Saturday, June 09, 2012

Hierarchy: what is it good for?

The following is my contribution to Rachel Held Evans' Week of Mutuality.

Longtime readers of this infrequently-updated blog know I’m working toward a doctoral degree in counselor education. This summer, rather than hanging out at the beach reading trashy novels, I’m taking a counseling supervision class. Part of what that means is that I (and each of my fellow students) get assigned an MA-level student to supervise through their first semester of clinical work.

To put it another way, each newbie counselor is assigned a newbie supervisor.

(If that makes you nervous, rest assured: we're not left alone to flounder. We have professors helping us all walk through the process. You can exhale now.)

During the first week of my supervision class, the instructor repeated two themes over and over, beating them like a drum. The first one was "You're the supervisor. You're responsible." And only slightly less-repeated was "It's a hierarchical relationship."

And I struggle with that idea, because I work hard to establish egalitarian relationships.

After reading Rachel’s post yesterday I started to think about that clinical supervisor role and other similar roles where one person is above and is responsible for the other: parent/child and teacher/student are relationship pairings that come readily to mind.

In all cases like that, the person who is at the top of the hierarchy is working to develop strengths in the other person; and in all cases, the top person knows that if they do their job well, the other person will one day be their peer. The hierarchy is necessary for the person's development, but it is temporary.

But the patriarchal ideal makes the authority/submission formula a permanent one. Husband is permanently over wife (and any unmarried daughters). The similarities to other forms of subjugation cannot be ignored: one group declares its superiority to be ordained by God, and insists its authority is permanent and unquestionable.

It seems to me that isn't about developing peers. It's about developing slaves.


Monday, February 20, 2012

A postcard from the Island of Misfit Toys

One of the blogs I read has the following as its tagline: figuring out whether the problem lies with the square peg or the round hole.

That line resonates with me. For so many years, I have felt like that square peg.

I am analytical, educated, and independent; I'm good at math and technology; I'd much rather speak directly than indirectly. And I live in a culture which highly values those characteristics, when the person bearing them possesses a Y chromosome. (Which I do not.)

But it's not just my personality-and-gender combination that makes me feel like a misfit. Politically, I am more liberal than many of my friends, and more conservative than most of my family members. Theologically, I often find myself identifying most with a camp currently called "progressive." (Some pronounce this word so that it rhymes with scare a tick.)

So in certain churches, I find myself squirming in discomfort as I try to figure out the interaction of square peg and round hole: do I knock corners off myself and attempt to squeeze into a mold created and defined by that group?

I've tried that. It doesn't work.

And attempting to redefine the shape of the group in hope of making it fit me proves to be an exercise in futility. A group that insists that all pegs must be round is not likely to change that view for one square peg... or even for ten.

But I don't find that same square peg/round hole discomfort at other churches, nor in my cohort at school. In those groups, I find acceptance of one another, with all of our differences in personality and diversity of belief. With, not despite.

It's incredibly freeing to live among those who do not insist on conformity... to fit in among the other misfits.

I like living on the Island of Misfit Toys. Why would anyone ever leave?