'How do I express, communicate and have legitimated as valid
knowledge the spiritual qualities in my educational journey?'
CARN Conference, London, 17th-19th October, 1997
This first section of the chapter, the preface, tells you that this chapter is divided into four sections and tells you about the content of the sections so that you will have a map to enable you to read it with some ease.
The second section consists of a paper I presented at AERA in Chicago in 1997 and just preceeding it is an abstract of the paper and then an introduction to the paper. The paper itself outlines what I understand by my spirituality: that it has an inner, contemplative dimension and an outer, practical dimension. The account in the paper tells of the educational effect a previous paper I wrote, had on Etty who read it a year afterwards and noted how my values were influencing my life and actions. And she was commenting on how I dealt with what I considered to be ill-treatment meted out to me in my previous place of employement and also how the death of a friend had affected me.
In section three I answer questions put to me by my audience at the end of my presentation at AERA (Chicago, 1997). One question, in asking me to go further that just declaring my beliefs, my values, is wondering how I am actually applying them in my practice. And a corollary to the same question and from the same questioner, wonders how I reconcile my assertiveness with humility within my spirituality! A second question, which is not dissimilar from the first, asks me why my paper hasnt shown how it is explicitly educational. And, finally, I am questioned on my present sense of my own worthwhileness. And I tackle these questions in this section, showing how I am learning to bring a more sophisticated level of explanation to bear on my data in my research.
In section four I explain how I am becoming reflexive. And I base this on my AERA paper and also on my first layer of explanations given as answers to questions in section three. In this I am showing how I have developed reflexively which is another outgrowth of my educational development. And by reflexivity I am meaning my reflection on my previous thinking and reflection. That is, how I am now thinking about the thinking and reflection I have done in section three of this chapter. And I show that I have developed my arguments further and in some case brought new arguments to bear on the topics in hand. And I point to the fact that my AERA paper as my raw data, performs the important explanatory function of emphasising that without its descriptive and sometimes affective, mystical and metaphysical language, spiritual values and spiritual standards of judgement might be impossible to explain, no matter how elegant my intellectual, conceptual propositional explanations might be. I show, though, how I try to balance my propositional explanations with my affective, mystical and metaphysical explanations within my research. And I go on to explain and illumine aspects of my use of affective, mystical and metaphysical language, including what it means to me to see and to perceive presence. And I offer a plot within a plot within which I describe and explain my growth from unworthwhileness to worthwhileness and how my ontological need for appreciation, demonstrated affectively and through action, made use of affective, mystical and metaphysical language. And I emphasise more than once the importance as an explanation for my spiritual values, both of creating and receiving empathy, and of being able to do so through affective, mystical and metaphysical language. And in doing so I am both holding empathy as a spiritual value and practising it as a standard of judgement in my work.
Finally, I explain Lathers (1994) notion of ironic validity as one standard of judgement I use. It is one where my representation of what I am doing educationally will always fall short of my ideal. And by ironic validity I am meaning that I can best know how valid my account is by its failure to actually represent what I know and how I live. And the irony is that how I know and live, embodied in my relationships, are living, dynamic and constantly changing and so I can never communicate fully the quality of that embodiment. However, I believe I have tried in this chapter to achieve at least an approximation of my embodiment of my past dialogical relational actions and have offered them in layered perspectives, embodied in some mini-studies of singularity. And in this way I believe I have given you some feel for the extraordinary variety and depth of some of the most recent living meanings of my spiritual values as I am using them to improve myself and inspire and empower others to improve something in their practice. And by representing them in a multidude of new ways in this chapter I believe I am bringing them to new life and transforming them into a new embodiment of my spiritual values for both myself and you as you read this chapter. That is my claim.
My AERA Paper
'How do I express, communicate and have legitimated as valid
knowledge the spiritual qualities in my educational journey?'
(An abridged version of a paper presented at AERA, Chicago, March
1997, by Ben Cunningham. This abridged version to be published in
The Blooming of College and University Teaching. Ed by P. Gilmer,
P. Taylor & K. Tobin. Kluwer Academic Press, 1998).
In my chapter I explore the significance of my spiritual values as a standard of judgement for testing the validity of my claim to know my own educational development and professional practice as I create my own individual living educational theory (Whitehead, 1993). And my form of representation and findings are experimental, a view that is supported by Denzin and Lincoln (1994) when they write about the problematic nature of representation in qualitative research.
And the data I use are generated from correspondence and previous papers in which I submit my claim to know through self validation and public scrutiny so that others may gain an understanding of my practice.
I realise that much literature exists which attempts to categorise what it is to be and become a spiritual person (Evans, 1993; Fowler, 1981; Macquarrie, 1972; Maslow, 1976). These categorisations exist in conceptual forms, which are too limited to explain adequately what spiritual values mean to me in my educative relationships. And so I have constructed a short case study which will explicate my spiritual values in a living way.
I wrestled with a meaning to my spirituality within my spiritual journey that would have universal appeal so that those from either a theistic or a non-theistic background could understand and perhaps even accept it. Gradually I came to admit that I could only talk about my spirituality which, while Christian in inspiration, is not necessarily linked with any specific Church and is discernably my own. And I subscribe to Kierkegaard's notion of the individual Christian (Vardy, 1996, p. 20) who answers the crucial question, am I or am I not in a God-relationship? (ibid, p. 30) by the evidence of my life in contemplation in a world of action (Merton, 1973). And so my spirituality is a dialectical one comprising both a contemplative and an active dimension.
And my spirituality, in its inner dimension of contemplation, is one in which I continually seek an experience of God and myself. And this I cultivate in peace and silence when, 'I face myself in the lonely grounds of my being without fear ' (Merton, 1985). And I achieve the integrity I deeply desire by bringing about my intrapersonal reconciliation.
And I bring about my outer interpersonal reconciliation by expressing and answering the question, 'How does my life affect those I work with as I attempt to improve what I am doing?' This is the outer dimension of my spirituality, the 'practical', active part. And it is partly because of the importance of this work that I need to tend to the contemplative dimension of my life. It is why I agree with Skolimowski (1993) when he asks me these questions: 'How do you work on yourself so that you heal within? So that you heal your mind? So that you become a source of health and support for others?' (p. 9). You will, I believe, see some of the evidence for the answers to these questions in my educational development as this chapter progresses.
I maintain that my approach to my spirituality is dialectical. And by that I am meaning that it consists of a process of question and answer in which my individual "I" exists as a living contradiction in questions of the kind, 'How do I improve my practice?' (Whitehead, 1993). In accepting that I exist as a living contradiction, I am saying that I subscribe to values, deny them in my practice and in reversing the denial I change and improve the situation. In describing and explaining my developmental dialectic within the contemplative and active dimensions of my spiritual journey I believe I produce a living spirituality.
'Some of your thoughts mirrored my own'!
A correspondent, whom I shall call Etty, wrote to me on 2nd February, 1997, to seek permission to use a paper I had written some fifteen months ago (Cunningham, 1996b, 'Accounting for myself: building towards a joyous anticipation. ). And she wanted to use it with a small number of women managers who had come together to discuss their own personal and professional development. And here is some of what she said:
'What struck me was how closely some of your thoughts had mirrored my own at various times in the past. ... When I read your paper today I saw that they (the women managers) may find some comfort in it and indeed some strength. ... I really did feel as if my own various frustrations were somehow acceptable and therefore were helped to be put into place. So thank you for writing it.'
The paper Etty referred to (ibid) is an account of a meeting I had with a representative (whom I shall call Joe) of the Religious Congregation to which I belong, the Christian Brothers. I had written to him the previous Christmas, pointing out forcefully that I felt deeply wounded at being unappreciated for the work I had done in my previous job (as leader of action research project assisting eighty teachers in Ireland). Worried, he called me back from Britain (where I am finishing my PhD at the University of Bath) to Ireland to 'explain' myself. At this meeting I explained quietly but unequivocally who I perceived myself to be, what my values were and how I perceived I had been ill-treated in my previous job situation. And 'Joe' obviously heard me because shortly after our meeting (20.2.96) he wrote (21.2.96):
'Thank you very sincerely for our meeting last night. It was truly a graced occasion. When someone shares from the depths of personal experience as you did, Ben, it is always sacred ... I want to wish you every blessing on the sacred journey of finding yourself at a new and deeper level. May your desire to serve others flower and blossom.'
Was the data in my paper valid?
And here I want to digress to refer to a letter I wrote to Etty (6th March, 1997) about the validity of the 'data' in the paper:
'Actually you're the first to give me positive feedback on that paper. When I produced it at Bath at the end of February last year all I remember is people saying: 'Well, who's to know that these things really happened? It wasn't taped, etc., etc'. And, of course, it wasn't taped. It just wasn't appropriate to do so. What I actually did was to write field notes immediately after each event. Anyway, to my knowledge, these become data when you bring them to an audience to share and they feel they're authentic and give you comments on them. Now, you've given me feedback and I now have data that is useful! Up to this I had buried the paper and thought no more about it until you said it had use-value. That, by the way, is the greatest compliment you could have given me! How many action researchers can say that some once-off paper they've done has use-value? Very few, I think. So, 'Etty', you've done me a signal honour. That's for sure!'
'You are quietly explaining yourself'!
Etty's letter (1st March, 1997) explained that she was glad I had found a way of explaining myself quietly, yet determinedly:
'Firstly let me say that for me it was a very happy paper. Happy in the sense that you got the better of things and succeeded, even though there seemed to be some very painful and upsetting experiences that you were relating. That's perhaps a contradiction in itself, but what I mean is that the overall feeling that I got was, "Good for Ben, at last he's saying what he wants to say!" No need for shouting or any song and dance, just quietly explaining himself, but at the same time I had this feeling that you were very determined to get your message across. It was as if your quiet determination (as opposed to your anger) was shouting at me, "Now listen!" '
Writing to 'Etty' on 6th March,1997, I also added, however:
'I stayed with the anger and the sadness you're talking about for a very long time before trying to do something about it. And then I finally plucked up courage and told some people what I thought of their treatment of me. It took some time before anybody took it seriously. Finally, somebody did.
Is anger useful and justified?
And concerning anger, Etty wondered 'if you would have ever addressed these issues without anger?' And she continued,
'Isn't this the tension that Jack (Whitehead, my PhD supervisor) refers to which leads you on to put things right when your values are negated in practice? Sometimes I think it's good to stay angry, angry about the things that really matter to us, that way we can never forget what it was really like. At the same time we manage to accomodate the experience, remove the bitterness and in some way gain a different kind of peace, perhaps that's your spiritual peace?
And so Etty noticed and was encouraged by the fact that I was making an effort to deal with the causes of my anger:
All too often it seems that we just moan about things but do nothing about them, we're afraid to take the risk. We find fault, saying that someone has hurt us, but never move on to change the situation. That leads to quite depressing reading, although I accept that the sadness is a stage that we might stay within for quite a long time before being able or having the strength or support to do anything about it. I just found it encouraging to read your paper which suggested to me that you were moving on and away from your anger.
And she commented on what she felt was spiritual in it, It gave out a lot of hope and joy. Spiritual qualities?
And Etty also felt that my paper provided
'a balance between the love and caring that you were experiencing in your communication with certain people that you mentioned, and the anger that you felt at the injustice and lack of attention from others who should have been showing more care of you.'
She also sensed, however, that I was frustrated
'at your inability to communicate with those who were failing to show you the respect that you deserve both as a professional and as a fellow human being. I don't know if this is how you really felt but it's how it made me feel, it struck a chord with me and related to experiences I have had in my own life at certain times.'
I was very moved by your description of Larry
And Etty went on to speak of how I described my friend, Larry and, in passing, paid me a handsome compliment, 'I think you are becoming real and showing us what that is like.' And she continued,
'I was very moved by your description of Larry: "He didn't have to pretend. He was just himself and at peace with himself. It seems to me also now that there was nothing controlling him. Perhaps that was another reason for my trust in him". '
When I replied to Etty on 6th March, 1997, I felt a need to add what I had said a year ago about my dead friend, Larry, who, like me, was a Christian Brother. And the opening extract below is taken from a paper I presented to CARN (Collaborative Action Research Network) at Nottingham Trent University, 12th September, 1995:
Larry Yes, I have cancer. I have been given three months to live but I may die sooner. Funny, it wasn't until a past pupil commented that I had lost a lot of weight that I found out.
Ben And how are you now?
Larry Well, I have accepted it. The way I see it is that I am lucky to have had fifty-one years; many others don't. So I feel I haven't done too badly at all.
Ben And when you look back what do you feel about your life?
Larry I enjoyed it. And I did what I was asked to do in school and I'm happy to think I did it well. What more could you ask?
Ben And what is it like for you at the moment?
Larry Well, I eat a little at 8.00 a.m. and get up at 10.00 a.m. It's good to be able to look after myself still. I take a rest at 1.30 p.m. in the afternoon.You see, I have to be at my best when many people call to see from about 4.00 p.m. onwards! (Monday, 28th August, 1995).
I dreaded meeting my friend, Larry. I didn't know how I could engage him in conversation as he was near death. How would I find the proper words, say the 'right' things? I needn't have worried. In fact I was astounded by the matter-of-factness with which he had accepted the inevitability of his own death shortly. He was ready. He was satisfied with how he had led his life. He had accomplished what he had set out to do. His main worry now was that he would be in a fit state to receive his friends in these latter days. His mind was on others rather than on himself (End of extract from CARN paper).
And in my letter to Etty I told her how important Larrys apparently nonchalent help had been to me in the past:
'And, yes, Larry has been an inspiration to me. I often think about his comparative 'godlessness' with great affection. As you know, like myself, he was a member of the Christian Brothers. He'd be the last person you'd expect to become a 'mover and shaker' in this world. Highly intelligent, gregarious, easy-going, but somehow earlier in his life, he had apparently made up his mind, he wasn't going to unduly disturb himself about anything. And, yet, when he was dying he was the one person I knew I had to visit no matter how difficult it might be for me. I felt he had literally saved me from death, many years before, when he was the one person whose help I sought when I was in the last throes of alcoholic despair and I couldn't go any lower, except out! And without fuss he did what he had to do and I was looked after. All done quietly. All part of a normal day's work. 'No sweat', as we'd say nowadays.
And I tell Etty why I consider Larry to be great, his total equanimity in the face of death seemed to me to be irrefutable proof:
In a strange kind of way, my thesis and most of its themes are now drawn from what I feel I've learnt from him. And yet when he was alive I never felt there was anything special about him. Neither did anyone else. I think what really electrified me and everybody else who knew him about his greatness - yes, I'm using that term now - was the way he accepted his death sentence. And that's what his form of cancer was. He was under imminent sentence of death. Total equanimity was his response and that was the way he remained right up to the moment he died.
