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Sustained Commitment to Partial Solutions

In my last post, I said that the next post would address how we work with our empathic distress, pathological altruism, and codependency. I will write about that. But, not today. Other “stuff” is occupying my heart—and limited cognitive capacities—such that I just can’t get it written.

Eventually, I remembered my post regarding lessons learned from my concussion, Concussion Lessons: Suffering with Meaning. Can I blame it on my concussion that I can’t remember what I have learned from having a concussion? In that blog, I catalogue 3 things that I have learned from my concussion:

I.          My response involves my entire self.

II.         Look for what I can do (at that moment).

III.        Accept this is and may continue to be my New Normal.

The second one, looking for what I can do at this time, is the most instructive for the blog writing impasse. So, you ask, “What is occupying your heart that you want to write about?”

My retirement.

I am retiring from a 20-year career as a professor of school psychology. Yesterday, I taught my last class. Next week, I will hood an amazing doctoral student and marshal at commencement—lots of black robes and funny hats. The week before, my college held a lovely gathering, honoring me and two other faculty members—the retiring class of 2024. This week, there was a student end-of-year celebration and an intimate lunch with the school psychology faculty.

As part of the college’s retirement celebration, I got to speak. I was asked to limit my remarks to 5 minutes—apparently, we faculty tend to be longwinded and are less interesting to others than we realize. I grappled with what to say. I feel guilty about leaving at this time, uncertain when there will be a search to replace my academic line. Since getting the offer to retire this year (instead of next), I have felt as if a strong, shiny RIB (rubber inflatable boat) was coming to pick me up off the listing, rusty cargo ship that represents higher education at this moment.

Journalling the morning of the retirement party, I realized that I was hoping to find words so wise and inspirational as to mitigate the impact of leaving during a hiring freeze. As my blog, What Makes Me Think My Colon is So Special? Hope, Optimism, and Narcissism, revealed, I am a vulnerable narcissist, vacillating from insecurities to delusions of grandeur. Even for me, this was simultaneously a great over- and under-estimation of my contribution. I do not have the oratory prowess to, in 5 minutes, mitigate the impact of leaving during a hiring freeze. It was an overestimation of my skills to think that anything I might say could impact the University’s budget. It was an underestimation of my contribution to think that my retirement speech could replace the work I do each year.

Once I let myself off the hook for accomplishing the impossible, I could focus on a reasonable aspiration for my little talk. Many years back at one of our graduate commencements, the invited speaker’s message was, “This is a terrible time to graduate.” Worst commencement address ever! Timbuk 3’s sardonic ‘80s pop song lyrics state, “The future’s so bright, I’ve gotta wear shades.” Forty years later, that was prescient! I wanted to strike a tone somewhere between fatalism and gas-lighting. And, really, isn’t that the balance we are always seeking?

So, as educator and philosopher Parker Palmer advises, standing in the tragic gap between naivete and cynicism, I acknowledge this is a really tough time—globally, nationally, and most likely wherever is locally for you. I often feel I am suffering from emotional whiplash, as my attention is drawn from one crisis and injustice to the next. My actions feel insignificant and insufficient. I feel guilty that I am not doing “more.” To escape my guilt, I fantasize of engaging in an all-or-nothing “grand gesture”—after all, I am a vulnerable narcissist. And, then I realize that this fantasy is a cop-out. I am envisioning a binary world where I am one of the “good guys” fighting “evil”—and it is easy to tell the difference by the color of the outfits we wear.  I desire to escape the difficult work of sustained effort in the murky, non-dualistic “everyday” world.

But it is also in these grey areas where I might have some leverage and expertise—those multifaceted spaces where results are nebulous, hard to measure, and problems are not “solved.” Although my work has not eliminated inequities in our public education system, how it has helped to elevate that issue and the positive impacts it has had for some students, I cannot know. Certainly, if we devalue our small, but collectively transformational, work, we will contribute less to the world. It is critical that we acknowledge our sorrows and the global pain of this time.  And then, I believe, it is our responsibility to remember what we can do today and do it with all our heart.

As I stated, I have been a professor of school psychology for 20 years. My guiding values are grounded in the Convention of the Rights of the Child, published by the United Nations in 1989. Among many rights, the CRC outlines a child’s educational rights:

All children have the right to an education that promotes each child’s personality, talents, mental and physical development, and prepares them to be global citizens with an awareness and appreciation for their culture and heritage, the environment, and people different than themselves.

Grounded in this, my elevator pitch is that I wish for,

Every student to be a fulfilled, contributing member of society.

Operationalized, I believe there should be zero correlation between any group membership that a student holds and an outcome that they desire.

None of my many publications and presentations have been earth-shaking. My books were never in jeopardy of making it onto the New York Times’ Bestseller List. But as a body, I believe my work has shifted the center of conversation within school psychology towards considerations of diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, and access—commonly referred to as DEIJA—and especially how adults in schools intentionally and unintentionally perpetuate systemic oppression.

However, this has not been my greatest contribution. Across my 20 years, I estimate that approximately 350 students have graduated from our program as school psychologists. And, I played some role in their development. Of these 350 students, I calculate that about 50 have taken leadership roles in various important institutions—e.g., districts, state departments of education, universities, hospitals, and community practices. This leaves 300 who are working as psychologists in schools. Sadly, the national average is that one school psychologist serves 1119 students. That means that 300 school psychologists provide psychological services to 335,700 students, their families, and the school professionals who work with these students—each year. That, indeed, is a legacy!

So, yes, these are difficult times.  And there are important events that we cannot directly impact. But in our sustained commitment to an issue without simple answers—maybe even without a final answer—we can have a lasting impact. Psychologist Paul Slovic, who studies compassion and numbing, opines that,  

Even partial solutions save whole lives.

What partial solution are you uniquely able and situated to impact? To what partial solution will you make a sustained commitment?

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1 comentário

Beautifully written Cynthia! Sorry I don’t have anything relevant to mention at the moment on partial solutions but I did want to congratulate you on your recent ‘graduation’…retirement is a big shift but equally it is a big opportunity for fulfillment in new areas of your life. Best of luck choosing which open door to journey forth!

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