We all suffer - How to address suffering affective

We all suffer – How to address suffering affective

Some days ago, I discovered the podcast Social Distance by The Atlantic. This podcast captures conversations between the preventive medicine physician and staff writer at The Atlantik Dr James Hamblin and the executive producer of podcasts for The Atlantic Katherine Wells about different aspects of the current 2020 COVID-19 crisis. Often they are joimed by a topic expert to discuss with and learn from.

One of the first episodes I listened to was episode 21 ‘You’re Doing Great’ in which James and Katherine are joined by Lori Gottlieb, a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a psychotherapist. She recently wrote a column about losing her father in the mids of a pandemic. Their conversation evolved around grief during these uncertain times at large but also very personal. 

One statement by Gottlieb resonated with me:

“Grief is the pain of loss. And it doesn’t have to be a death. It’s any kind of loss that causes you pain. People are minimizing certain losses because they feel like they aren’t valid. You’re missing your college graduation, for example. That’s a loss, and you grieve that. But it’s not the loss of a life, for example, or the loss of a job. As I always say: There’s no hierarchy of pain. There’s no hierarchy of grief. Grief is grief and loss is loss.” 

It reminded me of the many times friends apologised for sharing a problem with me. In the bare face of the death of my father, the struggles with a flatmate over the dishes or the disappointing date seem too small, too unimportant to bother me. How could they feel bad about the favourite t-shirt from that live-changing concert 15 years ago getting ruined in the laundry while I was grieving one of the most important people in my life? How could a sprained ankle that ended the participation in a dance tournament when my heart was breaking over never again seeing the man who raised me?

Similar to Gottlieb, I believe that there is no right or wrong grief, pain or suffering – no bigger or smaller. How could working towards this one dance tournament for over a year sacrificing time with family and friends being ruined just a day before it not count as a loss? Same goes for the shirt, which is so much more than a simple and replaceable textile. It is the token of the memory of the last concert they went to with their university best friend before she moved to the other side of the world.

That might sound ridiculous to you.

To help you better understand this seeming riddle, I would like to introduce to the concept of subjective vs objective suffering to you. 

In this blog post, I am referring to a concept I was taught by a disability activist some years ago. Unfortunately, we fall out of touch and to my shame, I cannot recall her name to correctly cite her here in recognition of her emotional labour. I am aware that these terms ate used similarly within Buddhist teachings and medical philosophy. Nevertheless, I have not done enough research to correctly include them here.

Let’s explain the concept of subjective vs objective suffering with an example. For that, I would like to introduce Alma and Bettel. Alma is a wheelchair user depending on assistance in many of her daily activities. Bettel struggles with chronic back pain and takes pain killers frequently. 

Looking at those two people without knowing anything else, who would you think struggles more going through life? Most of us would say, Alma, as most of our infrastructure is not accessible for wheelchair users and their life is impacted by countless stereotypes and stigma. If both would enter a room at the same time, Alma would always be identified as “different” and “in need of assistance”. In navigating or capitalist, sexist, ableist and racist society, people with visible disabilities and illnesses would encounter more discrimination and oppression – e.g. higher objective suffering.

But if we zoom into the actual daily life of these two people, we would see that Alma actually is the executive director for a nonprofit organisation, frequently travels the world and lives in a house fully adjusted to their needs. Bettel’s pain got so bad that they are on sick leave for over two months from their minimum wage job. The medication they are taking is highly addictive and harms their stomach and liver. Some days the pain is so bad they cannot get out of bed, which isolates them more and more. 

Again, who would you think struggles more going through life? Saying Alma does not feel right anymore, but how could we choose Bettel? It feels wrong to ignore all the societal and systemic factors that Alma as a wheelchair user has to fight against. But it also feels terrible to not count the real physical, psychological and financial hardship that Bettel experiences despite her societal and systemic privileges as a person passing as able-bodied.

That is where subjective suffering comes into play. Subjective suffering looks at to which degree an individuals’ life is negatively impacted through the intersection of their unique lived experience. Acknowledging Bettel’s daily pain and struggle to the degree they negatively affect their life within the framework of subjective suffering does negate the real systemic oppression Alma experiences.

Going back to my apologising friends at the beginning: Your at first sight trivial appearing everyday issues, due not get devalued because my father died. The monstrosity of experiencing grief for a parent does not mean you cannot get upset because the bus did not come, and you will be late for the coffee with a friend. 

