Chain, Chain, Chain

They say that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. This is true. But, they never tell you what to do with that link. Do you fortify it? Or, do you just shorten the chain? If you choose fortification, how much time, effort and resources do you allocate to this task? If you decide to do remove the link, do you do it right away or only after so many failed attempts at fortification? Which approach results in strongest most impactful chain?

I always thought that I was on the fortification side of things. I always imagined that if my students and I were being chased through the woods by zombies that I would run back to help the one clumsy son of a bitch that got his foot twisted up in a tree root. But, it turns out that I may not be that kind of guy after all.

Before diving into the discussion, let me set the stage. This past semester my students and I took a ropes course. We arrived with different level of experience, athletic abilities and tolerances for height. However, we moved from station to station as a unit. We moved together. When fear gripped one of us, the rest of us would pause, put our personal struggles on hold and focus our attention on our classmate. We encouraged. We assisted. We waited. And, when they started moving again, we applauded. No one was left behind.

I was beyond proud. I started to weave the experience into what it means to be of our tribe. So, it came as a shock when a handful of students said “We leave people behind.”  “What? No way. Are you sure?” I retorted. As they continued to press their case, my fog of deniability dissipated. We do. And, I have been struggling ever since to reconcile our performance 20-plus feet in the air with the fact that we do.

The fundamental purpose of Rewilding is to get my students fighting their demons today, right now, in this moment. So, I create a classroom experience that purposively animates self-doubt, self-sabotage, and the demon that says “You cannot do this without permission”. This year, I added the ropes course. Whether in the classroom or in the air, as one of my students, you have to fight your demons. They are two different battlefields. And, the role that I and your classmates play in your fight for freedom are different as well.

In the air, the battle resides primarily in the physical realm. We see the obstacles you face. We see the distance you need to travel. We see the steps you need to take. We have just taken them. Indeed, we can retrace our steps for you. We can lay out a map. We see you fighting the good fight.  We watch your trembling hand reach out and grab the rope. It fires us up. It makes us want to fight alongside you. We cannot imagine doing anything else in that moment. And, given that you have just witnessed one or more of us take the path we suggest you follow, you are more willing to take that first step.

In the air, we are the project. We are here to bind ourselves together. We climb up together. We climb down together.  No other outcome is acceptable. We will wait to make it happen. James can give you direction. Christine and Luke can hold the ropes. Matei and Jessica can reach out their hands. Jeff and Courtney can give encouragement. Lara can double check your harness. Kelsey can walk the plank with you. Keegan can get into a position to catch you. And, you can look around at those who love you and leap across the chasm. The odds are stacked against your demons. No one gets left behind.

Yet, in the classroom, the battle is waged primarily in your mind. We cannot imagine the obstacles you face. We have no idea of the distance you need to travel or the steps you need to take. We cannot lay out a map for you. The terrain of your mind is unfamiliar to us. We have no clue what fighting the good fight looks like for you. We can encourage you. And, we do. We can gather around you. And, we do. But, this fight is your fight. You have to fight this battle alone. We can wait; but, not forever. We are not asking you to do something that the rest of us have not been asked to do. And, in the classroom, there are other stakeholders to consider. We are more than a class. We are an organization. We promised to deliver a service to our clients. Their interests supersede our interests. We have to ship. And, at some point, you need to make a choice: fight or flight. At some point, we need to make a choice: You or our clients. It’s not an easy choice. But, sometimes we choose our clients. Sometimes someone gets left behind.

I know. Fight or flight is not an easy choice. But, it is a choice. And, each and every one of us has the power to choose. Yes, this choice will be harder for some than others. But, it is always and forever within our purview to choose.

Do not delay the day of your rebellion.

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Questions, comments or want to learn more? Just fill out the CONTACT form on my ABOUT page and I will get back with you right away. Thanks. – shawn

2 Responses to “Chain, Chain, Chain

  • At first I thought it was the metaphor of a ‘chain gang’. Would have features nicely in your story as well (I thought) until I hit the part sooner than later where you make the ubiquitous jump to your classroom students. Can’t compare your students nor your teachings with those of a chain gang, can you? No, and you shouldn’t. So back to what you actually meant, putting the question before us ‘Do you fortify it? Or, do you just shorten the chain?’ Your further story shows how you and your students answer that question for yourselves. And you end telling us so rightfully that we all have a choice: fight or flight. What if we see the chain into an entirely different light? What if the chain is only a virtual mechanism that connects the chains that we are all involved in personally to a meta-reality that only exists when we are (working) together? Looking at it from that perspective, every part of the chain becomes relevant in all of its aspects where ‘weak’ or ‘strong’ are meaningless parameters unless taken into account the person weighing himself on this continuum. This throws back the responsibility for the – may I say – ‘health’ of the chain to every part of the chain. The chain is (thanks to) us. And only (thanks to) us. Without one part (of that chain), the chain is no more.

    • shumphre
      7 years ago

      Camille, I love the nuance of your thinking. And, I love how you push thoughts into the multidimensional space they deserve. So, first thanks. And, second, writing this post was a struggle. I wanted to take a stand. Fortify or shorten? But, then I felt uncomfortable taking a stand. I considered the benefits of the soft and sweet encouragement of “You can do this.” But, then I thought about how I benefited at times from a hard-edged bark of “Get your ass off the ground.” Yet, I am also keenly aware of the potential damage that can be caused when someone in authority applies the drill-sergeant approach. In the end, I am most concerned about how best to bring about a fundamental transformation in my students. I think the prospect of being left behind can be conducive…if handled properly. And, part of it being done properly and consistent with your thought that “without one part of the chain the chain is no more”, I strongly believe that the a hand must always be extended to those who choose not to fight today but choose to fight tomorrow, the next day or the day after that. They door must remain open. As you can see. I have more posts on this coming and I do hope you leave more comments!

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