Telling truth to power

IcemanSK

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I posted this question is another thread in the TKD forum. In a few threads in this forum it came up again in various ways.I thought I'd bring it up here because I think I've figured out what I was trying to ask.

One of my favorite episodes of "The West Wing" is when they bring in the character of Will. Before he could be fully "in", they put him in a position where he had to tell the President a difficult Truth.....to see if had trouble telling truth to power.

In MA we are asked to be subservient to an instructor, "sensei," "shihan," "master", "grandmaster" etc. in order to learn an art. The best instructors teach us to own the art for ourselves & grow into the authority to teach others. The worst take the authority given to them as reason to feed their own egos & stunt the growth process of those under them.

Maybe it goes back to our own childhood as to which type of authority we expect or accept. Maybe I'm just learning of my own growth process in my question....How do we say "no" to the authorities above us? How do we tell truth to power? How come that for some people in some places its easy & for others its like remembering a bad experience being reprimanded by a teacher as a child? Maybe my question is....How do we learn to tell Truth to Power? How did you learn?
 

Jenna

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IcemanSK said:
Maybe it goes back to our own childhood as to which type of authority we expect or accept. Maybe I'm just learning of my own growth process in my question....How do we say "no" to the authorities above us? How do we tell truth to power? How come that for some people in some places its easy & for others its like remembering a bad experience being reprimanded by a teacher as a child? Maybe my question is....How do we learn to tell Truth to Power? How did you learn?
Wow, great question mister Iceman :)

I assume by truth you mean a difficult or maybe unpleasant truth for the person in position of power? I would have two methods for this depending on whether the person was open to ideas truths and yeah criticisms or whether they felt they were elevated and beyond all questioning.

For the person open to it I put myself exactly in their shoes to know how it might FEEL to hear this truth. These people who DO have pragmatism through their veins are open to difficult paths and these are the people I believe who deserve to hold such positions of power. And so I would not give the harsh truth in the negative way but offer a suggestion that may soften the blow. I never cease to be amazed at how this works :)

For the person whose mind is closed and who feels they have an unalienable right to subserviance I will be as tactless as I can, yeah tactless and I always claim ignorance or naivete in my defence. People with this driving egotism are generally not so keen to have harsh words put in their ears but I am happy to do that even when it means I get kicked out. But I do this KNOWING my fate is sealed but also knowing that after I am gone the seed is planted and will not be uprooted

Hope that is relevant??? :)

I am no Freud but is there a case where the people who would willingly occupy these lofty positions are actually those in greatest NEED of hearing the harsh truths??

Hey why are you the Iceman btw?? I see you are from the city of angels and not icy Finland, you are maybe a Top Gun fan?? Or have you got a major BLING thing going on around ya neck or have you got some pumpin thumpin subs in your motor?? Sorry.... nosey me :)

Yr most obdt hmble srvt,
Jenna
 

w.kaer

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Intriguing question Iceman.

I would have to say we learn to give the harsh truths and difficult answers to our superiors as we become somebody's superior. As we develop, grow, and accept promotions in our endeavors, we become somebody's superior. We will unavoidably have to give some thought to how we wish to be treated in that role. I think we all wish to have open and honest relationships with those who look up to us.

In the realm of the MA, it would start when our instructors task us with showing the new student techniques or a kata. Afterwards, we will inevitabley be asked "How did they do?" We are asked for our judgement and will be expected to justify it. Slowly the scenerios grow as does the esteem our senseis hold our opinions. Trust is something that must be built on solid foundations.

Of course, I realize that the scenerio is a wonderful view of how it should be. Hopefully looking at how things ought to be can help us with making it happen.
 

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IcemanSK said:
I posted this question is another thread in the TKD forum. In a few threads in this forum it came up again in various ways.I thought I'd bring it up here because I think I've figured out what I was trying to ask.