If we encounter each other in an affectionate way in which we really see one another with all our weaknesses, we can avoid falling back into oppression Olympics where we measure each other’s struggles in better or worse terms. The pure fondness of affections allows us to be there for others facing racism in the same way we can help out a friend who needs a couch to crash on after a bad breakout. It also allows softness for your own struggles. You can cry over the loss of a pet in the same way you are raging about the endangerment of women* in refugee camps. Our lives and experiences are big enough to give space to both – subjective and objective suffering.

Thank you for taking the time out of you day. I hope it is helpful for you in navigating these uncertain times. Let me know what you think by leaving me a comment below. If you want me to reflect on another theory or concept reach out. Also, it would help me out if you like and share this post with our fellow trainer friends!

Love and appreciation,

Anuschka

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Give your workshop a strong backbone!

From Learning Journey to Thematic Building Blocks – Part 3 of the ‘How to Plan a Training’ series

Ever wondered how to narrow down all the content you want to cover in a seminar or training? How to use good aims and objectives to develop topics and concepts for a training? Or how to translate the learning journey in actual blocks of content that you can dedicate sessions to? If you sais yes to any of those questions, this is your blogpost! Intro

In this blog post, I will guide you through the process I use to define the Thematic Building Blocks for a training. What those are I will explain in a moment, but first I want to set the scene, where in my four-step approach to planning an educational activity we are.

In the first part of the ‘How to plan a training’ series, I took you through the steps necessary to define laser-sharp aims and objectives. Check the post out for more information! In short, you need to focus on keeping your objectives as specific, achievable and realistic as possible. Next, in part 2, we looked at those as the different elements for a successful learning journey you want to take you participants. Check here for more details, but in short, I offered you three different approaches to create a draft agenda. The first one was focusing on a logical order of the objectives. The second looked on the development a participant will go through during the event. And the third referred to the hero’s journey my facilitator friend Bastian Küntzel over at Incontro proposes in his book ‘The Learner’s Journey – Storytelling as design principle to create powerful learning experiences’.

Now that we have aims and objectives as well as a draft agenda, we want to combine those with the overall content of the educational activity. For that, I want to offer you the following analogy:

Give your workshop a strong backbone!

Imagen the human spine. It’s an intricate system of different parts that all serve a different purpose but are all essential for us to stand, sit, walk around or do any kind of activity with our body. Same goes for the success of an educational event and the equivalent to the bones of our spine – the vertebrae – are the Thematic Building Blocks.

Those are all the different pieces of content you want to cover during an educational activity. These can be concepts and terms as well as skills or attitudes you want participants to master or reflect on. They are predefined by the aims and objectives as well as the learning journey and will give you the frame to develop the concrete sessions.

Let’s see how we can come up with them by using an example:

We are planning a training on climate change and its social impacts. It will consist of eight sessions, and the participants are youth activists that work on a local level with displaced people. 

As learning aims, we have formulated the following:

  • Participants explore the social impact of climate change.
  • Participants can articulate the connection between this impact and displacement.

As objectives we set:

  1. During the training, participants gain knowledge regarding the effects of climate change in rural communities in the global south.
  2. Participants develop displacement profiles through case studies.
  3. Participants explore the connection between climate change and displacement.
  4. Participants learn about reasons for displacement by building on each other’s expertise.
  5. Participants present the social dimension of climate change to stakeholders in the decision-making process.

The narrative of the learning journal would be: 

Participants work on reasons for displacement, starting from their own experience on the local level. Next, they are taking it to the global level, generalise it and add the impact of climate change to their perspective. They close the activity by bringing it back to the local level and formulate the tangible effect it has in their municipalities.

To start, I would look for keywords in both the aims and objective but also especially in the learning journey. These can be important concepts or terms which need definition or summarising titles that need to be untangled. Below you can see what I would identify for our examples:

  • Climate Change
  • Displacement
  • Local context
  • Global Context
  • Social impact
  • Rural community
  • Stakeholder

As concepts like climate change and displacement are enormously huge, I would create mindmaps to further dissect those terms and concepts – always keeping it in the context of the training focus.

Give your workshop a strong backbone!

Looking at the different mindmaps, I would try to identify intersection and interesting aspects but would also start crossing out ‘irrelevant’ tangents.

Give your workshop a strong backbone!

Referring back to the learning journey I defined prior, I would attempt to arrange the different aspects in corresponding order. At this stage, I would also decide if there would be a need an adjustment in the learning journey to fit this analysis. The ‘essential’ building blocks and those specific for this educational event would be added in at this stage. 

Give your workshop a strong backbone!