And I told Etty, too, about how Larry was apparently able to act out of his own convictions without reference to others. It seems to me now in retrospect, that he had found the delicate but important balance between independence and interdependence:
Brothers in all our communities around Ireland didn't know what to think of him. Here was this guy who seemed to neglect all the ritual things we were expected to do every day. He just acted totally independently. He attended if he felt like it, he didn't when he didn't feel like it. That was that. And he was happy in his independence. He also knew he was being criticised sotto voce. That didn't matter either. He went to school every day, did his work, came home and did the crosswords. Had an occasional drink and a smoke. Was happy and that was it. On one occasion when he was asked to become a principal (head) of a secondary school, he said, yes. Six years later when he was asked to step down - he apparently wasn't exciting enough - again he said, yes. That was that. Back to full-time teaching he went. And so life went on until his death.
I hold him in highest esteem and - I'm still trying to understand him!'
Why were you reticent about speaking out?'
Etty was wondering (17th February, 1997) if my reticence at speaking out up to this was to do with the fact that I am a Christian Brother and that you:
'may feel that you are expected to give out kindness all the time with no return, and that you are not expected to complain.'
In replying to Etty on 7th March, 1997, I felt a need to see was there any other reason for my reluctance to speak up on my own behalf and I felt a negative attitude towards myself was at least one and here is what I said:
'Regarding my previous reluctance to speak up perhaps yes, being a Christian Brother may have inhibited me. Perhaps I felt I should take whatever was doled out to me without complaining. That was the task of a Christian. However, a more deep-seated problem was there I think also, masked by this role I felt a need to play. And it was that deep down I didn't feel good enough to object to any treatment meted out to me. Although I don't now want to apportion blame for who I had become - it's a useless and immature pastime - I had brought negative self-attitudes with me from my youth. When you are constantly told when you are young, that you are useless, that you have nothing to recommend you, it takes a long, long time to get over it. I often feel I've spent a lifetime up to now having to compulsorily recreate myself.
And I told Etty also that getting over my negative attitude towards myself took a long time. And in all of this travail I was at pains to point out that in this I am no different from most other people, who have to undergo similar difficulties:
It might sound melodramatic to say this but I've often felt that either I had to recreate myself from the ground up as it were or disappear! I made several involuntary efforts through alcoholism to 'disappear'. And I think my paper and the actions I took were a part of this long haul of the re-creation of myself. It's unfortunate (and dishonest in my view!) that groups like Christian Brothers and other Religious Orders and Congregations allow the perception to prevail that they are at peace with the world, gaining strength from their silence' as it were. I wish that individuals among them at least would tell others that they have to struggle like everyone else to become whole, to become themselves; that they have similar problems in the workplace, etc. That is why I was fascinated by Larry's life. It was just 'ordinary', like anybody else's and apparently extraordinary only at the end! It is some of these stories, yours and mine included, that we should be telling. It would uplift others, tell them that they're not alone with their concerns and personal and professional problems.'
'Your values break through!'
In her February letter (ibid) Etty detected that my passion about values had broken through, ones to do with 'offering gestures of approval, of affirmation, of remembering, of intimacy.' And she continued,
'And, Ben, you do that. Last December I received the usual Christmas cards from friends and family, but there was one that I wasn't expecting - it was from you. I didn't realise the relevance at the time but now I do, thank you for remembering me.'
'What do you mean by spiritual values?'
And Etty began to wonder how you explain action research and especially how you explain the action part:
'However, as I saw it, the action part in your paper was your speaking up and beginning to explain yourself followed by trying to make sense of the experience in accordance with your values' (17th February, 1997).
And she also wondered about what I mean by spiritual values and began to speculate for herself about what they might be:
'Could the spiritual be the closeness you have with other people as you improve your communication with them and enable them to communicate with you? ... the word conjures up for me something of wonderment, joy, peace, understanding, something bigger than us but part of us, something that is good and honest' (ibid).
And Etty (ibid) thanked me for my paper and finished by telling me that I had reached into the spiritual in her:
'Yes, Ben, through your sincerity, determination, and honesty you have reached out to the spiritual in me, whatever that is' (ibid).
What I learnt then is helping me now!
In writing to Etty on 6th March, 1997, I am now looking at the present but also to the future when I refer to a recent job offer I got from my previous place of employment. And here is what I say to her:
'I accepted the overture very coolly but in a not unfriendly fashion either. I suggested a series of negotiations and ... I think what I mainly want to do is to get to the point where I have negotiated what would satsify me in terms of academic freedom if I were to take the job, knowing at the end that I am now worth more than I ever thought I was.'
Is my research useful?
I now know that, thanks to Etty, some of my work will impact on others. Other people will realise the importance for themselves of my struggle to understand myself and know that they can succeed in doing likewise. And they will know that they can change themselves if they consider themselves to be important enough to be appreciated; that everybody deserves to be appreciated simply because they are human. That nobody should have to earn appreciation. I finally realised that I deserved appreciation. And Etty can use my paper with her women managers!
And what do you, the readers, think of my paper? In order to help you with the answer to this question I add a few thoughts on what I think I have achieved in this chapter.
My chapter here has been an effort at description and explanation of my spiritual search for integrity and authenticity within me in solitude, peace and silence and outside of me in relational dialogues with others. I am hoping that it and the narrative representing its meaning will have held your attention and that within it you will have heard echoes and resonances of your own personal histories in it, as Etty did in this case study and as she believes her women managers will. I am hoping you will see connections in and beyond what I describe and explain and appreciate how meaning has emerged in my practice as mediated by this chapter. And I am hoping that it will enable you to embark - or continue - on your own living spiritual journey!
Getting legitimated as valid knowledge the spiritual qualities in my educational journey
And I am wanting to get legitimated as valid knowledge my spiritual qualities. And I am doing a part of this through self validation. And my criterion of self validation is based on Polanyi's (1958) statement that 'I am a person claiming originality and exercising his personal judgement responsibly with universal intent.' I am offering my meanings of my values revealed in my text and making decisions about living them out more fully in my ongoing negotiations regarding a job I have been offered.
And I am engaging in intentional critical reflection which, according to Lomax (1986) is,
'the way in which a naive understanding of practice is transformed; where the practitioner reflects upon instead of merely experiencing practice; and where the process is made public and shared so that others gain an understanding of the practice.'
And I think you will have noticed also that this enquiry is a disciplined one where I have followed stages of planning, acting, observing and reflecting.
And below is the final part of my text in which I am drawing together for you the meanings of my spiritual values and holding myself accoutable to myself, to you and to whoever may read this chapter, for them. But just before I do so, I believe an extract from Fromm (1956) following on his question, What does one person give to another?, is some of what I have been attempting to do in my practice and in this paper:
He gives of himself, of the most precious he has, he gives of his life ... he gives him of that which is alive in him; he gives him of his joy, of his interest, of his understanding, of his knowledge, of his humor, of his sadness - of all expressions and manifestations of that which is alive in him. In thus giving of his life, he enriches the other person, he enhances the other's sense of aliveness. He does not give in order to receive; giving is in itself exquisite joy. But in giving he cannot help bringing something to life in the other person, and this which is brought to life reflects back to him; in truly giving, he cannot help receiving that which is given back to him ... In the act of giving something is born, and both persons involved are grateful for the life that is born for both of them (pp. 24-25).
'Who am I of value in this text?'
I have never found searching for 'truth' easy. And yet I have felt a great need to search, to enquire and to agonise in this search and in this enquiry. And to interrogate everything and everybody I meet, overtly and covertly about it, even though perhaps not naming it as such! Something or somebody, somewhere, must hold the key to my enquiry! But what or who is the key to my enquiry, to my truth? Does it reside in goodness, authenticity, integrity, the sacred, the mysterious? In appreciation, hunger for fulfilment, neediness, love, remembering? I know my search for truth, with a small 't', is to do with all of these things. Not as abstract entities, but as embodied values. And I have been looking towards Etty and others for the embodiment of them. However, if I am to be authentic, a person of integrity - which I am claiming I want to be - then I have to admit that I too embody these values and that they can be seen in the form of life I am leading. I am practising these values in my educative relationships with others - at least to some extent! And when I find I am not, I start over again. And that's okay. And because I am learning to own my own goodness, I can't any longer evade the question Jack Whitehead (my PhD supervisor) put to me in his office (14th March, 1997):'Who am I of value in this text?'
And in taking Jack's question seriously I am now finally applying some of the words I used about my dead friend, Larry, to myself. 'I think about his comparative "godlessness" with great affection', I had said. And I am saying now: Yes, that's me. I don't want to be taken for granted by anybody, even by God. Threats, or even blandishments, won't do. God has to be gentle, understanding with me. I want to be accepted, to be appreciated, not for anything I've done but because of the simple fact that I am, that I exist. And if I choose to refuse sometimes to take seriously theology, doctrine, the Bible or action research even, I don't expect to be involved in stand-up rows. I want people, instead, to sit up and take notice, to be amused if they want to be. But also to know that I've said something that I'd like taken seriously, not especially because of its merits maybe, but especially because I've said it. For me it's a form of honouring and being honoured, of remembering and being remembered.
And I sincerely want to bring goodness into the world in my dealings with others. And how I do it doesn't have to be grandiose, grandiloquent, noisy. It can be the quiet, small gesture - like my ones. But, make no mistake, I've had to learn how to do it, but in doing it there is an unexpected but delightful pay-off. Others appreciate what I am trying to do, and in appreciating my actions, they are appreciating me.
And I also want and need to be independent. Larry's way of living brought it forcibly to my attention as did the way I felt I was treated in my previous employment. And it is why I now want to empower, to enable - but only at their behest - others whom I meet in the course of my action research work.
And as Larry didn't unduly disturb himself about anything, so I believe I am now able to say honestly that I 'face myself in the lonely grounds of my being without fear. I am valuing myself and I am working at being as authentic as I can be. My solitude and my silence in my contemplative moments are also, I believe, moving me towards achieving a reconciliation between my inner and my outer self. If you see me being peaceful in interaction - and I believe you are - it is happening because I am now loving myself inside and out.
And I am learning to acquire Larry's equanimity, which for me, is one of the rewards of learning to be authentic, I believe I am moving towards reversing all the years of internal despair at my own unworthiness. Sometimes now I want to shout with joy that my life has changed. But I won't shout, I'm happy to say it quietly: my life has changed and for the better. And in saying this I believe my story can help others!
But I am not naive either. Because I want the world to operate in a certain way, doesn't mean it is going to do so. In my experience of working in organisations I have seen people being considered as units of production. I have experienced it myself. And sometimes I may succeed in being able to fight for others and also on my own behalf from inside organisations. Other times I may have to admit that retreat may be the better part of valour.
And in my present negotiations about a future job, how can I ensure that I protect my independence, my hard-won level of self-esteem, my desire to be appreciated? And how do I negotiate so as to get my needs met and end up still respecting the other person in the dialogue while not agreeing with them or with how they have negotiated? And I supply a partial answer when I pen the following and because it is so important to me now I italicise and indent it as follows:
And whatever happens, when all the present negotiations are over and whatever happens, I want to end up being at peace. Holding to my equanimity. Feeling good about myself, feeling appreciation for myself. My self-esteem, authenticity and integrity intact. And maybe having to find a different arena in which to work for others!
End of Paper
Forum for questions
At the end of my presentation at AERA I was questioned by the audience. And I now want to answer the questions put to me in a way which enables me not only to point to my values in the text but to to show how I use them as standards of judgement or criteria for judging my actions which then enables me to make my claims to educational knowledge.
Now to Pam Lomaxs questions. She noticed and approved of my desire to use my spirituality for the sake of others which is based on the following sentence in my AERA paper: ... my spirituality is a dialectical one comprising both a contemplative and an active dimension. (p. 1).
She was wondering, however, how I could reconcile what she described as my assertiveness with the inner spiritual part? And, furthermore, she was wondering how I was justifying the value or belief claims I made in the sub-heading in my text, Who am I of value in this text? Here is how she put it:
you provided us with no evidence about them except your own belief ... but if those (beliefs), themes, aspirations could be linked back into that first spiritual part as criteria for judging actions, that rather than assertiveness, is where the evidence would lie, Im thinking!
Answering Pams questions
Firstly, I want to take the question of my assertiveness and its reconciliation with the inner spiritual part. Are they or are they not compatible and is there evidence in the text that that is so - at least for me?
I am not normally assertive. However, I came to believe in the course of my research that becoming so would be a necessary ingredient of my spiritual growth and development. What I am calling the contemplative or inner dimension of my spirituality is concerned with how I achieve inner harmony, that is with constantly building my sense of own identity to the point where I am enabled to do a number of things. One, as I have already said in my AERA paper, is to do with facing myself in the lonely grounds of my being without fear. And the other, involving the outer, active dimension of my spirituality, deals with how I achieve interpersonal harmony with others so that my life is able to affect those I work with so that they can improve some aspect of their lives and work.
I believe I cannot achieve harmony in either the inner or outer sphere of my spirituality without a strong sense of my own individual identity. And this doesnt happen by osmosis or by being passive. I have to work to achieve it. And one important aspect of it for me is how I deal with others who are in positions of authority relative to me. And this is what Etty was picking up as I described the beginnings of this quest in my AERA paper.
I accept, of course, that I didnt achieve interpersonal harmony the easy or the best way. And neither did I build up my sense of my own identity relative to my understanding of authority in a calm, linear or logical way. No, I didnt take the easy or the best way! In any case, is there a best way? Not for me I think. There is only the way I chose. And so with my limited understanding I made large mistakes. Many of my mistakes included assertions I made to people about their conduct that militated against the very ideal I wanted to achieve - interpersonal harmony. And in the short term my sense of my own identity wasnt enhanced either I believe. However, I did desire to change, to improve, to become a good man (Ill be talking about that later). And so over time I made long and laborious efforts to undo the mistakes I had originally made. And I feel I am now able to say that being appropriately assertive is necessary for me. And no, assertiveness for me doesnt militate against developing spiritually. Rather is it an important aspect of my spirituality. And Pam felt that for someone espousing spirituality, shed prefer an emphasis on humility rather than on assertiveness. And Ive thought about that and Im now saying that I actually dont see them for me as being incompatible. Humility means for mean knowing myself as I am with the good and the bad and feeling comfortable with what I know and, at the same time, wanting to change in order to improve. And the doing may involve me in being appropriately assertive. But Ill talk more about these as this chapter and thesis moves on.
What is important here for the moment I believe is that Etty accepted that these first assertive efforts of mine could help others educationally, that others may find some comfort in it and indeed some strength. And she went on to say that I really did feel as if my own various frustrations were somehow acceptable ... And comfort, strength and acceptance are some words and ideas I could easily link with becoming whole, with enhancing my sense of my own identity. And Etty apparently accepted that what she derived from my work, involving comfort, strength and acceptance could help her to support some women managers in their own personal and professional development (letter, 2.2.97).
