When you are confused, you are on the verge of learning something (Koz, 1985…)

….Part 2 of May 23rd…. the elated emotion that countered the news about Marcos.

The same day that I heard the bad news about Marcos, I witnessed one of the most pivotal moments with Carmen.  Carmen, what can I say? She always amazes me…  I have described her as a natural leader and that she is.  But I have also noted in my personal journal that there are qualities about Carmen that might prohibit her from being an effective leader.  Namely, Carmen seems to want to give the impression that she is under control at all times and she knows it all.  I see leadership as more than that.

An example of this adherence to those qualities is evident in the interactions between Marisol and Carmen.  On many occasions, Marisol would say to Carmen – what do you think about this idea?  And how do you think it would be to have this as a representation of your ideas.   Ummm hmmm Carmen would say.  It was a response almost to say, yes, I hear you, but I’ve got this.  And usually she would say something that goes with that image. I got it, I have everything that I need.

I can empathize with Carmen’s “resistance” to hearing new ideas and taking constructive criticism.   I have my own history as to why I’ve been known to react this way, but with Carmen, why could this be?  I reflect on many possibilities: she is a woman in a predominantly male dominated society, she needs to show her strength to be considered equal in the eyes of others in her community, she is driven to be seen as strong and intelligent (her desire is to obtain a scholarship and study in the US), she is just plain stubborn (with a smile)… these are some among many interpreted possibilities.

This is not to say that Carmen is not open to learning.  It is exactly the opposite.  Carmen wants to learn everything.  What is more, more often than not she is organizing these external activities and taking on teaching responsibilities in the community.  But it is not often that Carmen will show her vulnerability.  It is quite rare that she will ask questions that might insinuate that she doesn’t know something little let alone something inherently more complex.

This day was different.  Carmen, reached out.  I saw a new characteristic in Carmen, one that she has hidden from us.  It was a moment that I won’t soon forget.

Let me take us back a little and share how it happened.  Marisol and I were late that day.  Although theoretically, the car should get us there more quickly, the detours in Solola and construction on the Pan American highway slowed us down.  We arrived at 9:30 AM.  Carmen, Catalina, and Emilio had waited for a short time, but then went home.  They assumed we weren’t coming, mostly because the workshop in Pana was scheduled for two days later.   Marisol immediately called Carmen.  Carmen answered and said that they were there, but they left.  Why would they leave, I wondered?  But then Carmen explained.  Carmen was the only one that came back.

There is a luxury about confusing the schedule and with having a lack of consistent attendance.  Specifically, we get to the opportunity to have one-on-one consultations.  Today was Carmen’s day.

I take out one of the Macs, the one that Carmen has been working on.  She opens it, immediately launches iMovie and gets to work.  She sits poised in front of the computer.  She begins, in unbroken concentration, to work on her edits.  Not too long after, she pauses and looks toward us, back to the computer and then back toward us.  I see a hesitation in what is her normal fluent and persistent work.  A moment later, her eyes find their way somewhere between the computer and us.  She doesn’t look directly at us she looks down.   I don’t often see in Carmen do this.  She always holds eye contact even when she and I are speaking our own languages trying desperately to understand each other.  Looking down, she quietly says,  I’m confusedI just don’t know how to put this story together. 

I can feel a slight smile emerging on my face.   I hold back my elation. Carmen is asking for help! Carmen, strong, confident, and resolute Carmen is confused! And she’s willing to admit it.  I can’t help but think of the famous words of my favorite professor Koz, Susquehanna’s famous Koz. He would always say, When you are confused you are on the verge of learning something.  It is a line, I often refer to – because in these states of struggle is often the times that we learn the most.  And what I hoped for Carmen was that she would be learning more than “how to” put this story together.  This was a time for her to learn that opening up and talking through confusion means an opportunity for talking about possibilities, seeing new ways of doing things, and finding in that the way she wants to tell her story.  It is completely within her – she just needed to talk it through.

Carmen is still looking down.  Marisol looks to me.  Then Carmen raises her eyes as she feels me energy and enthusiasm flow toward her.  Oh, I say, there are many possibilities!  I’ll share two with you.  I offered a linear and a non-linear model in order to illustrate possible extremes and hopefully give way to the grays in between.  The linear example implied that she could just show each interview in a sequence that she thought made sense.  The non-linear model is one that emulates ethnography.  That is, Carmen could watch the video and find themes.  Then she could decide a sequence for those themes and pull chunks from the interviews, interspersing them where it made sense.  Marisol helps me to explain this.

Carmen, like the sponge that she is, listened intently. A light comes on for Carmen.  You could almost see the wheels turning in her mind.  She got it… right away her demeanor transitioned from insecure and unsure right back to confident and determined.  And away she went. She began sequencing the kinds of questions that she asked and putting them in a way that made sense to her.  She began to grab pieces of interviews and put them together as support to the sequence she created.  And what is more, this is yet another example of a moment where one of the youth is asking for a direction and instead of us telling her “the” way or any way – we engage in conversations that assess possibilities and tell her that the next step is her choice.

In this video, you can see and hear how in just two days, Carmen became more confident about what she was telling, how she was telling it, and why the sequence was going to be what it is.  Professional, is a word that comes to mind, as Carmen tells the new San Juan group about her experience and her journey thus far.

Even without subtitles, one can see from this video that Carmen has command of her subject and is in essence finding her voice.

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One thought on “When you are confused, you are on the verge of learning something (Koz, 1985…)

  1. Workshop May 25 – Unlocking Silent Histories

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