Rather than going to teach people…

Rather than going to teach people…

By Roger O’Halloran

Recently I have been considering if we might need to change advertising specific positions on Palms website.  Advertising them was encouraged when we had Government funding but look at this page, does it mitigate against our approach here?  Does advertising a position like a job encourage enquiries from those with Western “answers” to their hosts “needs” rather than those looking to engage in respectful relationships where control of developments by the host is paramount?

Perhaps Socrates has the answer?

Apparently Socrates mother was a mid-wife.  Did this influence his process, not to teach, but rather to assist people “give birth” to insights that he believed can only come from within?  Evidently this was his approach as he wandered the town square declaring his ignorance and asking people questions to draw them out on how accepted cultural “truths” impacted their lives.  Drawing people out like this has become a valued “Art of Discourse” for philosophers and teachers since.

The Socratic method is similar to the approach Palms encourages in those we prepare as mentors.  As well as being a sound teaching methodology it is an approach that enables us to learn from our hosts.  This is not simply about seeking to understand them but being willing to stand under them; to allow them to help us understand our contribution in their terms and context.

Anthony Gittens speaks of this as the role of the stranger in a host community.  The stranger does not have the right to demand what they want from the host no matter how much they perceive they have “sacrificed” to be there.  While waiting for acceptance and trust the stranger needs to bring all their cultural humility to the fore; allowing the host to decide when they can be brought into the tent.

By contrast ethnocentric visitors from other cultures will display a perhaps unconscious arrogance with expectations about how things should be done in the host country.  I believe Palms preparation mitigates against destructive neo-colonial approaches, but for program participants in whom such is deeply ingrained it can be more difficult to respect their host’s ways.  This is reinforced in the cross-cultural simulation Bafa Bafa where visitors learn that demanding engagement on their terms can be met with host culture resistance. 

Palms Perceptive Partners

Fortunately most of our partners have had a good deal of experience managing the variety of personalities Palms has prepared over the years.  They are astute at identifying when participants struggle with transition.  Those who at least attempt to be culturally humble, are offered boundless support.

A participant who rejects the premise of cultural humility will fail to appreciate partners as the proper managers of their own development.  I apologise to  partners who have been burdened by any who take longer to adjust to the appropriate relationship.  Let me too thank you for resolving issues with a calm and deft approach sometimes beyond our cultural praxes.

What Palms can do is strengthen our efforts to deprogram those who waste your time by coming to “help” rather than coming first to learn and realise how best you can work together.  Our advertising of your requests for assistance will be reshaped with an even stronger emphasis on the mutuality of our development together, and our training will attempt to give more weight to the approaches of Socrates, Freire and Gittins

Feature image: Palms participant Les Hartwig alongside a local man from Mt Hagen, Papua New Guinea