And now back again to the sub-heading in my AERA paper, Who am I of value in this text?, and how I am applying my values in my practice! At this point I want to concentrate on a phrase I had used of Larry: 'I think about his comparative "godlessness" with great affection. And I interpreted "godlessness" to mean being accepted, being appreciated, being taken seriously. And I added that I wanted to honour and remember others and to be honoured and remembered by them. But where is there evidence of these values in relation to Ettys understanding of me and of my previous paper to her?
I certainly felt appreciated and taken seriously when Etty wrote to me telling me that what I had written in a paper prior to this one (Cunningham, 1996b) about how I had been treated by my superiors, had touched her deeply. She felt it had mirrored where she had been at various times in the past and she also felt that it would be useful to a group of women managers, as I have said already. And as I have said also, it also caused her to think that my own various frustrations were somehow acceptable .... And so my efforts to achieve acceptance, which is an importance component of the growth of my identity, found an echo in Ettys thinking about how she and her women managers could move forward.
Etty experienced from me acceptance, appreciation, being taken seriously and honouring others as values I was both holding and trying to apply as standards of judgement in critiquing my work, even if I fell short of my ideal! In talking about her women managers, Etty recognised that they, too, had not received the respect and assistance that they deserve, and also that I am one of the (people) who have failed to give them this! (2.2.97). And I found that to be a very powerful endorsement of my desire for myself to be respected - and assisted! And as Etty noticed, I did do something about gaining an experience of being respected and being free, although she also noticed that you often didnt call them values ((1 March, 1997). And whatever about Ettys view, I also accept that at this point in my research my efforts to achieve respect and to be free were done perhaps at the expense of others corresponding right to be respected and to be free!
Etty then moved from her contemplative experiences to telling me about her agreement with me in a series of letters she sent me. She experienced me vicariously accepting, appreciating, endorsing and honouring her memories, her experiences in the world of work. And her public endorsement for me ensured a strengthening within me of my desire to continue practising these virtues, these values in my personal encounters in my various workplaces. And these values and virtues are for me some of my spiritual values which I believe had not been practised towards me by my superiors but which now, paradoxically, Etty felt I was practising towards her. I was, however, to improve my practice further later by acting out of these values towards those in authority who I felt had not exercised them towards me in the first place. But more about that in a later chapter!
I have helped two people!
And I acted on my values, as Etty acknowledged. I wrote letters of complaint to my superiors and I also answered the call of one of them to come and explain myself to him. In the case of the latter, he too felt accepted, appreciated and, indeed, honoured by my attitude towards him when I met him. His letter sent to me shortly after I had met him endorsed not only who I was becoming but how I believe I had enabled him as well to become:
'Thank you very sincerely for our meeting last night. It was truly a graced occasion. When someone shares from the depths of personal experience as you did, Ben, it is always sacred ... I want to wish you every blessing on the sacred journey of finding yourself at a new and deeper level. May your desire to serve others flower and blossom' (21st February, 1996).
He was obviously moved by it, it was a graced occasion ...; it was sacred. He felt I had not only cleared the air for myself but also for him. But more than that, he had I felt, been moved and had learnt from what I had said. He recognised, of course, that I had moved forward in my learning. And my instincts led me to believe that he too had learnt something new for himself! Because I was still comparatively new to research and explanations for my research it did not occur to me at the time to enquire as to what he had learnt for himself. In any case he said that I was finding myself at a new and deeper level. And so I was. I cannot prove it, nor is there a need to do so, but I believe that having had to experience this trauma of making mistakes and by displaying anger at the treatment I felt had been meted out to me, I had somehow succeeded in moving my own spiritual development forward to a position where I would be of greater use to people. Again, I believe I am experiencing being a living contradiction.
And Etty had felt similarly moved. And my paper was an educational experience for her. It enabled her to relive old negative experiences but with a view to exorcising them. And thinking about what was negative recalled for her, paradoxically, what was positive. And the positive involved joy. Obviously Etty is a different person from me. I cannot claim that my paper and my correspondence brought about all these changes. However, I can say that she publicly declared what she had learnt and that my paper and, by extension, myself, enabled some of these, her thoughts, to be publicised with a view to improvement in the situation she described. And so my own publication about and action on my desire to be respected and to be free led to me savouring some of their fruits for myself but also, of enabling Etty to do likewise. In any case here are her words again and I invite you to see if you can read the explanation I have just given in them:
I want to say thank you for your paper, Ben. It related to so many things that I have experienced in relation to not being able to say what I wanted, being put down, and not always feeling valued by everyone. It also reminds me of the people in my life who have shown me the consideration and care which I appreciate. I was also able, through your paper, to relive my joy on the occasions when I have found my voice and actually been heard (1 March, 1997).
An excellent educational question in my view is: Have you influenced anybody in your teaching, your modelling, your learning? And another question: How? I believe I have done both here in my paper and my correspondence with Etty. No mean claims, I reckon.
I have brought goodness into the world!
And it wasnt just that I wanted to be appreciated by others, though that was important. I wanted above all, as I said when I was pondering who I was of value in this text, to bring goodness into the world in my dealings with others. And so that, too, was one of my criteria, one of my values, and one of my standards of judgement by which you can judge if I have done so. In that instance, my world was that of my relationship with Jim and with Etty. And she was in no doubt that I had applied my standard of goodness to my actions. And in making my argument about bringing goodness into the world I echo what Etty confirmed, that I did indeed offer gestures of approval, of affirmation, of remembering, of intimacy' to which she added:
'And, Ben, you do that. Last December I received the usual Christmas cards from friends and family, but there was one that I wasn't expecting - it was from you. I didn't realise the relevance at the time but now I do, thank you for remembering me.'
I believe that making gestures of affirmation, of remembering, of intimacy, come from a desire to exercise goodness towards others, to be a good man, existentially in contemplation but also when I am with others. And I believe that is what Etty saw in me personally and in my writing - the explanations of my goodness offered by a good man! And I nod in recognition when I hear Okri (1997) saying:
The way we see the other is connected to the way we see ourselves (p. 87).
The way I saw Larry was how I am myself. And the various ways in which Etty described and saw me was also how I was myself. And in Larry I saw goodness. In looking at me and the segment of life that I had revealed, Etty looked and saw the same goodness and saw me as embodying it. I believe I can now say that as a result of what she said in her letters to me. But I also want to spend some time spelling out some of the strands of what I mean by goodness, by being a good man.
Various dictionaries offer definitions of goodness such as the following: virtue, being morally excellent, being kind, being generous, offering what is good or beneficial (Oxford Dictionary, 1995, p. 585). Let me look briefly at the first one here, virtue, which I believe can encompass the other definitions. Here is what MacIntyre (1993) says about virtue:
a virtue is a quality which enables an individual to discharge his or her social role (Homer); a virtue is a quality which enables an individual to move towards the achievement of the specifically human telos (Gk. for end), whether natural or supernatural (Aristotle, the New Testament and Aquinas); a virtue is a quality which has utility in achieving earthly and heavenly success (Franklin) (p. 185)
And he goes on to argue that it might appear that there is no single, core conception of virtue that will attract universal allegiance. Nevertheless, there are certain features of social or moral life from the historical context from which each is drawn.
In the Homeric account, virtue is secondary to ones social role. In Aristotles account virtue is secondary to that of the good life for man conceived as the telos (end) of human action. And in Franklins account virtue is secondary to that of utility (p. 186). Whatever the features, social or moral, of the virtues, it is necessary, MacIntyre says (p. 187) that they have a background of practice, a narrative order of a single life and also a moral tradition. There must also, he warns, be a telos (end), an overarching reason for their practice.
In fact he goes further and seeks that there be at least one virtue which can only be explained in the context of the wholeness of a human life, what he calls the virtue of integrity or constancy. And he goes on to tell us that integrity for Kierkegaard was Purity of heart, meaning to will one thing. And that offers me some help in terms of what I mean by exercising goodness: I will the good of the other with whom I am in encounter. And I am satisfied not to attempt to prescribe definitions for universal use, as MacIntyre does. I like the idea of my goodness, of my attempting to be a good man to be described as integrity, as constancy, as having a pure heart. And I dont necessarily mean having MacIntyres notion of it having a function in making my life a unity (p. 203). If that happens, so be it. But I am more interested in exercising my facility for goodness towards others existentially in each situation and context in which I find myself. Mine is a developmental idea as opposed to MacIntyres desire for a telos, not in the sense that I decry that but in my sense that I believe I have to continually create goodness as I am exercising it. It is not for me an inexorable law that I exercise on each occasion that arises. No, it is that because I deeply love those for whom I am responsible, that fact in itself will draw forth my goodness on each occasion when its exercise is called for.
It is the heart that keeps watch!
Osguthorpe (1996), I believe, comes nearer to what I am saying when he talks about the heart as being the symbol of love and when he talks about my heart keeping watch, looking out for the other to whom I have a responsibility of love:
Just as the heart is the center of truth and of personal freedom, it is also the "seat of love." It is the heart that "keeps watch" and that is "awakened" when someone comes face to face with us ... (Levinas, 1993a).
In passing, could I mention that at the discussion session at the conclusion of my paper (AERA, 1997), Jackie Delong asked me a similar question in two different ways:
When using the appropriate standards of judgement, did you feel that you were increasing your own sense of your worthwhileness?
And because in my original paper, before it was abridged, I had said I am not worthless, Jackie asked:
Ive just one more point. Is there a difference between "I am not worthless" and "I am worthwhile"?
I answered at the time, Oh, there is, yeah. Later in this chapter, however, you will read why I am now able to say strongly, Yes, I am worthwhile! And that is progession and development. I have developed. My sense of my own identity has appreciably increased. And, of course, the fact that I am here able to write about and accept the fact of my own goodness is further evidence of how I have grown as a person!
But listen now with me to how Etty herself described me in her efforts to tell me I am a good man (1 March, 1997). She used a poem that was written by Kathleen Partridge in 1942:
He does not live by standards or by code,
by judgement or the whim of fashions mode,
by proverbs or prosaic words of awe,
nor by convention nor by Natures law.
He is not righteous but a good and kindly man,
who gives his help to anyone he can.
Never denouncing lives that go astray,
but helping in an unobtrusive way.
Mighty deeds come not into his ken
and noble words he leaves to other men.
And yet in life he plays a worthy part.
His greatness lies in the goodness of his heart.
That is not an epitaph for a dead man. I accept it as a hymn of praise for me who is intensely alive. But for me it is more than a hymn of praise, it is also an incentive to try and live up to it, to try and continue spreading goodness as part of my educational endeavour. And always hoping that this goodness enables others to change and improve what they want changed and improved in their lives. And I will know like Lather (1994), that my representation of what I am doing educationally, that is what it is I know and do, will always fall short of my ideal. And that in fact the best form of validity I can apply to it is what she calls ironic validity, that is, that I can best know how valid my account is by its failure to actually represent what I know and how I live. And the irony occurs because what I know and how I live, embodied in my relationships, are living, dynamic and constantly changing and that I can never communicate fully the quality of that embodiment.
And the goodness I want to permeate the encounters, the meetings I have with others neednt be, as I said, grandiose, grandiloquent, noisy. It can be the quiet, small gesture - like my ones. However, it is something I have had to work at over time. I didnt acquire it over night. And the only way I could acquire it was by practising it! It happened in the same way as Etty said I came to solve other problems, that I worked at them, sometimes elegantly, sometimes through mistakes. But I was determined that I wanted to improve something either for myself or others. Regarding my battle with authority and how I represented myself in it, here is how she saw me:
you got the better of things and succeeded ... just quietly explaining himself ... your quiet determination (as opposed to your anger) was shouting to me, "Now listen!"
I didnt know then, of course, that I would want to go further than being determined to get acceptance of myself and of explaining who I am to those in positions of authority. I would also want to be fair and just in my dealings with them. But that is an aspect of my desire to act out of my goodness that I will explain in a later chapter.
Interdependence and freedom
Another focus that arose for me from the sub-heading question, Who am I of value in this text?, was that I wanted and needed to be independent and that Larry's way of living brought it forcibly to my attention. And I also said that that is why I now want to empower, to enable - but only at their behest - others whom I meet in the course of my action research work. I desire to savour independence initially so that I may then know fully what it means to be interdependent. And interdependence is for me linked with my recognition of the inherent value of every human being I meet. And in taking this view I am also declaring that nobody is essentially superior, that is, holding any more value than anybody else. But in attempting to live interdependently I am also declaring that others have individual identities and need to be free to become themselves. In living interdependently, I want to have a strong sense of my self in my relationships with others. And that is similarly what I want for others. In some of my later studies of singularity I will offer you evidence of my work in that regard. And, of course, I already know that all reality is inter-related cosmically (Zappone, 1991). I know that is true as a fact intellectually but the interdependence I am talking about is to do with human relationships, the human relationships that I have and that will I believe, in the fulness of time, bring me and others involved towards wholeness.
One aspect of my movement towards becoming more independent is I believe captured by my efforts at becoming contemplative when I am able to say to myself honestly that I 'face myself in the lonely grounds of my being without fear. And I go on in the paper above to say that:
I am valuing myself and I am working at being as authentic as I can be. My solitude and my silence in my contemplative moments are also, I believe, moving me towards achieving a reconciliation between my inner and my outer self. If you see me being peaceful in interaction - and I believe you are - it is happening because I am now loving myself inside and out.
And enabling others to become independent so that they may more completely become themselves is one of my educational goals, one which you will see more evidence of in my work with others as this thesis progresses. And, of course, you have seen it also in my encounter with Etty: how she appreciated my growing independence and how she felt my experience of it was useful to herself and those women managers she was working with.
In following Pams line of questioning I have to ask myself about the value, the virtue of independence: what are my criteria, where is the evidence for judging it in action in my life and the lives of others?
I saw it in Larrys life:
Here was this guy who seemed to neglect all the ritual things we were expected to do every day. He just acted totally independently. ... And he was happy in his independence.
I knew, of course, that I was an ambiguous mixture of quite fierce independence and also sycophancy. The sycophancy arose from my feeling that I mightnt be highly regarded by others unless I pleased them. And I despised myself for that. However, Larrys death and my learning from it convinced me that if I were to grow and develop as much as possible as a person I would have to find ways to exercise my independence. And I felt I would need to do so in ways that questioned some of my experiences of oppression. And Etty noticed what I had done in that regard. And I exercised my independence also by taking action regarding my own future when I said towards the end of my paper that I wanted to see how, in my negotiations about a possible future job in my previous place of employment, I (could) protect my independence, my hard-won level of self-esteem, my desire to be appreciated? And I went on to ask: And how do I negotiate so as to get my needs met and end up still respecting the other person in the dialogue while not agreeing with them or with how they have negotiated? And my answer doesnt seek only independence per se but also a desire:
to end up being at peace. Holding to my equanimity. Feeling good about myself, feeling appreciation for myself. My self-esteem, authenticity and integrity intact. And maybe having to find a different arena in which to work for others!
