“Can you do me a favor?” That was the question that inspired yesterday’s post here. But as the day went by, I realized there’s a connection between that post and the one from Tuesday about for, to, and with, and there’s probably a connection with Wednesday’s post about too much and not enough, too. Grammatically speaking, that me is an interesting little word. It’s the indirect object in that sentence; if the sentence were in Latin, German, or Greek, it would be in the cāsus datīvus form, the form that means “to” or “for” someone or something. Inherent in the concept of doing favors, then, is the idea of to and for, an asymmetrical and potentially unstable relationship between the parties involved. Debbie described it this way in her Google+ comment:
“Can you do me a favour?” … umm… depends. .. depends on whether it fits with my belief system, with my schedule, with my perception of our relationship, and whether I think you need my help or I think you are trying to use me … (and I’m sure there are other factors that go through our complicated minds)
“Can I do you a favour?” … ummm… depends…. depends on whether or not I need/want what you are offering; depends on what strings are attached and if I want to feel that I owe you something in return …
“I’m going to do you a favour!” … oh really! Did I ask for your help? Is this any of your business? Why are you doing this – what’s in it for you? Can I trust you? Can I trust your input, the “favour”? Are you the one I would turn to for such help?
As you discussed in your blog, Justin, there is a mutual agreement of sorts when it comes to favours, a “win-win” situation that both parties have agreed to through some sort of cultural/human spoken or unspoken interaction. If the favour isn’t invited, accepted, understood, or respected then this “agreement” isn’t valid and things fall apart.
As a mentor, then, we need to manoeuvre our “favour negotiating” in a way that leaves the student wanting our favour, understanding the favour, respecting the favour, and ready to use the favour to their advantage.
Intention, empowerment, greater good, Fire of Truth … I can see them all playing a role in this process.
Negotiating favors isn’t something I’d thought about before Debbie used the phrase, but the more I think about it, the more important it seems. Negotiating, by its very nature, is a with-relationship: you can’t negotiate to somebody, and you negotiate for somebody to your peril unless you’re specifically authorized as their agent.
“But I’m not negotiating with those bad, lazy kids! They need to sit down, shut up, and do the worksheet like I told them to do!” That’s Ms. X and Mr. Y’s plaintive cry, but of course in practice even Ms. X and Mr. Y negotiate with their students all the time. “If you’ll just sit down and copy the PowerPoint now, we can play a game or do something fun later,” One Ms. X used to say. And if everyone in the class was present on the day of a test, which meant That Ms. X didn’t have to go to the bother of writing a make-up test? Everybody got a certain number of bonus points. That Ms. X saw no contradiction, of course, between these practices and her claims of being a “rigorous grader.”
That Ms. X is long retired, but Another Ms. X and Yet Another Ms. X were finishing lunch when I stepped briefly into the teachers’ workroom to pick up a print job and check my mailbox. “Thank you,” I told them, “for setting up your current classes so well in the New Student Information System.” Wednesday had been my day to check and make sure everything was as it should be, and of course Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y had forgotten a step, or clicked the wrong box, or done something that, if not corrected, would have led to cries of “my grades are wrong!” or worse. But Ms. X and Ms. X had followed the directions exactly, and I was glad to tell them so. They were glad to hear some affirmation, and we talked for a while about the importance of affirmation in a world where criticism is so common and so frequent. We even talked about the importance of consistency!
“Here’s the problem, though,” said Ms. X after a moment. “They,” by which she meant the Powers That Be who had just announced a spontaneous celebration for a student group that’s in the running for a Really Big Award, “always say one thing and do another.” Ms. X was annoyed (and, to be fair, I had been annoyed too) because that announcement came within days of a message about how important it was for Ms. X, Mr. Y, and everybody else to look at the school calendar and use it when planning their weeks. The celebration, which even Ms. X would have embraced if she’d been involved with the planning of it, felt like a thing that was being done to her, another disruption in a long week of disruptions, especially when one of the items listed on the calendar had been moved, without any warning, to an entirely different time, and when another event (involving many of the same students) had been added after the week began and the plans had been made. The celebration itself went really well, and I hope Ms. X and Ms. X felt better after it was over, but I didn’t see them to find out.
Negotiating favors … and working with each other to make sure that my perceived favor is also your perceived favor. Those are important, but easily overlooked, in any organization, but they’re vital in a joyful learning community. As a new day begins, I wonder what mutual discoveries we’ll make as we build meaningful things together, and I wonder what other new insights the new day will hold.