Sunday, December 9, 2012

Consistency Versus Authenticity

I have two adults children: a son, Ceilee, who is 31, and a daughter, Jo, who is 25. Both essentially left home in the fall of 1999 and excepting for Jo returning to Sandhill for the 2006 growing season (after getting what she wanted out of culinary school), they've been on their own ever since. While they'll always be my kids and have a special place in my heart, they're adults now and my parenting role is mainly a memory.

Nonetheless I was reminded of that this weekend while conducting a facilitation training in Santa Cruz because I got into a conversation with someone about the value of consistency when holding people accountable for community agreements. While I had no trouble understanding the argument in favor of consistency (and its two sidekicks, fairness and predictability) over the course of the nearly four decades I've lived in community I've gradually come to a more nuanced understanding of group dynamics, to the point where I now pay greater homage to authenticity, and have relegated consistency to lesser god status.

Thus, when Member A gets irritated that Member B isn't doing their fair share of group work, I'm more interested in the strength of A's reaction (and what it means) than I am about scrutinizing B's work log. I've discovered that, at the end of the day, what matters most is clear energy among group members, not consistency. While there needs to be some sense of balance, that does not necessarily equate to everyone being treated equally (mainly because people are never actually equal).

That said, it tends to matter a lot that people know why they're being treated the way they are, and that they're being treated honestly. While the laws of physics may be consistent, it turns out that people rarely are.

I learned this lesson through parenting in community, where many adults interact regularly with each child. While at first we were very concerned with developing a uniform response to certain kid behaviors (such as refusing to clean up after they'd made a mess), it ultimately dawned on us that the kids would need to be able to function in a world where adults were not consistent at all (and not just one adult compared with another; adults are often maddeningly inconsistent themselves), and that it would be more useful for them to get consistently heartfelt interactions than the same response to the same dynamic. Thus, we shifted to asking adults to use their best judgment in any given situation with a child—and be straight with them about why—rather than to memorize a code book of responses. If you're mailing it in for the sake of following the party line, kids sniff that out in a blink and get mistrustful. Not good.

(If you think about it, even three-year-olds know which parent to go to for an extra helping of dessert without eating their carrots. After observing how easily they puzzle out how to navigate subtle differences among adults, you realize that consistency is overrated.)

Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that consistency has no value. I'm only saying that authenticity has a greater value. When you realize that relationships are the core building blocks of community, and that authentic inconsistency better serves relationship than insincere consistency, you can grok the essence of how I came to this conclusion.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Excellent comments.