And that is what eventually happened. I ended up at peace with myself but having ended the negotiations on the grounds that it was unlikely that I would get my requests met. And my correspondent agreed that that was the case and that he had in fact not entered into negotiations about a possible job in the future. He was perhaps really keeping his options open. However, it is not the negotiations per se that are now important. Rather is it that I entered into them in a spirit of reconciliation but also with a desire to get my own independence recognised. And I reckon that the action of seeking to be independent has in itself enabled me to become more independent. I will be offering evidence in some of my studies of singularity to show how it has helped me to enable others to seek it as a means of overcoming difficulties in their lives. And in my paper to BERA (1997) I speak also about fracture and fragmentation in peoples lives which has left them weak, wounded and frail. Seeking ways of becoming independent at least mentally, is something I work with them to achieve. And the fruits of some of this work will be seen in my later studies of singularity also.
But I want to pause here to consider what it is existentially about independence that is important to me. To answer that in a way I find meaningful I need to think of independence as freedom. Internally in my mind I am free and I am not free! What do I mean by the latter part?
I notice from time to time that my mind repeats old scripts. That I was unloved, that I was treated badly here or there. And I come to the conclusion that I am occasionally captivated by the past, by repetitious compulsions, by neurotic obsessions, all phantoms from the immediate or distant past. And I have prejudices and stereotypes that I darent advertise. And they are inane, destructive and wrong. And sometimes Im afraid theyll break out when I am weak. So how do I free myself from these unconscious forces that have perhaps conditioned me in ways I consciously despise? (Keen, 1994, pp. 21-22).
It is not entirely clear how I may do it. However, there are two grounds for hope. Firstly, all the great religions and spiritualities talk about grace, liberation, being born again, awakening from illusion. All of these ideas indicate that I can transcend my past and move on to new things. And that is the essence of what I have discovered in action research: that I can and do change, do improve what I am thinking and doing. And when I said above that I am also free, that is what I meant. Later in section four of this chapter you will read what John Fisher (Perth, Australia) said to me after the Spirituality Conference in London (June, 1997), and what Peter Taylor (Curtin University, Perth) said to me in various e-mails. And I believe that they are both - and others, too - offering me the gift of freedom, the freedom to believe in my better nature! Of that I am sure. During the course of researching and writing this PhD I have been discovering my spirit, my source of energy, with the help of others. That in itself is helping me to make myself free. And each time somebody reaches out to me I become freer. And I believe I can point to some evidence in some of my studies of singularity to show that perhaps some of those I reach out to are themselves beginning to become freer, too. And I believe you will have seen some instances of this, too, in my previous paper (BERA, 1997).
In my reference to peace and equanimity as spiritual values in the sub-heading question, Who am I of value in this text?, you will I believe see evidence for their presence in my negotiations about a job in my previous place of employment. In those negotiations I exchanged letters over a period of five months. During that exchange I took great care that my letters were models of openness and fairness towards the person I was dealing with. I wished to deeply respect the person I was dealing with. That this is so will be shown in a later chapter when I open up the substance of our correspondence to scrutiny. And I am doing so to show that I have grown and developed as a person from the time two years ago when I wrote angry letters to people I believed, rightly or wrongly, had ill-treated me. In any case I believe that one of the fruits of this development is the growth in peace and equanimity within me and between me and others I deal with. And this is some of the intrapersonal and interpersonal harmony I mentioned earlier I have been desirous of acquiring. And that its acquistion would enable me to have a firmer sense of my own identity.
And peace apparently is the fruit of efforts, such as mine to deal with my previous employer in a fair and just way. Listen with me to what Matthew (1995) says in talking about peace, community and consolation:
Peace comes, if we are looking not to feel peaceful, but to work for justice. Community comes, if what we want is, not to feel togetherness, but to serve. Consolation comes, if we seek not to be consoled, but to be faithful (p. 64).
And the last point, consolation, I believe I have received that, too, as gift, because I have endeavoured in my new dealings with others to be authentic, an authenticity which embraces the concepts of justice and fairness. And for me peace is connected with healing, both of mind and of body. And I believe that the reason I am beginning to possess peace is because I have been healed. And I have been healed because I have forgiven myself. And I have reached out, too, to forgive those who I believe alienated me and who I have alienated. And peace has come! The opposite of peace is anxiety and stress. And it seems that they arise because of a lack of self-awareness, unresolved hurts in life, or repressed feelings of fear, anger, guilt, resentment, etc. (Collins, 1992, p. 162). Now it seems to me that I have been healed from much of this kind of angst. And later in other chapters in my thesis you will read of how I am progressing my desire for peace and equanimity.
Now it seems to me that many of these areas I have touched on here in answer to Pams question have involved my educational development. However, I am devoting some more space to this very question, what is educational in this chapter? in answer to Zoes question about that very topic.
How are you being educational?
In terms of the questioning that took place at the end of my presentation at AERA (1997) Zoe Parker asked:
I think theres another way of putting the same (Pams) question ... is to ask you to make very explicit exactly why this is educational? You never spell out for us exactly why it should matter to us, why it is educational for us to read it?
In looking at Larrys life as it was nearing its end what is more educational for me to say than that I now saw qualities in his life and impending death which I felt I could use in my own life to help me make sense of it? And that that caused me to re-look at some fundamental human values and attempt to show how I am integrating them in my own approach to living and knowing in my life and work in education. The values I had seen from looking at what I took to be the essence of Larrys life, I am appropriating and using to live a good and productive life. And from this and other chapters I am writing you will see what is of value to me emerging in my relationships with others, as in my relationship also with Larry and indeed Etty.
My response to Larrys life and Ettys response to me is educational. And I am now wanting in the rest of this chapter to open up to the reader the meanings that Im discovering to educational. And I start with saying that educational means for having a spirit of open enquiry, discovering no final answers, only interim ones. And within the openness of my enquiry, I am also discovering what I am valuing. I am constantly then on a quest in search of answers. And my educational research is learning rather than teaching. And in support of this contention I want to paraphrase a paragraph from McNiff (1993) because I believe it gives a beautiful picture of what I mean by learning which for me is also about my development as a person:
I am convinced of the need ... to appreciate the power of my I, when that I engages in the proces of his own development; of the power of my I to create my own understanding. This power allows me to apply my educational practices to the process of transforming my life and the lives of others. If I am not happy with a situation, I change it. My educational knowledge is the process whereby I know why and how I transform my life. ... In order to do this, I must be free, socially, intellectually and spiritually (p. 4).
And I believe that that is what I have been doing in my AERA paper. I have been learning from Larry and applying it in my various practices, not least in my replies to my previous employer. In doing the latter I have been trying to free myself spiritually as well, of course, as exercising fairness and justice in my dealings with him, values which until now I thought I should be receiving.
And my learning, my educational development is also tentative (Lomax, 1996); it will never, as Lather (1994) points out, achieve its final state. And that makes me vulnerable in that I lack knowledge, I am always constructing my personal knowledge and am willing to admit that to others as in the instance of my AERA paper and this chapter.
In talking about creating and testing educational theory and the language(s) I use to represent and explain it, I am also answering Zoes quesion about why my AERA paper is educational. In testing my educational theory to do with spirituality, I am attempting to offer a more appropriate form than perhaps exists at present for my educational development as an individual (Whitehead in Lomax, 1996). And it has been moved forward by considering how my representation of my data as description has within its form and language some of the power to explain what is inherently spiritual in my life and work. And I believe this is so because the language I use tends to appeal to the feelings, to the emotions, to the heart. And you already saw Etty being touched by it, making sense of it and then explaining the sense she made of it to me. And in this section and in section four it is my turn to explain it to myself and to the academy.
While using a felt, experienced explanation - can I call it that? - I know also, of course, that I have to - and am indeed using - a conceptual, intellectual propositional explanation, an explanation which primarily appeals to the mind. It is a language which is normally tight and precise. However, because spiritual criteria appeal mainly to the heart, to emotion and is about creating empathy, a looser and perhaps repetitious language is also desirable, a language that weaves its way in and around the emotions in different ways. However, I am attempting in this third section and also in the fourth section of this chapter to alert you to the importance in my view of holding both description and explanation, descriptive raw data and its explanation together in a creative tension which sees equal merit, even if for different reasons, in both.
Just one point though about Whiteheads desire for educational theory to be constituted by the living forms of explanation which I am producing for my own educational development as a learner in enquiries of the kind, How do I live my values more fully in my practice? I do not impute here or later that living forms of explanation are constiuted only by felt experienced language. No, I am saying only that felt language and propositional language taken together supply this need. However, I would have difficulty trying to convince you of the bona fides of my claim to believing out of spiritual values and using spiritual standards of judgement if I eschewed, totally or even partly, a felt experienced language in favour of a propositional, conceptual and intellectual language only. And so I try to use both in my explanation, even if the propositional language predominates.
But let me return for a moment to another kind of educational question I was not asked at the end of my AERA paper and that I believe also merits attention.
May your creative questions be both affective and intellectual!
I would have hoped that my form of data representation, which is non-linear and affective and that deals with different non-sequenced human stories, would have increased the variety and type of questions that could have been asked about the educative situations evoked in it. And when I talk about variety and type, I have in mind both academic-type questions and affective-type questions that arise out of peoples humanity as they view a representation of a slice of real life!
Do you, for example, see in the paper a series not only of discontinuities and fragmentation, but also of life and death issues evocative of real life in the segments of my own life that are being described and explained? And what do these mean to you existentially in your own life? Do you see the paper therefore as more than a text to be analysed and synthesised but also as cameos of lives perhaps to be reverenced, respected and rejoiced in? And is there a way of putting that in research terms in your view, which is the same or different from the way I have done it?
In asking these questions, however, I do not wish to constrain you or to ask you to suspend your critical faculties. Rather am I trying to persuade you to see with the eyes of your humanity as well as with your intellect. I am asking you to rejoice in the messy humanity depicted and how the persons described changed and improved themselves and something within their situations. And I am asking you to do all of this as well as leaping into the more academic, intellectual form of critique! In any case these affective-type questions were not asked of me at the discussion session at the end of my presentation. More is the pity! As you no doubt noticed, only the academic-type questions were asked, perhaps indicating that rigour and propositional knowledge is still more appreciated even among action researchers than any other kind! And I think therefore that it will be interesting to note later in this chapter what John Fisher (Perth, Australia) and Peter Taylor (Curtin University, Perth, Australia) give as answers to unasked questions about my AERA paper. And I suggest that their unasked questions were somewhat like those I have just posed here! But see for yourself if you agree that asking these particular types of personal, empathic questions may also be a fruitful avenue for exploration.
Being in dialogue encourages me!
While I will be talking about the educational value of dialogue as a part of my action research methodology in a later chapter, I want to begin my explanation here in this section. In a recent paper I presented (BERA, 1997) I referred to it as my dynamic unit of action in dialogue. What do I mean by that?
While I represent my research as being in the living educational theory mode, my unit of appraisal is not primarily my I as a living contradiction in questions of the kind, How do I improve what I am doing? - although it is that, too! My unit of appraisal consists of a dialectical relationship involving my I in dialogue with the others You. And my claim is grounded in my belief in a personal God, a God I embrace with others in dialogue. And while I believe my dialogic unit of appraisal (including my I), is useful to others, I believe it will be particularly useful to those who live their lives through faith in relation to God. And in a later chapter I will describe and explain, both propositionally and from a living, experiential values stance, my relationship with God and how it interweaves with my relationship with others and how important dialogue is in these contexts.
And so I use my dynamic unit of action (in dialogue) to communicate my spiritual standards of judgement which are intimately linked to this fundamental unit of relation. And in this and in later chapters I will be describing and explaining at least some of the living form of my dynamic unit of action in dialogue. And so below, I am offering some relational aspects of it but also the various language forms it takes. And this is, I believe educational in Zoes terms also. But often it does not begin in dialogue but monologue.
In communicating to Etty by letter (6.3.97) I am doing so through monologue. Her answer, however, is the beginning of engagement, of encounter and of dialogue! And my obligation I felt was to communicate my part of the dialogue in a way that would continue to encourage her to take the actions she said was going to take on behalf of others. And so I felt I had to take great care with my language. It would I felt, have to be a language of the heart because I wanted to touch her heart and her soul. And trying to do so is my way of respecting as well as finding a way of motivating. Below in an early part of my communication I am endeavouring to explain from my heart the importance I attach to various spiritual values. And my explanation and the type of felt, experienced language I use and my motivation are all, I believe, educational:
Yes, I'm glad now to be learning the importance of making 'gestures of approval, of affirmation, of remembering, of intimacy'. They are for me now symbols of love, of making an effort to reach out to others, of empathising deeply with people. That is the way I not only want myself to be, it is also now a way that I find happening frequently as you pointed out. And yes, a part of my spirituality is certainly strongly relational in a way that attempts to show others their potentiality and possibility; to enable them to feel good about themselves. I now know deep within myself that everybody deserves to be appreciated simply because they are human. Nobody, I believe, should have to earn appreciation. I hold that as something sacred I now carry around with me in my mind and heart and, hopefully, in my actions. And when I err and contradict myself, I want to negate it as quickly as possible.
In some of my extracts from my last letter to Etty I am using the language of visual metaphysics. In using this term I accept that it means the philosophy of being and knowing, the philosophy of the mind. That it uses abstract or subtle talk and so is about abstract theorising. However, even if this is so, I am using it because I want to see in what way I can articulate meanings that are not yet clear to me practically but are somehow to do with the sacred. And maybe the sacred contains meanings of things that are visionary and are not easily explicable. And so I am using this language as a device to attempt to contribute depth to the meanings of my meetings and encounters in dialogue that my studies in singularity have and will continue to have, much to say about.
And in this letter to Etty I want to endorse what she said she already knew, I saw your paper as providing a balance between the love and caring that you were experiencing ... and that you are also "becoming real" and showing us what that is like. And a part of my reality is the importance I place on my love and awe in the presence of people. And so I am inserting this letter extract below because, while it is not dialogue in the formal sense, it is a form of the contemplation I not infrequently use in the moment of entering into dialogue with others. It emphasises and explains my concept of presence. So let me say something about presence then, and after that give you the letter extract, using the form of visual metaphysics in both cases in my explanation of what I was attempting to do.
A part of presence for me consists in looking with my real eyes or with the eyes of my imagination at others. I frequently receive deep consolation from knowing that I am present to the other, if not in body, then in mind, that I am being remembered. Etty already mentioned my propensity for remembering, even in tangible ways. And so the other is present to me, at least in mind, I can picture them in my mind through my thoughts and through my prayers. And it matters to me how I see other people. Even though such looking and seeing may not be dialogic in the sense of physical presence and may not even be mutual simply because others are not present to me physically but through my pictured remembering, I still want to treat them with the eye of my mind with respect. And I am aware that a loving wise gaze can cherish while a contemptuous gaze can wither. I know also that a look of hatred may cause psychological damage! And here below is another part of the contemplative piece I wrote to Etty in which I believe I am using visual metaphysics also to convey a sense of vision of what could be - for her:
You are right to feel wonder and awe. I feel it, too, but mostly about people. I am often staggered with wonderment at how people cope with what life seems to throw at them. And it isn't only wonderment, it's also delight that there are so many around who have apparently come through so much torment and suffering and are still waiting and working for others.
