Saturday, March 13, 2010

Pollyanna

As you may be able to guess, this past week was not less busy than the preceding one.

Small College where I work is going through a bunch of changes right now. So, although I am not on any committees, I have been going to a number of meetings at which people aired grievances, asked questions of our top administrators, and tried to decide how to proceed on various matters. There's a lot of anxiety about our financial situation. A couple of those meetings have shown a collective sense of demoralization.

Whenever I go to a big meeting, I try to find a colleague afterward to talk about it individually. Not always the same colleague. That is my chance to ask questions about past decisions and try to get a sense of what lies behind the questions and statements in meetings. So this week, I asked a colleague what s/he thought about certain issues, and as we talked I said I hoped that the changes we're going through this year are an opportunity to get some fresh insights and vision, and put the college on a better footing.

"Well, aren't you a Pollyanna," s/he said. Not meanly, and we both laughed. But it made me wonder. I try to keep me eyes open and not ignore the problems the college has to deal with. But I also try to hope for the best. I need to hope for the best, in fact. If I don't, I find it easy to sink into a sort of panicky pessimism in which I'm convinced that everything is going to hell in a handbasket. I hope I'm not naive to think that positive change might emerge from our current situation. I hope that I won't end up burned out and cynical about the prospects for institutional change.

3 comments:

heu mihi said...

This struck a chord with me. Obviously I don't know your institution or the problems that it's going through, but one thing that I've noticed at Field is that a lot of the old guard--who are largely excellent in ever so many ways--have a deep-seated paranoia and conviction that things *are* going to hell in a handbasket. They are, in fact, quite surprised by how well a few things have turned out recently, but some of them still trot out the occasional dire prediction ("The president is surely going to chastise us at X meeting and issue a pay cut!", for example, when in fact X meeting is to tell us how our financial situation is actually improving, thanks in part to the faculty's recruiting efforts).

Now, I think that a lot of the older guard has some good reasons for pessimism, given Field's history. But academia can foster a culture of whining and anxiety (as can other workplaces, I'm sure), so such pessimism is not always to be taken as truth. And really, if only for your own sanity, I think that it's important to maintain SOME kind of optimism! --As much as I do enjoy a good whine.

clio's disciple said...

Yes, exactly!
I really value the institutional knowledge and experience of the old guard, but some of them can be extremely negative. No doubt they have their reasons.

The colleague mentioned here doesn't really fall into that camp, but does have a rather pessimistic bent.

Ink said...

This struck a chord with me, too.

All I can think to say is that if there aren't some of us who are hopeful, nothing positive will ever be done...

More people should embrace their inner Pollyannas.