Devoted to unthinkable danger

We may be thinking that professional development is a good idea. We may give it lip service as if it's our best intention to become more capable and resourceful. We may even try to pursue personal advancements and find we cannot stick with the effort. On some other level, we seem to be avoiding professional development with a vengeance.

Whenever we sabotage our best intentions, our logical thinking is disconnected from our routine conduct and feelings. What we are doing to ourselves is unthinkable. We cannot act rationally because the underlying dynamics are irrational and unconscious. We discover we cannot stop the behavior, change our feelings or break the habitual reaction.

It helps to use a map to picture the situation in our conflicted minds. At some point in our experience, we discover we are in some real danger. Professionally, this might be the danger of getting:

  • blamed for a problem
  • guilt-tripped for what we neglected
  • put down for a lack of concern
  • accused of being irresponsible
  • mocked for a lack of ambition
  • scorned for falling short of expectations

These dangers are not controllable. Our logical resources for rationally responding to manageable issues -- cannot handle this kind of trouble. We are faced with unthinkable dangers. We become traumatized from the experience of this danger occurring. We dread it happening again. Anytime we sense that a reoccurrence is brewing, we will be overcome with vague anxieties and specific apprehensions. Our minds will legitimize these feelings with confirmation of the unthinkable danger. We will then have the urge to do what worked before and avoid further trouble.

In this context of unthinkable dangers, professional development is asking for trouble and needs to be avoided at all cost. Learning how to perform better in our jobs could be taken by others as an admission of guilt, acceptance of blame or submission to their hostility. We would invite more of the unthinkable dangers we're trying desperately to avoid.

We discover ways to survive in these dangerous situations. We find out that people back off and leave us alone if we are:

  • already over-committed, over-extended, swamped with duties
  • clearly a martyr, giving one's all and getting nothing back
  • curtailed by imposed limitations, prevented from doing a better job
  • on the brink of burnout, reduced to a programmed robot
  • one of the crowd, thinking like the others, equally hostile
  • rejected for caring so much about the students or outcomes

These are defensive maneuvers, a flight response, an avoidance strategy. They are predicated on the perception of uncontrollable danger, like a "deer in headlights", frozen with terror. They only leave one other option: go on the offensive, fight for a change, be equally dangerous to others. That option embroils everyone in office politics, mutual contempt and a swamp of chronic problems. All the solutions are short sighted and make the danger worse.

Seeing all this is not logical thinking. It takes a kind of reflective practice that includes the unthinkable and irrational components of our cognition. My next post will explore a effective resolution of arrested development from unthinkable dangers.

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