And I want to pause here to give you some of my present best understandings of what I believe the contemplative aspects of my spirituality, which I am also calling mysticism, is about. And I am doing it because I will be presenting another segment of my letter to Etty and the quasi-mystical way in which it is written may then be better understood. And so here is a summary of my present thoughts about my contemplative spirituality, my mysticism.
Coming to explain my spirituality, my mysticism and how I represent it
I want to take some time to try and explain what I presently mean by my contemplative spirituality or mysticism. And I want also to attempt to explain the language I use to represent it. And when I am finished you will know there is still more to be said than Ive said here. But I will return to it in my thesis later, particularly in the chapter where I talk about my relationship with God, and in the light of that and of further experience. Suffice it for the moment to use some broad brush strokes, an outline of what my present meanings are. And it is, of necessity, an abstract, conceptual, propositional explanation.
Let me start with knowledge and my consciousness of it. Basically, I am conscious of two worlds, an outer and an inner. My outer one consists of material phenomena which I perceive with my senses. My inner world consists of thoughts, emotions and feelings. And the inner may be unknown and perhaps unknowable and I refer to that as noumena (Happold, 1963/1970).
And so I can talk about matter which is outside me and spirit which is inside me. And my experience helps me to be conscious of what I name matter and spirit (ibid). But what they are in their essences, how they are interconnected, I just dont know. But one thing I do know is that I have an insatiable desire and curiosity to explore my experience of what is inside, of what is spirit. Why? Because I know that what is inside strongly motivates my external actions. And I admit that there is no particular reason, logical or otherwise, to start with the inside, with my inner experience. It is just that I have been doing so for many years. And it includes my consciousness of my God within. And I believe that I am trying to interpret, to some extent at least, my experience of the outer world in the light of it. And I cannot prove whatever I discover. I can only say for myself that I believe it on faith. I make an act of intellectual faith in it, though other elements may enter in - and Ill talk about these as well here. In any case I make this choice with my mind, a rational decision, whether consciously or unconsciously (ibid).
But a good question for me now to ask is - even if I cant prove it - can I validate my inner knowledge and how? And by validation I am partly meaning is it right for me? Later I will also be trying to describe my inner knowledge as a value and how it can be used as a form of validity! But to return to the act of faith I make. It is based on my understanding of my reflections on my experience. And I acknowledge that my experience is not only personal, not only interior, it is also influenced by my cultural history and indeed by my present as well as my past cultural history of which I am a part. And so I am influenced by my outer world as well as by my inner one and by action researchers and others whom I encounter. I believe there is a symbiotic relationship between this outer and my inner world. One without the other doesnt really exist for me.
Prior to making an act of faith in my knowledge of my inner world I need to attempt to come to an understanding of it, which is part of my way of validating it. And I can do that in two ways. I can rationalise about it. I can use propositional statements based on my analysis and subsequent synthesis of what I understand. And I can also use a method which is perhaps more profound. It is a method of knowing and understanding based on my intuition, on my creative insight, on my imagination, on vision as in metaphysical language. These are the worlds and words of the mystic, the poet, and indeed of many philosophers and, indeed, of the scientist. And I believe I am at least on the edge of it and may even be inside it!
But first, rationalisation. I do that by making propositional statements, consisting of logical analysis. And I work it from point to consecutive point, which is what I do in much of my thesis. And this helps to illumine the stages of my thinking, my reflecting and acting.
There is another form of language
However, there is also a parallel kind of thinking and understanding and writing, the one used by mystics, used by those talking about inner knowledge. And here the emphasis is on the insights of intuition, of imagination. And sometimes they may have the appearance of something given, something apparently unanalysable. And sometimes also, they appear to be a sort of a revelation coming from something outside me. My mind, which may have appeared to be passive, makes a sudden leap. And what has been obscure, at least to me, becomes clear. What were disconnected fragments for me, fall into place, are understood, are integrated, take on a pattern. And it may be difficult for me to analyse the synthesis that has presented itself to me. And if I do I may dispel my understanding of mystery, my insight into intuition, my excursion into my imagination. In any case I find myself accepting my understanding of what I perceive with my inner eye even though I may have difficulty in articulating it verbally or in writing. Using felt and visual metaphysical language enables me to do so to some extent.
Some propositional explanations
But now I come to the question, why do I want to understand my inner world of spirituality, of mysticism? And why do I feel this present urge to explain it as a form of knowledge? Whence does it spring? For me, my contemplative spirituality is a form of mysticism which, to paraphrase The Concise Oxford Dictionary (1995) is about:
My search through contemplation and self-surrender to become unified by identifying with or becoming absorbed in God, who for me is the ultimate reality. It also means that I believe I can come to apprehend spiritual truths that would normally be beyond my understanding. And it includes what is mysterious and awe-inspiring (p. 900).
But my mysticism, my spirituality, hasnt got a completely unworldly meaning such as appears to be the case in my paraphrase above. No, it has a worldly and extremely important other dimension for me too. And it is to do with the quality of love, care, respect, attention and compassion I want to offer others so that they may be emboldened, be empowered to change and improve something in their lives and work. But how do I incorporate that into what I said about spirituality, about mysticism above? That is part of what my thesis is about. However, I do want to offer here some ideas on how I see them becoming united. And then you can track with me my development of my understanding of how they are becoming united in my practical theory as I move through my thesis.
Becoming unified with God
A part of my deep desire to be unified with God is to do with my separateness. It is a way of overcoming the prison of my separateness. My love for others with whom I work is another part of my effort to overcome the prison of my separateness. And it is connected too with knowledge. I want to know myself, I want to know the other. I want to know what Fromm (1957/1995) calls the secret of man (sic). And yet the further I am allowed to penetrate into the lives and souls of others in my work, the more the goal of learning the secret eludes me. Some have felt they could learn it by exercising power over others by making them do what they want, feel what they want, think what they want. The other then becomes a thing. And so they never arrive at what the soul is. And so I agree with Fromms conclusion that the secret is love. And the only way to knowledge-love of the other is through union. But of what kind? And Ill come back to that presently.
But this question of union is parallel for me with the problem of knowing God. I can show my knowledge of God by making statements about God. I can know God in my thought. However, through my contemplative spirituality, through my mysticism, I am attempting to move from merely knowing God by my thinking, to the experience of knowing him through union with him. And I believe I have momentarily been able to do it even though I cant offer clear evidence for it. However, I believe these two types of knowing move backwards and forwards rather like Bubers I-Thou, I-It distinctions. The point is that I am capable of and occasionally receive glimpses I believe of God. But I will be returning to this form of contemplative spirituality and of knowing in a later chapter where the predominant form of my writing will be dialogic. And in it I will also be attempting to indicate that for me in the final analysis, my ultimate aim, among some other things, is not in having the right belief, but the right action (Fromm, p. 61).
And so now let me return to the practical, outer dimension of my spirituality, to the kind of relationship I wish to have with those I work with. It is not a relationship of union such as I believe I have and sometimes experience with God. Neither is it an erotic relationship, one where there is physical union. No, the relationship I try to have with those I work with - and sometimes experience having - is what I call communion. It is a relationship where I am constantly endeavouring to move towards a common shared vision with the other. But what keeps me in communion is not that the other and I have a shared vision but that we are desirous of moving towards one. And to enable us to achieve communion there is an attempt at loving one another as equals. And the communion and love I try and exhibit and live is inclusive, that is open to all those I meet. And my love for others is not just about feelings, it is one where there is an attitude of love. And I show this, as I said in my previous chapter, by my care, including compassion, respect, responsibility and knowledge.
My present question
So my question for myself now is: how can I come to know and understand God in my work of unity with him/her so that my life of love and work with others both manifests and creates that love and communion? That is my present best understanding of how I can bring the inside and the outside of my life together in a living and creative synthesis that does justice to both aspects of my belief system, my love for God and my love for others.
And now back to the language I wish to use at least occasionally to convey the nature of my enquiry as I have just articulated it. I need to continue attempting to articulate the hidden meanings of the life of my spirit that includes my intuition, my creative insight, my imagination, the visionary aspects of me. And all of these are vehicles attempting to explain how I am bringing my inner and my outer life together in a creative synthesis which will be understood. But what language will I use to do it?
I need to use the language of rationalisation, of propositional statements for explanatory purposes. But I need also to use a language of emotion, of affectivity, of imagination, and also of visual metaphysics. And I want to stress also that my attempts at analysing the language of emotion and affectivity will not always convey precisely what I want it to convey. Because my language, attempting to explain something of the meaning of my spirituality which embraces God and others, while conveying meaning in affective, imaginative and creative language, will also be attempting to create an atmosphere, a meaning in the emotion that will not depend on words (Gardner, 1993, p. 97). And how do I know, as the creator of a particular atmosphere that you know what that is? And so I feel my language of emotion and affectivity will be calling attention to itself (ibid), in my efforts to explain, if I can, the atmosphere(s) of my contemplative spirituality so that you might more clearly understand it from as many vantages points as possible. While accepting pehaps, that the most I can really do is to say what it is about through the actions of my practice and my reflections and justification of such. However, I have been attempting, and will continue to attempt, to do both.
Why is dialogue important to me?
But now back to my letter to Etty (6.3.97). I wrote a section of it in a form of language that I am calling both visually metaphysical and mystical. It is metaphysical in that it contains abstract, visionary language. And it is mystical in that I believe there are overtones in it of a desire for unity which may be dipolar, pointing on the one hand at God and on the other at Etty. In any case I believe it is an effort from my inside out trying to convey deep inner beliefs which I dont fully understand yet and it is anticipating in joyful language the experience of encounters, of dialogue to come in the future:
It is in people for me, more than in nature or art or whatever, that I find mystery. Nobody, including yourself, will ever fully know the wonder of the mystery that you are. That is some of what makes me want to live each day now. I mightn't meet anybody to talk to for five or six days but I live in joyous anticipation of the next encounter. It makes me look forward in hope. And that is what's so wonderful. And I believe too that, by and large, I have simplified my life down to that, to looking forward to each encounter. And this needn't be full of uplifting talk or whatever. No, it's just the joy of encountering, of being with. That doesn't mean, for one moment, that there won't be people I meet who haven't become a 'presence' to me.
And in my portion of my letter below to Etty I am applying the word mystery to people, meaning that for me they are irreducible to what is known. And to metaphysical and mystical language I use in this extract below, I am now adding the idea of mystery which is clearly also metaphysical. And in using visual metaphsical and mystical language, among other things, I am wanting to indicate my respect for people, including Etty. And in taking care to use different forms of language I believe I am not only showing my respect but actually demonstrating it, practising it. Here below then is my letter extract:
The most important thing for me is this: I am constantly meeting people who are of mystery and from whom I will learn a bit better about how to live. There may be no extravagant gestures, words or deeds, but, mysteriously, there will be that 'something' I can't define but that I am calling 'mystery' that tells me that they 'know'; that they've learnt something really worth learning. The learning may have come from suffering or it may not. Who really knows? But these people are palpably at peace with themselves and with the world. They're in love with themselves and with others. I believe I meet them frequently. I don't know that they know that this is some of what their 'mystery' is. But I am rejoicing each time I see it, detect it and then I'm able to say: 'My God, it's wonderful to be alive'. And what if all isn't hunky-dory in their lives. They are still projecting a 'presence' that knows, that has lived, that is now at ease with itself. I wish I was a poet so that I could convey some of what at times I see, hear, touch, taste and smell when I'm with people!
And despite my efforts at elegance of language, a language that attempts to be lyrical, metaphysical and mystical, I still fail to capture the essence of my contemplative thoughts about the joy of dialogue with others and some of the reasons for it. And so again I am constrained to agree with Lather (1994) when she says, in explaining ironic validity, that I am destined to continuosly fail in trying to represent what it is that I know and do. Because my relationships are living, dynamic and constantly changing, the irony is that I can never communicate fully the knowledge which I embody in my living reality. And so I am achieving this form of validity by failing to achieve it. But failure ensures that I keep on trying to represent my living, dynamic educational relationships, my spirituality in ways such as I have outlined in this chapter. And the rest of my studies of singularity in my thesis will continue to explicate as best I can what I live and know in my educational practice.
By reflexivity I am meaning my reflection on my previous and present reflection. That is, I am now thinking about the thinking I have done in section three of this chapter and that I will be doing here also. In doing so I believe I am developing my arguments further and in some cases, bringing new arguments to bear both on my AERA paper and on my critique of it, which was enormously helped by the questions I was asked by my audience. And I am also creating some theory around my explanation for the meaning of raw data, even though it sounds like repetition because it is based on the answers I gave to the questions I was asked at the end of my AERA paper. It is augmented also, however, by references to a paper Eisner (1997) wrote for Educational Researcher (August-September).
And so in order to become reflexive, I am returning again to the paper I gave at AERA (1997) and considering its importance as raw data. And yes, it is raw data to be interrogated. And in wondering about the meaning of data, I want to consider briefly the title given to a symposium organised by the Self-Study of Teacher Educator Practices, Special Interest Group at the Annual Conference of AERA 24-28 March 1997. The title of the symposium was Alternative (Re)presentations of Data: issues of the Moral, the Ethical and the Aesthetic and presenting at it were Bob Donmoyer, Ohio State University; Tom Russell, Queens University, Ontario; Jean Clandinin, University of Alberts; Gary Knowles, University of Toronto; Tom Holman, Brigham Young University. And in passing, I believe that the spiritual as an issue, as a standard of judgement should be added to the title. I am also noting that the presenters of this topic are perhaps emphasising description more than explanation - while not excluding it. And the latter is I believe the academic and educational end for which I am basically striving in my action enquiries. And I know also that Donmayer et al, are making their presentation to highlight alternatives to the normative standards for presenting research.
But what is my attitude towards data presentation? I deeply appreciate my own lingering at representation as description because I see its meaning, like my values which are my standards of judgement, changing and developing given time, space and reflection. For myself, I need a long slow introduction, via data representation and description, before I am ready for extended concentration on explanation. And description as a form of representation of my data that includes both form and content, gives me the time, space and incentive to then explain. My initial explanations are usually comparatively simple. Having reflected on my data I write my explanations which are really an analysis which I expect to change, maybe even contradict, later in my thesis. Then I have to pause to think about the explanation I have given which then causes me to want to change or deepen the explanation. That is, I want now to move towards synthesis which, of course, is wider than my original explanation as I was closely analysing the data. And so my efforts towards deeper and deeper explanation moves forward in what I could call circular spirals, but spirals that go up and down, backwards and forwards. And so I move up and down, forward and back. And so I may never be able to offer a final, definitive explanation, but only come to a plausable explanation based on my various forms of validation, an explanation that is like McNiffs (1993), my present best thinking (p.1).
