I was negligent and didn’t post a reflection last week, so this one will encompass two weeks of the program.
My level of anxiety about the program has dropped precipitously over the past couple of weeks. I’ve been able to lean on the active participation of the two Facilitators I have in my group to do a lot of the programmatic stuff, and I have been able to work mostly behind the scenes rather than trying to drive things forward. Martin and Michael, my co-volunteers, are both highly motivated to do well and highly capable, which is a relief. I think it would be a bigger problem if I had a lackadaisical team than if I had a few unruly students.
Week 2 was largely uneventful, and I don’t really have too much to say about it except that I am disappointed that our group chose to do a cancer fundraiser. Obviously I respect their choices, but I would have liked to see them choose something that involved more than raising funds “for cancer”. Community service should, I think, involve actually interacting with the community. Of course, considering the multitude of ways I have failed to live up to that over my own 29 years, maybe that is an unreasonable thing to expect from a group of 12 year-olds.
One of the things I have noted with interest is that when our group combined with the ‘WTML’ group, some of the strongest personalities in the room belong to the young women. They clearly have no biological programming to make them more demure and soft-spoken, and it looks like they haven’t internalized the talking points about “women’s roles” in scial interactions yet. I am as challenged by the most outspoken young women as I am by the outspoken guys in my own group, but that is not something that is ‘their fault’ as much as it is something for me to learn to deal with effectively.
I did pull one of my more rambunctious guys aside at the beginning of our Week 2 session because someone had mentioned that he had been a bit disruptive the previous week. I think I managed this conversation well. I told him first that he wasn’t in trouble and I wasn’t upset with him. I said that I was really glad he was in the program because he’s got a great sense of humour and pumps everyone up, but that some people have a hard time dealing with that level of energy. I told him I struggled with it a lot, and that I had to learn to keep my eyes and ears open for the reactions of others to figure out how not to bowl them over. He seemed receptive, and I’m willing to bet he’s heard something along these lines before. I’m not holding out a lot of hope for the magic of one conversation, but we’ll see how it goes.
The last thing I want to reflect on here is the ’empathy’ session we did in Week 3. The topics we’re discussing in these sessions are really broad and important, and we have to cram them into 20-minute chunks which is really frustrating. I understand that we are time constrained, but I think we do ourselves a disservice by presenting these things as ‘soundbyte’ topics. This was particularly evident to me this week when we did 20 minutes on ’empathy’ that required us to first define it and then act it out. A lot of the guys hadn’t really been exposed to the concept before, and asking them to act it out resulted in some sketches that were not only completely unrealistic but also (in some cases) missed the point entirely.
I am glad that I was able to inject something I think is important into the discussion though: the idea that it is not enough to simply not participate in harmful behaviours. We ought to, when we can, speak up in opposition to them. This wasn’t mentioned in the syllabus materials, but it’s an important lesson I’ve learned in discussions of misogyny and bullying. Part of the problem is that the victims feel like they’re ‘crazy’ for feeling victimized. The presence of a few supportive voices saying “you’re not wrong, and I’m angry too” makes a huge difference, and I wanted to get the guys thinking about that a bit.
I remain optimistic and excited about the next 5 weeks.