Service and Reciprocity

Many years ago I made a commitment to service. The shape of that service has changed over the years: first it was to people suffering from pain and disability; later it took the form of addictions and trauma counselling; and now it focuses on learners in the educational system. But wherever my interests and activities have led me, I have (for a long time now, but not always) thought of my work as service to others. Beyond the uncertainties and surprising turns of my career, beneath the drive for my own success and recognition, I have felt fundamentally grounded in the spirit of service. For me, there seems to be no other worthwhile path.

But sometimes it can be difficult to know how best to approach service. Compassion, empathy, and mentorship — the core skills and tasks of service — are not simple. They require consistent and humbling attention to many aspects of self-awareness. And, like everyone else, it's easy for me to get in my own way. At the moment, as I work toward a vision of education that is, more or less, about dismantling and rebuilding the whole thing, it's easy to get caught up in details, strategies, and the seemingly endless demands of a huge initiative with tiny beginnings. Within that whirlwind, the primary value of service — the reason I am doing all of this in the first place — can be obscured by whatever urgent issue comes to occupy a given day. (Most of us are like this, right? We spend more time putting out fires than nurturing the spark of our deeper purpose.)

One of the aspects of service that I enjoy most is its reciprocity, its honesty. If I am not doing a good job of service, people will tell me about it. And I will feel it, too. I will know — everyone with whom I work will know — that I am not as present as I might be, or as purposeful, or as truthful. In this sense, service is a kind of mirror, a natural pathway for self-examination. I cannot provide authentic service if I am not authentically willing to stay in touch with, and work on, my own development. Service, as I sometimes like to say, is free therapy.

This reciprocal feedback system is one of the ways that I learn about how well (or not well, as the case may be) things are going with IDEA, the current focus of much of my professional work. IDEA is founded upon principles that are aligned with the ethic of service: community engagement, personal development, empathy, character, and related themes that might be described as holistic and integrative. We're focused on the whole person in IDEA, and the measure of our success involves the extent to which learners deepen their self-awareness in our classes. Self-awareness, after all, is the most integrative and holistic aspect of each one of us. Self-awareness (or lack of it) lies at the root of everything we are and everything we do.

So I am particularly interested in hearing from learners about how we are doing, in IDEA, with this notion of founding an academic enterprise on integrative and holistic values. And, based on this recent feedback from a learner, we're doing alright:

I have been at Kwantlen for five years and during that time I have undergone numerous peer reviews, presentations and submitted essays that I have toiled on and poured hours into. That said, this class seemed to be asking more of me: to submit works that originate from me, ultimately in a personal way...

Working on these projects opened up many avenues of myself to my own consciousness, from simply blowing off steam to expressing my opinions to what I most enjoy: morphing my own memories and experiences into works with anchors to the waking world. [My final project] was the champion of all my work. At risk of being over-dramatic, what I experienced was something near an epiphany. Realization dawned on me that with every activity I use to explore my own creative nature, I slowly better myself. I learn that I enjoy not only the process of creating something that is my own but the finished product as well. These feelings are the beginnings of pride, which I don't feel I have truly had with my work for many years...

As the semester ends I feel that I can truly say I have delved deeper into myself, learning about what and who I really am. It is this that I find truly valuable. This is something I will ruminate on while on long drives and use to build myself as I age...

Every semester it is as if I am working on a novel about myself. I become ever more self-aware and in turn discover things I feel strongly about and other traits about which I am not happy. To draw on a cliché, the journey itself is much more valuable than the beginning or end. Something many often seem to forget, including myself. This class was another step in that journey, reminding me that the moment I am in, is the only moment I have.

It also seems that our IDEA learners find our courses to be broadly useful, and many learners are interested in helping us find ways to expand the scope and reach of our courses. This snippet of feedback summarizes that view:

If I had my way, I would change my major to IDEA. I have learned so much from these courses that I can apply in my future endeavours. Honestly, I have never experienced taking such courses which are so informative and offer such a great learning curve. IDEA courses have taught me team building, self awareness, leadership, public speaking, and to express my creativity and imagination. These are all skills that I can apply prefessionally.

Overall, IDEA seems to be a useful service for students. That's the central goal for me: service to students.

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