Representation and my educational understanding
And my form for representing my data allowed me to offer a first layer of explanation, a layer that enabled me to illuminate the educational world we wish to understand (Eisner, p. 4). And that for me is extremely important. But the educational world I am talking about is my own one. It is not necessarily a generalisable one. I not only want to understand my own educational world but I also want to find a way of (re)presenting it to you, the reader, through my ordering of my data in a way which is attractive to you, is aesthetic, so that you will be enabled to get on the inside of the meaning of what I am (re)presenting.
Aesthetically, I wanted to present my data as a taster, as an aperitif, as something to stimulate your appetite for more extended explanation. And by that I am meaning that my form of representation of my data and my descriptions do not exclude explanation. However, it was more implict than explicit at this stage. And my need is to move from description to explanation slowly. Why? I find it difficult to come up with explanations immediately. And that is so because it seems to me that research explantions are, by and large, propositional. And the propositional normally calls for clear conceptual statements, statements that are logical and even sequential in the sense that perhaps all knowledge is one. And maybe it is difficult to conceive of oneness or unity except in logical and sequential statements?
But why am I emphasising propositional thinking so strongly here? I am presenting a Ph.D. thesis to the academy in which propositional explanations are considered to be essential. And while I accept that, it doesnt mean that I am going to exclude other forms of explanation. However, I do want to explain to myself the degree of essentiality of propositional explanation in my thesis. It seems that my educational knowledge, which I am building up in this thesis, will be subject to verification procedures, some of which will be self-chosen as, for example, the values I use as my standards of judgement, that enable me to partly critique and explain my thesis. In propositional terms, though, justification or verification is tied up, as Eisner acknowledges, with matters of truth. Truth is related to claims, and claims cannot be made without making assertions. Assertions, in turn, require propositions ... (p. 7). However, I will also be trying to show that matters of truth and matters of values do not just exist as propositions but as felt lived experiences in how I live and know in my life and work in education. And it is for this reason that my efforts at a form of representation that grips your imagination by its descriptive power, if not paramount, is at least of very great importance in my view. In making my claims I will be making assertions, of course, and I will be partly explaining these assertions propositionally but also as living standards of judgement in how I live and know in my life and work in education. And these different forms of explanation will be my way of acknowledging, among other things, the importance of rigour, but also of my form of epistemology. And I will return in a later chapter to my explanation of my epistemology. What then are some of my personal arguments regarding the intellectual and conceptual which are the sine qua non of propositional explanations?
For me personally, the conceptual, the intellectual is always secondary to the affective, secondary to my emotions, to my felt experience. My intellectual ideas develop over a period of time and they appear to me to go through a series of events before they become mine, before I can appropriate them. And in that time-lapse I am trying to be a person of integrity, to be honest and sincere in my appraisal of my intellectual thoughts. If my emotions, my feelings, my instincts accept them as fitting in with my experience then I can and do accept them. If, however, they still remain strangers to my emotions, my feelings and if my experiences do not know them, well then, I cannot accept them, I cannot entertain them further. And if on occasions I appear to accept them, I do so only because of my respect for the source from which they emanate. In the fulness of time, I will wish to reject and overthrow them when my sense of integrity appeals to me for arbitration at the peril of losing it. And so it is with no little appreciation that I embrace the notion of being a living contradiction. I appear to accept some external conceptual ideas, some external intellectual ideas as values, as small truths if you like. I can entertain them even when I know they are negating who I believe myself to be. Eventually, in order to maintan my integrity, I reject and replace them with my own form of existential truth, be it in a self-appropriated intellectual form or in an affective form or one form accompanied or interpenetrated by the other.
My emotional intelligence
I rarely hesitate to absorb, to appropriate emotional, affective ideas, because I feel I have lived with both of them, interiorly and exteriorly, all my life. They are a lifetimes house-guests, guests of my interior which I call home. They are familiar, you see. I dont have to doff my hat to them, be polite in their presence. And its not that they own me or that I am beholden to them even when I allow them to disport themselves, as they sometimes will. My instincts trust them. They have always been my touchstones to reality, the real guides to my life. And while I will not be entering a full-scale defence of emotions here suffice it to say for the present that one of the gifts I have which I prize highly, and which I will refer to again shortly, is empathy. And in my work with others I use empathy which is at least partly the source of my altruism. And as Goleman (1996) says, the root of altruism lies in empathy, the ability to read emotions in others; lacking a sense of anothers need or despair, there is no caring (p. xii). And without caring, compassion and empathy I believe my explanations of my spiritual values in my thesis would be seriously deficient. And that doesnt mean that I never check my emotions, my feelings, my instincts with others. Because I am a researcher who respects rigour in its intellectual and other garbs as a form of validation, I do check my thoughts, feelings and instincts with others. And you will see how I do that throughout my thesis and, not least here, where I have taken the questions of others seriously and, not only dealt with them, but also absorbed them into this chapter in my explanation.
But before I return to my relationship with the intellectual, with the conceptual, I want also to emphasise that my emotional intelligence (ibid) embraces zeal and persistence, the ability to motivate myself, and that leads me towards my moral instincts in my relationship with others. While I am sure that the intellectual and conceptual can enlighten me about the pros and cons of the adoption of these stances, can offer me propositional knowledge, I am not persuaded that it can be the moral agent that motivates me in my caring, compassion and empathy which are essential ingredients of my spiritual values. And so I believe my emotional intelligence is a surer guide for me to my exercise of spiritual values than intellectual and conceptual intelligence.
Do you know how I see?
Regarding intellectual ideas then, I am initially guarded. My stance is nearly always one of distance, of non-possession, of space, of quietness, of thinking, of seeing, of attending, of keeping still, of not seizing, of reflecting. And of sending them on an interior journey through my feelings and emotions, instincts, intuitions and experiences, where they may be buffeted, albeit in a friendly fashion. And then they emerge blinking in the sunlight, but knowing that they have had a worthwhile experience. I can then sense their desire for equality, their desire to respect me, to find a way of endorsing my form of thinking, without being seduced, but retaining and allowing me to retain our individual sense of our own integrity in our own forms of knowing. I am then enabled to reverence and respect them, welcome them as partners who will help me to balance my emotions and feelings. And I know I need intellectual and conceptual ideas, of course, because they will enable me to explain what it is my feelings and emotions know!
And I said above that seeing is one of my stances in the face of intellectual ideas. And seeing isnt for me about immediately touching, absorbing, appropriating. It is about watching and wondering. But it is a stance that eventually helps to enlighten and inspire me towards a movement of acceptance. Ill know when it is appropriate to look and, after that, to touch and then to appropriate intellectual ideas. And I am not talking just about intellectual ideas coming from outside me, I am also talking about those that well up from within me. And much of my life is indeed about looking and seeing. Sight is my dominant sense, the sense I need in my world. It is the source of my imagery and the source of my thought-modes (Murdoch, 1992). But my particular sight is a predominantly affective one. And I know it needs balancing with the intellectual, with the conceptual. And what I see bodies forth what I do not see. By that I am meaning that even though I see the intellectual, the conceptual, in order for me to accept it, it will have to point to what is unseen. And the unseen for me is always connected with the affective, with the emotional areas of my life. I cant help thinking that these are more important at least in terms of connectedness, in terms of the relational. And being connected, being in relation is the real meaning of life for me. However, I do accept too that balancing my feelings, my emotions with my intellect is my effort at serious thinking. And serious thinking is for me about clarification. And in trying to be a good man I am also accepting that I need to be lucid, to be clear about what I believe and know in my mind as well as in my heart and, consequently, in my actions.
I wanted to engender a sense of empathy
And returning to the data I want to emphasise that I used language in another way also. I used it to engender empathy for the lives of the people I presented, Etty, Larry and, of course, myself! And why did I want to engage your empathy (Eisner, p. 8)? Because I know that human feeling does not clash with understanding. Rather does it illuminate and enlarge it. And in fact because of the claims I have already made, I believed you might not understand the spirituality of my research unless you could empathise, through your feelings, with Etty, Larry and myself. And I wanted you to get an insight, however slight in a short paper, into the characters of each of the individuals mentioned in it. I wanted people and locations to take on their own distinctive qualities, to acquire dimension. And as Eisner says, Particularity and dimensionality are conditions of something being "real" (ibid). And when you can say that you are talking about authenticity. And I want my research to be authentic and in fact believe it to be so and, not least, because of particularity and dimensionality. But I also want to add that my effort to give you an insight, however inadequate, is my effort at being respectful and reverent towards others, including myself. But now lets look at some evidence of the empathic affect of my AERA paper.
One of my audience at a Spirituality Conference in London (20th-21st June, 1997), through his articulation of his feelings to me after I had made my abridged presentation of my AERA paper, strongly illumined for me the meaning and importance of empathy:
I wept copious tears last night as I was reading your paper. I was moved and powerfully gripped by the way in which you spoke about real live human beings grappling with issues that occur every day. You were, for example, trying to deal perhaps with an abuse of authority within hierarchical structures in an institution. And yet you were also able to empathise with someone who was dying. And Larry showed you and me how to die. And a stranger, Etty, came upon these issues unexpectedly and saw how you and others dealt with them. And she was inspired - as was I. For the first time I can see the importance of research accounts which include the affective areas. They can tell you about the reality of the human condition and about what is educational. And I was delighted too that it wasnt sanitised, it was as messy as life is. Thanks, Ben, for your humanity and honesty and for opening them up to us (John Fisher, Australia).
I am putting my particular argument about the necessity for empathy strenuously. Even though I had already mentioned it, I felt it was necessary to return to it. And so dealing with it twice is my way of trying to comprehensively explain some of what I know and practice. And returning twice was also my way of graduating my arguments in ways that would persuade you to accompany me at your leisure. You would have the time to stop and see, to look and to wonder, to question and to say, I agree with this, I disagree with that.
And I wanted to see in what way I could persuade you to see that my form of representation of my data is not only about my description of my spiritual values as standards of judgement. It is also about the way these are being lived out in various lives and how affection and emotion are part of the description of that living out. And so the form of language used includes affection and emotion as a fact of my spirituality. And I believe that this fact can elicit your empathy. And I feared that unless this happened the essence of my spirituality would somehow be lost. And that therefore my later propositional intellectual explanation would not, of itself, be able to adequately explain the living meaning of my spiritual values. Hence the importance of the form of representation of my data to me.
And so I am meaning that my spiritual values and how I practise them can best be understood in a text where the type of language used, and its quality, is in sympathy with them, is empathic towards them. In other words, where you detect heartfelt feelings and emotions and also instincts and intuition emanating from the text. And I believe that is what you experience in my exposition of my data. Already you have heard how John Fisher experienced how I represented my data. It seemed to me that he communed spiritually internally and externally with what the characters with their dilemmas, were trying to portray: ordinary lives trying to get to grips with discontinuities (Bateson, 1990), fragmentation and the messiness of ordinary lives. And yet these ordinary lives were lit up, too, by the extraordinary ending of one persons life as he lived and experienced it in public, a beacon of hope for all who, instead of passing by, stopped, looked, listened and were inspired. And maybe later that inspiration would cause them to want to emulate some of the qualites they saw. And I believe that the essence of some of these memorable moments was captured by the care I took to represent these lives carefully, affectively and also effectively. And not only John Fisher apprehended what I was trying to do. Peter Taylor, a senior lecturer at Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Australia, also did. And in reading, seeing and hearing what he said, notice his use of a language that is heartfelt, inspiring and even lyrical, a language that touches the heart, a language that, in my terms, is spiritual:
I have just read your AERA paper and have come to appreciate something of your struggle to be authentic and alive as you inject your spiritual values into an action research which breathes a refreshing breath of life into your pedagogy. And I want you to join us in our book. To have your story there to inspire others with undreamt of possibilities for renewal. And I hope that, like Etty, my invitation pours energy into your sense of worthiness as a person and an educator. My invitation to you is couched in the spirit of celebration. In this book I want the celebration of life to burst forth and dazzle the reader with joyous anticipation of forming rich educative relationships with others ... (e-mail, 11th April, 1997).
How can my use of language help to explain?
And notice the language I am just now writing below in italics, as I am thinking immanently and contemplatively in the here-and-now about what Peter said:
My heart sings for joy. I am elated. My heart is full of joy. It is full of joy because Peter touched me at the very heart of my being. He deeply honoured me in my humanity.
What characterises the language Peter used and that I have just now used? I believe it is his and my use of emotions, of feelings in ways that are lyrical as we tried to connect with others at the core of their being. And we directed them not only at the intellect, at the mind, but also and especially, at the heart. So we were I believe trying to make contact at the deepest spiritual level at the core of our beings. And it is a level where I believe differences - at least temporarily - dont matter. All that matters is that Peter reached out and made contact with my heart, with my soul. And I accepted and received his offer with joy and elation. And I want to spend some time now indicating how the human connectedness inspiring this heartfelt, spiritual language affected how I believe I have changed and developed.
Have I changed and improved?
There is I believe, further change and improvement happening here for me. It is not an instantaneous moment of change and improvement. It is I believe rather the culminating moment of a long period of change for me. However, it is at this pivotal moment that I was convinced, my emotions convinced me, that I had been absolved of my deeply felt feelings of unworthiness. Admittedly, the movement in that direction first started I believe when I reported my conversation with Judi Marshall and Jack Whitehead (July, 1996) in the first chapter of my thesis. And then it appeared again as an issue in the questions about worthwhileness that Jackie asked me at the end of the question and answer session in section three of this chapter. And now it has happened once again through Peter Taylors mediation, unknown to him, of course. I believe now that I was on the cusp of a breakthrough in terms of the resolution of this particular area of personal difficulty when Peters intervention came. In any case, for me it was his mediation which to me was an emotional, affective one, that convinced me that I am worthwhile, that I have a lot to contribute to the lives of others. And I believe that he showed it, too, by asking me for my permission to publish in his edited book, my AERA paper. And in characterising this paper, he said it would:
provide inspiration ... as well ... as providing a means for moving forward to become more fully human, something that you portray so clearly, both as a process and an outcome of your endeavour.
And so for me there were three imminant moments enabling me to finally change my long felt belief, albeit an irrational one, about my sense of my own unworthiness. First, there was the fact of Peter Taylors appreciation for my work and, consequently, for me. Secondly, there was the more risky area of his being able to convey these facts through heartfelt emotion. And thirdly, his action in deciding to publish the abridged version of my AERA paper.
Feeling unworthy is irrational!
And I want to briefly invite you to pause here with me to consider a little of what Ellis, the initiator of Rational-Emotive Therapy (RET), says about irrational beliefs, such as my belief in my own unworthiness. He would say (1973a) that my belief is irrational because it cant be validated or disproven; it leads to needlessly unpleasant feelings such as anxiety; and it prevents me from going back to any events from which follow unpleasant consequences. And I believe I have experienced these factually over a lifetime.