These are the Thematic Building Blocks! As mentioned before they represent the general flow of the different sessions. What needs to be done now, would be to define how many sessions will be dedicated to each building block and what will be the focus (speak aims and objectives ;)) of each of the session. I usually use the same approach here as I would for the aims and objectives for the overall activity. Check out part 1 of the ‘How to Plan a Training’ series if you want to learn more about this process.

Risks & traps

Go big or go home is not the right approach here. No matter how interesting an aspect in your mindmap is if it does not fall into the scope of the activity, you have to let it go. Also, be aware that a connection that appears entirely logical to you might not work for someone else. Keep this in mind when moving from your building blocks to the methods in the next step. Participants must be able to establish these connections in how you translate down the learning journey and building blocks into the methods.

Some pro-tips

  • Keep it visual: Especially if you work in a team, it helps to establish a shared understanding of the Thematic Building Blocks if you find ways to make them visual. A simple way would be to use post-its and a whiteboard. 
  • Get a second perspective: If you working on your own, you could share your building blocks with a friend or family member to check the logic. Maybe you even have a topic expert in your network. Get their input to the mindmap – but don’t forget to narrow it down afterwards again.

So, what do you think about this step in planning a training? Do you have a different approach or a question? Leave me a comment below. Also, it would help me out if you like and share this post with our fellow trainer friends!

In the next and last part of the ‘How to plan a training’ series, I will show what I think is essential when picking the final methods for your sessions. Stay tuned!

Love and appreciation,

Anuschka

Who, what, why - Defining your ultimate facilitator identity

Who, what, why – Defining your ultimate facilitator identity

In my initial Training of Trainer by the International Union of Socialist Youth, our trainers put a bunch of cards on the ground. On these cards, they had written titles like ‘mother’, ‘football coach’, and ‘teacher’. They told us to choose one of them and that it would represent our identity as a trainer.

Picking one thing that defines me as a trainer? I broke a sweat and started to restlessly sort through the cards. I was looking for the title that would promise me the most diverse ways of working and approaching education. The last thing that I wanted was to be backed into the restrictive boundaries of the formal educational teacher thinking.

It did not dawn on me at that moment, was that any title would be what I made of it. I was the one deciding how to fill any role. Back then, I picked ‘older sister’ as my card. I envisioned my trainer identity to be one that cares for their participants but does not control their learning, that embraces them both lovingly and challenging.

This idea of me as a facilitator and trainer did not change a lot since 2016. What changed is that today I have a better understanding of how different each and every one of us approach their practice. Over the years, I have met and worked with many very different trainers. Thanks to their diversity, I was able to identify eleven trainer or facilitator archetypes. Each of the archetypes expanse around one aspect of the trainer-participant relationship. Once you have read through the different profiles, I show you my way of defining my very own trainer identity using these archetypes.

Coach

The Coach guides the participants through the process. They are incredible in finding the right question to ask to challenge a participant’s assumption. Their high awareness for the process and its flow makes it easy for them to adjust and think on their feet. 

But the Coach can also get into too deep. They risk focussing their attention too much on one or a few participants. They can also lose track of themselves as they are so tuned into the participants. Self-care is not their most vigorous pursuit.

Expert

The Expert trainer is in love with their topic or approach. They often come from the field or have worked on it for along time. They are a great resource to tab into while developing sessions or if participants have specific questions. Their insight can help to push participants to the next level through detailed and precise questions.

On their own, an Expert can be problematic in a participatory setting as they might be too deep into the weeds. They could take over discussions or enforce their authority by giving to much input. Their relationship to participants can be distant. Participants could even be afraid to voice their opinion if it is different than the one of the trainer.

Best Friend

The Best Friend is close to the participants and can relay to their needs and problems. They trust them and want to hang out with them in the evening or after the training. The Best Friend trainer is incredibly useful in feeling the pulse of the group and anticipate what they need next. 

But they can also be too close. The best friend might cut a team meeting short because a bunch of participants wants to grab some drinks. Even in the most non-formal setting, if the line between participant and trainer gets too blurry, it becomes hard to have all the pieces in place to put the process in motion. 

Cheerleader

The Cheerleader creates fantastic energy. They cheer the participants up, spread joy and laughter. If a group is stuck, they know just that small energiser that will help them move on and climb to new heights. It is the same energy that makes them fantastic team members. A team meeting with them feels more like a coffee date with friends. You will feel empowered by them to grow and go further.

Nevertheless, sometimes they miss the target. Cheering up for the purpose of cheering up can feel shallow. It might even allow participants to not reflect on mistakes or shortfalls. When cheering up turns into people-pleasing, it stops being constructive. Especially if there are conflicts that need to be discussed in the team, the Cheerleader in their extreme can be a stumbling block.

