Change is being part of human. And oh, is it one of the hardest parts of being human. When students take our Change course, within the Claremont Core curriculum, we often begin by changing one small thing for several days and then reflecting on how this impacted us. Students drive a different route to work, switch the hands they wear their watches on, get their news from an unfamiliar source, or brush their teeth with their non-dominant hand. Even a relatively simple change like this creates enough disruption to cause a bit of stress, and more mindfulness about things we often take for granted: routine, patterns, feeling safe in our routines.
Today, in Spring 2020, there is no need to create artificial mini-disruptions to help remind us how difficult change can be. All of us have become change leaders—in our homes, working remotely, managing homeschooling, collaborating with strangers and grocery store workers to get necessities while mindful of community health, and trying somehow to grapple, day by day, hour by hour, with the stress and anxiety of great unknowns and constant change.
Now that we’re all experts on the difficulties of change, we must also become adept at strategies that can help alleviate stress, activate fear, and keep us from thriving. As our students remind us in their courses, in emails and messages on social media, and via phone calls, Zoom meetings, course evaluations, and their Commencement remarks: these ingredients most often include Mindfulness, Dialogue, and Collaboration.
One key thing to remember at this very moment: we’re experiencing stress, anxiety, and even grief. Naming the grief and disappointment for the loss of events, connection, and routines is not silly, it’s part of being mindful about all the stimuli around us activating and impacting our thoughts and actions. Take time to check in with yourself. How are you feeling? What do you need? Curate your consumption of media that you find distracting and anxious. Consider pausing your notifications and setting a time of day you seek out news. Cultivate routines that give you time for pause, a sense of perspective, and a sense of well-being: this could be a mindfulness practice, but it could also be making tea, baking, reading fiction, sitting in the sun, making time for physical exertion, or avoiding multi-tasking for one hour a day.
Our abilities to Dialogue are both being tested, and inspiring us to innovate. Real dialogue includes active listening, and awareness of nonverbal communication and setting, and a shared commitment to naming challenges, sources of stress, and issues of imbalance that can impact communication. We may be physically separate, but as so many of our commitments remain, all of us are exploring tools to stay connected and communicate. At CLU, we do dialogue using digital tools incredible well, by design. Our students, staff, and faculty show us that the ingredients for productive dialogue are the same as in face-to-face interactions: mindful awareness of self and wider setting, commitment to relationship and shared values, questions that seek clarity and the surfacing of potential conflict, and space for reflection and creativity. All of these can be exercised from a distance, and with digital tools.
One of the scary things about the spread of a virus is how it affects everyone. The “gift” of that same urgency is that all of us are required to rebuild health, community, and infrastructure. We must collaborate. Right now, we must collaborate to share information, resources, and maintain physical distance. Soon, we must collaborate to reconsider and then rebuild our patterns of work and civic engagement. Requirements for fruitful collaboration include understanding of perspectives from all stakeholders, the ability to hear and balance multiple points of view, shared vision, and a willingness to learn from unexpected sources. We have an abundance of multiple points of view, shared vision, and a willingness to learn from all sources in times like these.
Stephanie Varnon-Hughes, PhD
Director of The Claremont Core®