And I am wondering also if I can accept Elliss belief that thinking and emotions are so closely interrelated that they usually accompany each other ... (they operate in circular fashion) so that ones thinking becomes ones emotion and emoting becomes ones thought (1958, p. 36) from the point of view of my own experience. It seems to me that Ellis gave himself an out, and properly so, when he said that he believed that because thinking and emotions, in his view, are so closely interrelated, they usually accompany each other. For me I believe that my emotions do not closely accompany my intellect. I need, as I have shown, to bring them into alignment. And it is sometimes a lengthy process for me. It is not a process that can be rushed or pushed. And I can also say that I need to and indeed do take the responsibility for doing it.
I dont have a problem with Elliss view that thinking and emoting take place in the form of self-talk, and this self-talk directs behaviour in either rational or irrational directions. Though my own experience tells me that my self-talk is initially more emotional than intellectual. Ellis goes on to say that if my self-talk can be induced to become rational then I will begin to reverse my irrational belief. Now my major problem here is what Ellis means by rationality. I think he means, primarily, my intellectual capacities. Ellis maintains (1973a) that he uses three basic modalities in his counselling therapy: cognitive, emotive, and behaviour, which leads me to believe that they are at least co-equal and that he works on the three of them together. And maybe this is his attempt to be holistic in his approach. However, and I dont want to enter into a technical argument here, it appears to me that the descriptions given by Hansen (et al, 1986) of what happens at these sessions leads me to believe that all of them are highly intellectual in application. And a giveaway is how Hansen et al (ibid) assesses the effectiveness of Elliss therapy: (the approach) seem(s) most appropriate when clients can be expected to have a high intellectual capacity and least appropriate for clients who have difficulty in reasoning (p. 202). Apart from being amused at the apparent polar and unitary explanation of reasoning, it seems to me that perhaps not sufficient thinking then has gone into those, like me, who deviate from the norm. And by norm I am simply meaning the norm of tackling irrational beliefs through concentrating on thinking almost exlusively when my irrational belief seems to me to have been held with emotional bonds of steel!
But lets return to Elliss ideas about how I reverse my irrational belief. He has two goals in his counselling technique. One is that I would be left at the end of counselling sessions with a minimum of anxiety, self-blame or hostility. And a second, which is as important, is that I would be given a method of self-observation and self-assessment which would enable me for the rest of my life to continue to be minimally anxious and hostile. Now I believe I have found a way of attaining his first goal for myself through working on his second goal, self-observation and self-assessment. And I did it, not by entering counselling, but by being a self-motivated learner using an action research approach. But just before I outline my approach, let me briefly tell you about Elliss counselling therapy techniques to see if any of them applied to me.
According to Ellis, the counsellor would act as counterpropagandist who would directly confront and contradict my irrational self-talk and belief about my unworthiness. He or she would also encourage, persuade, cajole and command me to engage in behaviour that would act as a counterpropaganda instrument (1972). I didnt use the services of an RET counsellor but I did in fact evolve a method of self-observation, of self-assessment over time that enabled me intellectually and emotionally to reject my irrational belief in my own unworthiness. And so quietly and almost imperceptibly, at least to myself, I believe I did involve myself in self-talk, self-talk to do with encouraging, persuading and cajoling myself. However, I wouldnt have agreed with commanding myself. I have never done that with myself or others. I still believe that people have a free choice, even if, in the end, they use it unwisely. And my approach arose out of the form and matter of the research I have been pursuing.
And as validation of this view, please briefly review with me, if you will, my self-observation and self-assessment over time in my writing about this particular irrational belief and how I am now at the point where I am able to spurn it. What happened to bring about this change? But, first, let me track that change by quoting from chapter one where the theme of my own unworthiness emerged in print for the first time at a meeting (July, 1996) with Judi Marshall, School of Management, University of Bath and Jack Whitehead. I had asked for this meeting so that I could be helped to get back to writing my thesis. I had felt myself blocked for a long period of time and needed help to be enabled to get it unblocked.
Judi noticed a physical reluctance on my part to write the word, spiritual, on a chart which I had agreed to work on.
Judi Your arm won't move off to the paper with the word spiritual!
Ben It's actually something that I don't think I am.
Judi It's a claim you're not sure you can make ...
Ben No, do you know the sense that's coming to me at the moment. There is something that I've never worked on sufficiently. I feel I'll have to work on now and it's my feeling of UNWORTHINESS ...
And Jack articulates for the first time his feeling of irritation that I seem to be consistently, as here, insisting on my feeling of unworthiness and this despite empirical evidence to the contrary:
Jack Yeah, I've been with Ben, in a sense, supporting wholly. And now I'm just beginning to feel irritated. And the irritation is around Ben's feeling of unworthiness when I'm in contexts with him when I see others come alive because of his presence. And because I don't see him recognising his worthiness in what he's actually helping others to do, I do know that I get, the last few weeks, that sense of irritation. Yes, I do have that, yeah.
There is in Jacks reactions, I think, an insistence on directly confronting in an intellectual, factual way my irrational belief. And intellectually I should have been able to respond in the affirmative, Yes, youre right, Jack. People do come alive because of my presence. I do recognise intellectually, however, that what Jack is saying is factually correct. However, the affective, emotional side of me still wasnt ready to echo that. And it was so I believe because I tend to privilege my affective, emotional side over my intellectual, factual side. My intellect may be convinced but my emotions may not! And so it is here that I would differ with Ellis. He believes that if my self-talk can be induced to become rational then I will begin to reverse my irrational belief. His rationality is intellectual and the goal of his counselling is directed towards that. And so he would persuade, cajole and command. Whereas, because of my privileging of emotion, Peter Taylors approach is probably the one that would work best for me. And I believe it has worked for me. Even though I also believe that the change in my perception of myself has been growing over time due to my writing of my research and due to the support I have been given on an on-going basis from the Bath and Kingston University action research communities. In any case I think the triggering mechanisms for my feeling that the most disabling part of my battle against my feelings of unworthiness, had come to an end, was Peter Taylors intervention. And as Ive said, it involved for me a three-part approach. Firstly, there was my need to be appreciated. Secondly, that I needed to be dealt with in an affective, heartfelt emotional way. And thirdly, an action by Peter that demonstrated his appreciation. For me this final point validated his act of appreciation and his mode of conveying it. For me its useful sometimes to be at the receiving end of a gift offered. I have a need to receive as well as to give. And in receiving and recognising the importance of the receiving, I am recognising how well I have become mentally. And I think it is this knowing in itself, combined with the three-pronged approach of Peter Taylor, and the help of others, too, that enabled the change to take place within me. Does all of this mean then that I take no responsibility for being proactive myself in terms of ridding myself of my irrational beliefs? No, it just means that for me there are many pathways towards good mental health for me and that I am beginning to recognise them! And, just in passing let me say as well, that I am realising also the part that interdependence, about which I spoke earlier, and my own sense of my own individual independence, has played in this scenario. But now back to some other happenings by which I now know that change was imminent in me regarding my irrational belief about unworthiness.
Sincerity and care and now, joy!
At the July 1996 meeting with Judi and Jack I also said that I needed to examine the 'shadow' side of myself with a view to improvement - even if it included my feelings about my 'unworthiness'. Having done it I felt I could then leave it there and move on with my life. And Judi saw usefulness in this idea. I hadnt realised then, of course, but now a year later, I am wondering also to what extent the negative side of me contributed to some of the difficulties I experienced in my previous place of employment, an issue I will be returning to in a later chapter.
And as part of my movement towards overcoming my strong feelings of unworthiness, I want once again to re-call what a colleague, whom I shall call Jane, wrote to me on 3rd August, 1997, apropos the same topic. In her letter there was a sincere, logical, objective argument as to the irrationality of my holding on to my sense of unworthiness. And it was true factually, of course. I could see that. Now it wasnt so much the arguments that were put forward, even though I can now clearly see their justification, as I can see Jack Whiteheads ones too, earlier in our July 1996 conversation. No, it wasnt so much the arguments, as valuable as they were. Rather was it the sincerity and care that went into the writing of the arguments that touched me, that let me know that I really could change. That the fact of believing this, allied with the other happenings that I have detailed, that actually brought about a change in my irrational beliefs. And below is the extract dealing with my unworthwhileness:
One element that stands out for me is the issue of your feeling of your own "unworthwhileness." Why so? You are who you are, and therefore valuable. Why should you feel not valuable? Perhaps this feeling of self-negation gets in the way of self-realisation, and that is very sad and wasteful. I am aware from study that our reality depends largely on the way in which we perceive it. If you see the world through glasses that you bought in the Unworthy Shop, the world will be distorted and unworthy, and so will you as a part of that world and as a part of the reality that you are creating. If you put on the glasses that you bought in the "I like me" shop, the world will seem a place in which you are liked and you like yourself.
In my reply to Jane on 19th August, among other things I explained why I had held to my irrational belief about my unworthiness. And I was now taking responsibility at last for my irresponsibility in blaming others for the way I felt I was. And that was progress. And now I am seeing my illusions through the help of others. Here then is the extract:
If I am unworthy then others are causing it - that was my projection! And it enabled me to escape taking responsibility for myself by blaming others for the way I felt I was! ... And I have to confess that because I had interposed this particular projection between myself and others it was very difficult for me to see through my illusions, to see that there was a reality other than that I had created for myself.
And the following is the cathartic bit with its emphasis on confidence and on taking responsibility for myself - and finally accepting affirmation from others:
... over time my confidence in myself and who I am has begun to grow, fostered by taking risks in reaching out to others and by accepting the affirmation that came my way. And I believe the beginning of this is at least implicitly contained in chapter one of my thesis but much more of it will be seen explicitly in subsequent chapters.
Another interesting facet of the letter I received from Jane was her emphasis on allowing joy to come through in my work. And in answering, inter alia, I said:
Your letter has had the impact of getting me to understand more clearly some of the facets of my unworthwhileness which I have just outlined and which I know I am now doing something about. You will, I believe, see me abandoning my apology, and moving towards the joy you talk about, in susequent chapters in my writing ... Your affirmation and the help you offered in your letter means a lot to me and has, I believe, moved me further forward. The fruits of my further reflection on what you have said will, I believe, begin to be seen in my writing henceforth.
I believe this exchange of letters, this exchange of affirmations, of appreciations, of advice was also seminal in getting me to see that I could now move forward into a brave new world of my own making that did not include holding on to a sense of unworthiness. Emotionally, of course, I was overjoyed by Janes generosity in offering to read whatever I might write. It seemed as if another act of connection was convincing me of the inappropriateness of my clinging to my belief in my unworthiness.
And I am still improving and changing. A recent conversation showed me how. On 22nd September, 1977, after a tutoring session with students of the Centre for Action Research in Professional Practice (CARPP) at University of Bath, one of the students, Matthew, who is a psychotherapist, drove me to the railway station to catch a train from Newbury to Bath. I had told him earlier that morning that I was quite ill with a stomach upset and had got very little sleep the night before. Below is the conversation we had and my observations on it:
Matthew I couldnt help noticing the attention you gave each person. Did you find it difficult that your needs werent met at all?
I remember being momentarily surprised at Matthews comment. Why? I felt that it perhaps indicated the kind of meeting we were going to have. In my mind I had decided that it wasnt going to be primarly therapeutic. I expected it to be somewhat therapeutic, of course, as most of the meetings in this small group and in the plenary group seem to have elements of it at every encounter. And not only have I no objection to it, I welcome it in the sense that it is good that peoples needs are taken care of. I feel on these occasions, though, in my role as tutor, that my primary professional responsibility is to try and enable people to keep on the research track. I have more than once detected a desire on peoples part to spend considerable time on getting their needs met. And so in this instance, too, I found it a struggle to keep the meeting on a research track. And my answer below to Matthew only scratched the surface of my difficulty at the meeting.
Ben I felt a strong sense of responsibility. I was there to help everybody to keep on track regarding the research aspect of what we were doing. And to be honest I expected there would be a strong urge to move into a therapeutic situation where we would look after one anothers needs. And I went along with that, too. In fact I think I helped through my emphatic listening and talking. However, I spent a lot of my time, too, trying to find and keep a balance between the two.
In my previous chapter writing and in my present writing I realise I have linked the notion of responsibility and myself together very firmly. And in saying this I realise now also that, yes, that has been a growing feature of my life now for many years. But responsibility of what kind? And yes, for me there are at least two kinds, there is the responsibility that is a duty, something imposed from without. And there is the responsibility that is entirely voluntary (Fromm, 1957/1985, p. 22). That is that I respond to the needs, expressed or unexpressed of others (ibid). As Fromm says, To "be responsible" means to be able and ready to "respond" (ibid) and I mentioned this also in my previous chapter as an ideal that I always want to live up to and that I believe I often succeed in doing. However, it also contends for me with an external responsibility I have in my role as tutor. So I consistently experience a dialectical tension. And it is in this case: how do I ensure that the aims of the course are fulfilled and, at the same time, that the needs of people are met? And that for me is a part of the reality of life I constantly experience. And I dont always resolve it in a way which leaves me feeling that somehow both sets of expectations are met. In the event I find I usually have to be guided by my own instincts, my own intuition of what is right, what is good on each occasion.
Matthew Yeah, I noticed that and I said to myself, here is a guy who, despite being ill, is being very balanced and responsible.
No, Im not sure what interpretation Matthew had of being responsible but, perhaps, it wasnt far from my own. Achieving balance and responsibility in both of the senses in which I mentioned it, is very important for me in my life. I wasnt always a responsible person in my life as my reference in my AERA paper to my period of alcoholism earlier in my life showed. I was neither responsible to others nor to myself. And so my movement towards becoming responsible, even if I find it ambiguous, is for me one of the aims of my life. It is the action I am taking towards becoming a whole person, a mature person. It is one of my ways of overcoming the sense of unworthiness I held on to for so long. And I am finding now that I am constantly surprising myself with my resilience and capacity to change. And so while I dont think I am always as balanced as Matthew believes, nonetheless the needs of others are extremely important to me, but I try to balance that with fulfilling other needs, the needs I accepted, for example, in becoming a course tutor. All of these actions and reflections and personal decision making, are for me a sign of my own mental health. But now back to Peter Talor and his faxes to me about how my AERA paper indicated to him how I was moving towards wholeness.
I was gripped by the power of your writing!
And so I am recognising that I have changed, that I have improved as a person. I could scarcely write a paper (AERA, 1997) about moving towards becoming fully human unless I was actually engaged in the act of change, improvement. And there was the power of my writing as Peter recognised. In my estimation it was powerful because I had become personally empowered and was now telling it as I had experienced it. In any case here is the full quotation from Peter about this topic:
Thank you for your chapter for our book. In (re)reading it, I was gripped by the power of your writing about your struggle to achieve equanimity in the face of, what for many, might seem to be overwhelming societal constraints ('the system' and its hench/helmsmen). The chapter will provide inspiration to many as well, importantly, as providing a means for moving forward to become more fully human, something that you portray so clearly, both as a process and an outcome of your endeavour (22.8.97).
