Cat’s Cradle is one of those playground games which defines my childhood. Children, mostly girls it has to be said, would stand, huddled over a loop of string intricately laced between a pair of hands. The task: try to recreate the original ‘cradle’ by clasping the crossover points in the string and simultaneously bring them up, over and through the strings below. Sounds complicated? It was! Somehow there was always a feeling of defeat when it ended with an impasse, the strings got tangled and there was no way to retrieve the cradle. I remember that feeling of thinking each time, ‘this time, I will get it right.’ Determination was trumped by frustration on many an occasion though.
My thoughts turn to string.
String can be quite annoying. It has a way of being like that. Although it has many incredible uses and is always handy to have around – angst arises when you find it left in a tangled heap – you pull on one end, only to find it become increasingly tangled and knotted. Perhaps even more annoying is that person who comes along just as you feel you are getting somewhere and says, “Can I have a go – I’m good at undoing knots.” but they give up after a couple of minutes and you’re left with your confusion of twisted strings. Or they champion the untying of the knot and leave you feeling a little exasperated – with a sense of underachieving.
Back to the knot. Although the temptation is to grab a pair of scissors and remedy the situation by cutting the string; dexterity, patience and an ability to see the root of the problem is all that is required if the state of confusion is to be resolved.
Do you see where I am going with this? When working with others it is likely issues (knots) will arise.
Let me share another analogy. I am a knitter.
Sometimes, while knitting, I discover a knot in the yarn. A short tug may be all that is needed to loosen the knot, but of course this can have the adverse effect of making the knot tighter or indeed break the yarn. I have a choice to make, do I continue knitting and include the knot, hoping it will somehow not be seen in the finished piece, do I make it into something ‘special’ a part of the whole thing, or do I stop and try to tease the knot apart, untangle it and resolve the dilemma?
Finding that moment to stop, reflect and pay attention to the issue isn’t easy. It is much easier to carry on regardless and hope that the problem will resolve itself, maybe make compromises and adapt to the situation rather than take measure of the implications that this could have.
When an issue has arisen within our arts based project, I am thankful that people have spoken up. They have identified that there is a potential difficulty and taken time to stop. As a facilitator I have had the chance to go visit several schools to help with this reflection. Sometimes that extra pair of eyes helps to see the root. Although tempting to go in with the answers (scissors), this is when as a leader I need to stop, look, and perhaps most importantly, listen to each person involved. Do I go in with my pair of ‘scissors’ and snip away? Do I look at each side of the knot and trace it backwards to identify misconceptions which have caused the result? Obviously the latter is preferable. The temptation may be to ‘tug’ on just one side of the knot. However, it is likely that the issue involves both sides.
Listening is vital. It is key. So often leaders can feel they have the authoritative right to press auto correct – they see the bigger picture and therefore have answers. I would like to challenge this approach.
Listening and watching, will give others the opportunity to voice their opinion, thoughts, questions. These need to be heard. This will help reveal the root of the issue to the discerning leader. For those who are at an impasse, through verbalizing aloud their thoughts, this can help tease the problem apart and reveal a solution. Giving them the opportunity to ‘undo the knot’ can empower, and produce a learned and lasting outcome.
When two or three people try to resolve the knot by tugging in the loose ends of the string, we know the result won’t be good. Frustration will arise, the confusion and opposing strengths may cause others to feel intimidated, resist involvement or ultimately give up.
Having said that, teamwork is paramount. Allowing each to have a chance to give and receive in an ebb and flow of learning from and with each other is what we are trying to achieve. Teacher development will be the result of listening and speaking. Sharing and receiving. The experience is a joint one with the artist. This is a new experience of working and learning together. Each partner will have their own ideas of learning through the arts and requires an openness to learning from each other. If not, then dilemmas will arise, knots in the project formed, and unresolved these could potentially skew the results we want to achieve.