We live in amazing times. Breakthroughs in technology and scientific knowledge happen so fast that we often ask ourselves whether we will be able to assimilate and understand everything that is happening around us. The advent of social networking and the internet has brought us to an era where everything is available immediately right here, right now”. All too often we are perplexed because what we have always believed is suddenly deemed obsolete and outdated.
I have often reflected on this and wondered about how best to deal with this overwhelming torrent of information that we receive on a daily basis. Someone once said that “those who do not know the past have no future”, and I agree. Anyone who believes that the “here and now” is everything that has ever existed is irretrievably lost. In the face of the daily outpouring of “news and data , if we do not have well regulated, well tuned “filters”, we will succumb, become alienated, and ultimately easily manipulated by a society that simply offers both individuals and society at large an ethos of fast-paced consumption.
I have observed that the wonderful advances that we have seen in recent times have left many “behind”, because they were not provided with either enough or the right kind of education. Equally there are many people that despite having been “educated” cannot see things in perspective.
I am very fortunate to have enjoyed what I would term a “humanist education”. I consider that the “humanities” such as history and geography that I was taught at school have helped me to understand our world and our time. I have always been interested in world history and the history of philosophy. The study of these subjects has helped me to understand how we have got to where we are now. Accordingly, I firmly believe that the main priority of the education system should be to teach people to “think”, that is, to have a keen and refined critical sense, something that should be shaped by teachers, trainers and tutors. Accordingly, in my view, preparing women and men to think critically and how to relate new information to what was previously acquired (a traditional definition of “knowledge”), is the main function of the educator or the trainer.
So you ask – What is the role of the trainer, someone who may either be training people to mediate or explaining conflict coaching techniques to a group of HR professionals? What should I do that a teacher or university professor might not do?
Trainers should not simply regurgitate large tracts of “knowledge” – there are internet search tools which will access the world-wide-web. The trainer’s role is not so much to convey actual information or knowledge but to enable trainees to find the information themselves. The good trainer will provide his trainees with “clues” to stimulate them. He/she will be critical and will ask the right questions, techniques that ultimately help the trainees to discover and to problem solve. The trainees should be taught “how to be” and to think and focus on practicalities, not just to blandly “understand” and regurgitate.
Consider the airline pilot. He/she has been trained to “be” a pilot, in a sense to behave in the manner which is expected of such a professional. Initially he or she will have studied and acquired theoretical knowledge about flight, aircraft and the laws of physics that allow massive machines with hundreds of passengers and crew take off from a runway and remain safe in the sky.
However, this initial theoretical knowledge is the foundation which the trainee pilot builds on. Acquiring all this knowledge is the precursor to him/her becoming a highly qualified and respected professional with the responsibility to safely operate an aircraft that defies the laws of physics and carries millions of lives in total security. Because life really is full of surprises and factors such as weather are very unpredictable: it is not enough just to rely on theoretical knowledge. Those who have learned the requisite theory need experience so that in the face of new and unexpected situations, they will be able to respond in an effective, proactive and creative manner thereby creating their own solutions to problems that present themselves. This is real knowledge!
To achieve this, training a pilot (or in not dissimilar vein a lawyer, surgeon or musician), may involve thousands of hours of simulations or mock-ups in which the trainee is presented with common situations in which he/she must demonstrate not only theoretical knowledge, but also an ability to deal with unusual or unexpected situations that will require degrees of improvisation or thinking outside the box. In these situations, our pilot must usually adopt 1 of 2 options: either to follow a manual (which may not include anything about hitherto unforeseen scenarios)”by the letter”, panic and crash the airplane, or, using all the “knowledge” he has gained after hours of study and reflection, to save the day by finding a solution to the “new” problem that has presented itself.
In achieving this the pilot demonstrates that he/she has not just moved past the theoretical learning stage but has learned to assimilate vast tracts of knowledge, apply it and effectively make sense of it.
This is what I and the other ASM trainers and coaches do on a regular basis for people from all walks of life and all income groups: HR and medical professionals, individuals, neighbours, workers, patients, lawyers, litigants, disputing couples, trainee mediators and many others. We help them to address situations that may be novel to them, to think outside the box, and come up with possible creative, flexible solutions and to implement them or encapsulate them in written agreements.
I am quite sure that in this era of great challenges, as with our accomplished pilot, we need people who know how to think and who can demonstrate that they know how to learn from the past in order to create solutions for the future. ASM’s trainers and coaches are admirably placed to fulfil this need