, for example, do not always know what their highest priority needs are).  I cannot recall the number of times I believed that I knew what the other needed – I know what’s best for you! is a refrain that I have uttered more than I would like to remember.  On the other hand, I also know, by experience, that I have been able to help others discern and name some of their highest priority needs.  When this happens, we both experience being ‘served,’ we both experience being ‘cared’ for and we both grow during and as a result of the process.

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