And in relation to my papers usefulness to the research community and to teachers, Peter said also:
In relation to the other chapters (in the book), it will serve a unique but complementary role by (i) exemplifying a rich narrative genre for representing the phenomenological world, (ii) demonstrating how action research can be used for personal professional development, and (iii) legitimating spirituality (in addition to 'meaning') as a key referent, or standard of judgement, in the life of an educator (ibid).
Social validation for my paper!
Because I am constantly anxious to get confirmation, validation of claims I am making, I welcomed Peters comments, which were indeed a justification of what I had achieved. His justification of my work goes towards meeting the social criteria Habermas (1979) says I need in order to make a claim to knowledge:
I have a responsibility to present a claim to knowledge for public criticism in a way which is comprehensible. The researcher must justify the propositional content of what he or she asserts, and justify the values which are used to give a form to the researchers life in education. The researcher must be authentic in the sense of wanting to express his or her intentions truthfully. Habermas says, and I agree, that a claim to authenticity can only be realized in interaction:
in the interaction it will be shown in time, whether the other side is "in truth or honestly" participating or is only pretending to engage in communicative action (in Whitehead, 1993, p.55).
I reckon that I am fulfilling these criteria and this has been endorsed by Peter Taylor. Obviously these are crieria I will have to keep applying as I move through my enquiries in my thesis so that I can attest to my honesty and integrity in terms of communicative action. And others besides myself are going to be involved also in the application of these criteria to my work, as happened in the case of my AERA paper. Without that type of critical questioning I do not believe my research could have moved my understanding forward to encompass my present reflective and reflexive stance. And yet for all that I accept Fromms (ibid) view based on Taoist, Indian and Socratic thinking, that the highest step to which my thinking can lead me is to know that we do not know (p. 58). And Fromm quotes Capelle (1953) thus:
To know and yet (think) we do not know is the highest (attainment); not to know (and yet think) we do know is a disease (p. 153).
And so I have further to travel, in fact will always be on a journey because I will never arrive. But it is in the process of the journey, some of which I am in this chapter describing and explaining, that I am becoming more who I am meant to become.
An ethical concern!
Now, however, I also want to point to the delicacy with which Peter deals with my work. And others have done it too as you have seen in this enquiry. And I am pointing to this because it is something I also wish to practice in my dealings with others. It is a careful ethical point. And here is how he puts it:
In saying this so analytically I am at risk of reducing the richness of your text to banal variables. But that is not my intent. I hold the analytic and holistic in a dialogical (dialectical?) relationship, a quirk of my 'scientific' background, perhaps, but also an editorial responsibility for foreshadowing (in the introduction of the book) the significance (to me at least) of the texts we have placed invitingly before the reader.
I approve of including feelings in our writing!
And, finally, I want to point to his answer to me about the desirability of including feelings in our writing. He had replied to my articulated disappointment at how so many academics apparently ignore those who differ from them intellectually. And I had suggested that we should include feelings and emotions in our writings and so allow ourselves be vulnerable. And my experience of doing so is that vulnerability is rarely attacked! And I believe it has something to say about humility, too, that is about knowing who you are without embellishments of any sort, a who who is able to bring a life-affirming presence into the world. In any case this is how Peter replied:
I do like what you say about the centrality of feelings in our writing, of the need to enrich the rational in order to portray ourselves in relation to others in authentic and more fully human ways, and in order to impact others educatively. I am wishing to become better able to write in an engaging manner. ... But, then, I can turn to your writing for inspiration! (ibid).
My kind of educational support
For the past few pages I have been talking about the kind of educational support I receive from others. And I am saying that I know that it is this form of support that is so enabling. It is the form of support, too, that Etty saw me offering, that so many others in my various studies of singularity see me offering. It is a support emanating from my emotions, my feelings, my heart, a support that I describe as spiritual. And that doesnt mean, of course, that the intellect is missing. No, but it knows its place in the realm of the spiritual. It is a handmaiden. It too knows the meaning of humility when it is with me! And so, among other things, I have been talking about the educational value of giving and receiving. And in receiving I have been healed as well as empowered in the same order I believe as when I too am empowering others.
And youll notice that my e-mail reply to Peter on 12th April, 1997 is similar in tone to his, still full of joy and delight and deeply touched by his humanity and delighted to be still receiving:
And you were so enthusiastic it warmed my heart. I'm so delighted by the sound of your book and about your description of the people writing chapters in it who are 'speaking about being and becoming enriched and authentic educators. ... And I'm overwhelmed by your description of my spirituality in my AERA paper as breathing 'a refreshing breath of life into your pedagogy.' That's beautiful, energising and so affirming. Thanks for it. Your invitation most certainly pours energy into my sense of worthiness as a person and an educator. And I accept your invitation as a celebration of life which wants 'to burst forth and dazzle the reader with joyous anticipation of forming rich educative relationships with others.' And so I accept, Peter, with joy and gratitude.
How can spiritual values help us deal with differences?
And I am wondering also about how this infinite care and compassion for the other can become a reality in the face of controversy and articulated difference regarding alternative forms of research. I sent an e-mail letter to Peter on 16th August. And you would have read above his reply to me. But here now is my original one to him about the differences that seem to arise, particularly among academics. And I am wondering if the personal interpenetrating the intellectual more often in academic writing would be a way forward. Could a way be found to bring semantic and lived meaning together, but to do so in a way which would reveal vulnerability? And I am thinking that it would be difficult for anybody to attack human vulnerability! In any case here is my extract:
My experience, though, is of intense academic battles being fought, particularly between those from quantitative and qualitative backgrounds. I have witnessed wounding battles too, unfortunately, between those who subscribe to the same broad qualitative church. And sometimes ... I am wondering if self-study where the personal cross-fertilises the professional, might be one of the secrets of 'peace'! I am thinking too of how the affective might cross-fertilise the rational thinking part of us in our writings. It seems to me that remaining on the level of the semantic only in my discourse without reference to lived meaning possibly more easily leads to the kind of linguistic disagreements about meaning I so often hear. When another hears my articulated feelings about myself and others as part of my discourse, I think it may have the merit of allowing them to see me in my vulnerability. And I can't ever remember hearing 'attacks' made on human vulnerability.
I have come across another approach too which may help in enabling the contending sides in academic and other arguments to find better ways of apprehending one another. I am talking about Fromms approach in his book, The Art of Loving 1957/1995, p. 61). And how apt too to come across it in a book about loving as an art! Admittedly its a theory and maybe not yet a practice, at least in this part of the world. And I am going to state it very briefly but will come back to it in my later chapter about my dialogic relationship with God. Fromm talks about knowledge, as researchers do, but this knowledge is not about right thought, it is about right action. And he says this can be clearly seen in the Oriental religions, in Brahmanism, in Buddhism and Taoism. In all of these it is not right thought, but right action, the right way of living that is the ultimate aim. And he says also that we can see the same emphasis in Spinozas philosophy, a shift from right belief to right conduct of life. And Marx, he contends had the same view when he said, The philosophers have interpreted the world in different ways - the task is to transform it. In any case Fromm feels that placing the emphasis on act rather than on thought will lead to tolerance and he says that we find tolerance particularly in Indian and Chinese religious development. In terms of those religions:
If the right thought is not the ultimate truth, and not the way to salvation, there is no reason to fight others, whose thinking has arrived at different formulations (ibid).
I now believe that if academics and others could be persuaded to believe that none of their formulations of truth is the right one in terms of ultimates, then there is no reason for the ill-will and retrenchment that appears to go on. It is just that all those contending have arrived at different formulations of thinking, none of which is ultimate truth. And of course, ultimate truth may not be about a form of thinking it all but about a form of living!
Is it possible for me to move from my individual theory to the universal, to the generalisable, without hegemonising?
I have mentioned persuasion but Im not sure to what extent it can be conveyed in propositional statements. Perhaps it can only be done through how I live and work in my life in education and in how I represent that in my writing, involving both affective and propositional representation! And so my question for myself is: how can I best represent my life and work in education so that I may be able to persuade others that ultimate truth may not really reside in right thought but only in right living. And that if I then articulate my ultimate truth, it will be seen to emanate from the authenticity of the way I live and, consequently be seen to be more persuasive! Because I am endeavouring to communicate the values that underpin my practice within my local educational research communities (Bath and Kingston Universities), I am working towards getting them accepted as shared assumptions within these groups. If so, I will then I believe be constructing an educational theory with some potential for generalisability, (Whitehead, 1993, p. 73). And Whitehead explains that:
The "general" in a living theory still refers to "all" but instead of being represented in a linguistic concept, "all" refers to the shared form of life between the individuals constituting the theory (ibid).
Having said all that I am still not clear as to what constitutes being persuasive! I believe it is more than my representation of my living educational theory. It is more than rational, logical arguments. I believe it partially resides in these as in my representation of my living theory. But it resides also in my personality and character. And so I will have to think about the human meanings of words often associated with persuading: causing or inducing another to believe; luring; attracting, enticing. Could I use these in tandem with logic and representation and do so, authentically? I will be thinking about it!
Using ironic validy to justify my account!
In enabling you to judge the validity of my account I am, among other things, applying to it what Pattit Lather (1994) calls ironic validity, that is, that the validity of my account can best be judged in relation to its failure to actually represent what I know. Because my relationships are living, dynamic and constantly changing, the irony is that I can never communicate fully the knowledge which I embody in my living reality. Im always falling short of it. And you have seen me grappling with just that issue. I have been trying in this chapter to use forms of language, such as the propositional, metaphysical, mystical and lyrical to enable me to explain my living spiritual values and their application in my life and work. And I believe I have succeeded to some extent by attempting, where appropriate, to privilege language that attempts to describe and explain my felt state but also propositional knowledge. However, I also acknowledge with ease that I am still failing to actually represent what I know. In fact I will never really able to do so as my knowing keeps developing even as I am describing and explaining it and so every effort made to represent and explain it fails but it is not a failure that I deem to be an endpoint, beyond which I cannot go. No, in fact I redouble my efforts to try and see if I can approximate in my representation, the events I am involved in dialogically.
However, I believe I have tried in this chapter to achieve at least an approximation of my embodiment of my past dialogical relational actions and have offered them in layered perspectives, embracing some mini-studies of singularity. And in this way I believe I have given you some feel for the extraordinary variety and depth of some of the most recent living meanings of my spiritual values as I am using them to improve myself and inspire and empower others to improve something in their practice. And by representing them in a multidude of new ways in this chapter I believe am bringing them to new life and transforming them into a new embodiment of my spiritual values for both myself and you as you read this chapter. That is my claim.
And yet, in humility, I accept of course, that no matter how hard I have tried I am never able to represents things in themselves as pure presence (p. 38) but only as the web of "structure, sign and play" of social relations (Derrida, 1978). And so my efforts at validation or justification are liable to be endlessly deferred, but in a way that is liberating. It is liberating because it is actually a creative act. Endless deferral is a creative act that does not cause me angst. Rather does it motivate me, as in Whiteheads notion of contradiction, to put forward my values, to live them in my actions, to represent those values and actions in my practice and writing and to realise again that I failed to do so fully. And the failure gives me the opportunity to start over again, but in starting I will know I have come further, have grown more than I had on the previous occasion.
In my conclusions here I want to answer my main emergent question: How is my enquiry educational? And it is the question I will be asking at my input at the CARN Conference, London, 17-19th October, 1997. And what follows is the substance of my paper to the conference and also my summary of my present chapter.
I am wanting to offer you, the reader, a communication of my insight into the nature of educational, what is educational for me? And I am hoping to share that with you in a way which is comprehensible.
But let me start by saying that in writing this paper I am wanting to open up to myself as well as to others the meaning that I am discovering to educational. Educational means for me having a spirit of open enquiry which discovers no final answers, only interim ones. And within the openness of my enquiry, I am discovering and perhaps re-discovering in ever new ways what and how I am valuing. I am placing, however, a particular value on the relational qualities of my enquiry within which I use my unit of appraisal, which I am calling a dialogical, dynamic unit of appraisal (BERA, 1997). And I am holding this in a creative dialectic with my acknowledgement of the power of my own I as a living contradiction in questions of the kind, How do I improve what I am doing?
In explaining my dialogical, dynamic unit of appraisal, I argued in my BERA paper that:
the most promising, dynamic unit of action is two people. The tete-a-tete is the new source of confidence, the refuge where people give each other courage, and where they create mutual respect (and within which) values such as empathy, the capacity to feel, to be compassionate (become dominant) (13.9.97).
In terms of the form for my writing of my present paper, which is part of a chapter in my thesis, I am wanting to write about issues which are not Truth or truths with universalising, totalising tendencies. And in arguing about these issues I want to see can I bring about a balance between intellectual, analytic, propositional argument and what Macmurray calls emotional rationality (1957/1991). I am wanting to balance my intellectual capacities with my feelings and emotions and with communicating a sense of empathy to my readers (ibid).
In terms of the form of my writing, my emotional rationality has, I believe, enabled me, as a dialectician, following Plato, to use my capacity to break things down into separate particulars and then to hold things together, not so much under general ideas, but through the power of the integrating capacity of my own I. And so, while Gadamer (1975) believed that despite Plato we are still not ready for the logic of the dialectician, that is, a logic of question and answer, I believe I have moved this argument forward in terms of my own logic which is, I believe, comprehensible. And my logic has to do with my spirit of enquiry which is open. I never close it down. I am constantly inviting my reader to follow me throughout my enquiry in my revealation of my ever increasing experiences which have depth and range.
And as an aide memoire, and as a form for enabling my readers to understand my writing I set up throught my writing various sub-headings, which are my categories for enabling you to make sense of my enquiry. The first is: Being in dialogue encourages me! And my writing here offers you a real sense of how it is that I am forming meaning and how you might find this comprehensible through the qualities that I am showing you in what then follows.
And the rest of my sub-headings, which follow, enable you not only to understand, they also separate and break down what it is I have achieved. And the following are the sub-headings I use to do this: Presence, Being in dialogue encourages me, Coming to explain my spirituality, my mysticism and how I represent it. Others are: May your creative questions be both affective and intellectual, There is another form of language, Some propositional explanations, Becoming unified with God, My present question, Why is dialogue important to me, Mystery, Becoming reflexive, Representation and my educational understanding, My emotional intelligence, Do you know how I "see"?, "I wanted to engender a sense of empathy, How I have changed and improved, Feeling unworthy is irrational, I was gripped by the power of your writing and Social validation for my paper.
And through the use of these sub-heading categories, I am able to introduce metaphor and lyrical forms of language, such as the visually metaphysical and mystical within the text as a complement to my propositional and conceptual forms of argument and writing. And I am doing this so that you can see clearly my living form of my own synthesising capacities of my own I in dialogical relationship to my God and others. And I believe you will see that it holds together well, aesthetically, intellectually as well as analytically.
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