Controller

The Controller is always on top of the situation. They have an eye on all the things – the time, the method, the mood, the discussion, the and and and. They know how to keep things on track and make methods work.

For participants and co-trainers alike, the Controller can be a bit of a challenge. Being so focused on keeping everything in the green, they have a hard time to adapt to the flow of a session or the need of the participants. They can be perceived as distant and stressed out at times.

Accountability Buddy

The Accountability Buddy lets participants find their own way but checks in with them to keep them on track to. This type always strives for the right balance of freedom and structure. They are also an ideal partner to have in the team, as they give you your space but also hold you accountable to get shit done. Who does not need some external accountability some time? 😉

The most significant risk with the Accountability Buddy is when they don’t check-in. In that case, the loose structure of their approach falls apart. Especially with participants, it can create a feeling of been let down.

Nurturer

The Nurturer has the gift to accompany participants throughout their entire learning journey by giving them exactly the right intellectual nourishment to grow beyond themselves. Also, in the team, they often show that they know exactly what the others need and how to take care of them.

Nevertheless, even the Nurturer can overdo it. Helping participants too much or too early can stop them from putting an effort in. In the team, they can be just too much. As a consequence, individual team members might need to enforce boundaries which can lead to a conflict.

(Over)sharer

The Sharer has one really powerful tool – they lead groups through their own vulnerability. When talking about a tough topic, they don’t mind lowering the hesitance to participate through bringing a personal example. 

The Sharer becomes problematic when they overshare. Their examples can make them the main focus of the discussion instead of encouraging participants to share their own. Their personal feelings can derail a team meeting.

Method Magician

The Method Magician has – as the name says – always a method up their sleeve. Does the group discussion get stuck – they have a method. Is the brainstorming all over the place – they have a method. Is there a conflict between to groups of participants – they have a method. As a co-trainer, you can always count on the method magician to help you out when you feel stuck developing a session. 

As useful as that might sound, the Method Magician can overdo it. They can plaster sessions so full of methods that no real flow between the participants can establish. The group could also just stay on the surface of an issue because they are more focussed with understanding the next method than to reflect on the topic. Furthermore, methods can create a barrier between participant and trainer. Who would like to approach someone with a question knowing the answer will be a method instead of a personal connection.

Entertainer

The Entertainer is always ready to turn a stuffy session into a fascinating action movie. Their joyful mentality makes them super approachable for participants and a joy to work with for every educational team. They are excited to take on every energiser and lead in educational games and team building activities.

But sometimes they do not know when to dial it down. Some topics or situation need a more thoughtful and sensitive approach. It can be challenging for participants when hard issues are approached with ‘Let’s create a dance that symbolises it.’. Also for themselves, the Entertainer can at moments be too much. They can put all their energy into being on all the time and forget to take care of themselves.

Fly on the Wall

The Fly on the Wall is the most excellent observer of them all. They know precisely the right moment to step back and give space to the participants. Their strong suit is active listening. It gives participants the feeling of being heard in a really authentic and genuine way.

On the other hand, the Fly on the Wall can appear withdrawn and not really part of the process. That can make it difficult for participants to approach them. As a co-trainer, you can feel being let down by them if they are too passive.

Do you remember how I told you at the beginning that I got anxious about picking just one of the cards as my trainer identity? I would have the same feeling today if I had to pick one of the above archetypes.

The way I approach them to form my ultimate trainer identity is to look at them as scales. In myself as a trainer and facilitator, I see parts of all these archetypes manifesting themselves to a different degree. You can see my current set of the scales in the graphic below.

Who, what, why - Defining your ultimate facilitator identity

So what does that mean for my practice? I approach the archetypes as base-assessment for my professional development as a trainer and facilitator. Let’s say I want to be more supportive of my participants without making it easy for them. In the first step, I identify the archetype that relates to this skill – the Coach, Accountability Buddy, Nurturer and Cheerleader. Next, I check-in with my current set of the scale and how it presents in my practice. Finally, I formulate a goal for each of the archetype I need to improve.

I also used it in analysing my practice in retrospect after an activity. That helps me to understand what drove specific actions and how I can do it differently the next time. They can also be a useful concept when addressing specific needs among the participants. Let’s say the group is really slow to react, I might want to dip deep into my Entertainer behaviours.

How would you describe your trainer identity? Do you know other trainer archetypes? Is there a profile you want me to dive deeper in? Let me know in the comments below. 

Also, it would help me out if you like and share this post with your fellow trainer friends!

Love and appreciation,

Anuschka

P.S. Looking for more archetypes? Check out the different kinds of experts and how you can work with them here.