One of my favorite episodes of "The West Wing" is when they bring in the character of Will. Before he could be fully "in", they put him in a position where he had to tell the President a difficult Truth.....to see if had trouble telling truth to power.

In MA we are asked to be subservient to an instructor, "sensei," "shihan," "master", "grandmaster" etc. in order to learn an art. The best instructors teach us to own the art for ourselves & grow into the authority to teach others. The worst take the authority given to them as reason to feed their own egos & stunt the growth process of those under them.

Maybe it goes back to our own childhood as to which type of authority we expect or accept. Maybe I'm just learning of my own growth process in my question....How do we say "no" to the authorities above us? How do we tell truth to power? How come that for some people in some places its easy & for others its like remembering a bad experience being reprimanded by a teacher as a child? Maybe my question is....How do we learn to tell Truth to Power? How did you learn?

IMHO, I don't think that anyone should walk around with a 'fear' of questioning someone who is in a higher 'status' than us. So many times, I've seen threads in which people come on here with a problem at their school, suggestions are offered, but the reply to the suggestions is, "Well, I could never question my (insert title here)! Why not?? Are these people so 'in control' that everyone around them has this overwhelming fear? I've questioned my instructors, co-workers that are more senior than me, as well as my boss. Do I have respect for them? Yes. Do I fear them? Of course not.

The thing is, is that ultimately, my instructors have the final say, my boss has the final say as to how he runs things, etc. but that does not mean that I can't address a problem, concern, or a possible suggestion on how to do something better or different. Its all how one comes across during the presentation. However, as I said above, they have the 'final' say and we have two choices: 1) accept the decision or 2) leave. Of course, some people are resistant to change, so no matter what we say or what proof we bring to the table, nothing is going to change their mind.

We'll never know what an answer will be unless we ask, right? I do think though, that anytime a situation like this arises, it should be done privately. No need to involve others. Lack of communication is what leads to low moral, frustration, tension amongst the team, etc. Having a chance to openly discuss issues is the best way to go IMHO.

Mike
 

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Excellent question.

Let's assume that you did find a decent school, with good instructors.

Yes, learning the martial arts does mean that one does place a good deal of blind trust in the instructor, especially when first starting out. They have been there for a good bit longer in that particular case, and one should normally assume that their knowledge is greater in this field.

Once someone has accumulated sufficient experience, then questioning the methods can certainly be done. How much is "sufficient?" I honestly can't tell you, since it varies from person to person. Some people are precocious enough, that they can see things earlier than others. Some will have to wait until much later.

The process of questioning one's instructors, though, does require some care from the student. I have no problem with people questioning methods before or after class, as long as they do it politely, and are doing this out of genuine curiousity. If they have well-researched positions and want to get into a deeper discussion, then I also welcome that, but such things take place off the floor, outside of normal class. If that person brings up an excellent point, then I might even mention such a thing during a future class, but only after doing a bit of research myself. Better to be prepared, of course.

To flat-out argue with the instructor on the floor, during class is disrespectful. It can also lead to a class disruption, even if the intentions were good. I've had an individual come into the dojo, and he had a year's experience in Tae Kwon Do. When he saw that we were teaching people how to side kick using the edge of the foot, instead of the heel as he was taught, he started spouting in the middle of class "This is stupid! Why are you kicking with a weak part of the foot instead of the strong part?" When the classroom became dead silent, I knew that the momentum and flow of the class had been disrupted, and had to get everyone going again.

I had him sit out the rest of the class after that, and had a bit of a talk with him on this matter. I told him that I would have welcomed this discussion outside of class, had he been more polite. After all, throughout my years, I learned how to side kick using both parts of the foot. I could even understand his position, since I have also spent a good bit of time in TKD. There are valid arguments on both sides, and in my opinion, one is not overall, necessarily leaps and bounds above the other.

He never questioned me again during class, and I'm glad to see that he stuck with the program. I even welcomed his after-class discussions.

Remember, if you serve someone a premium, juicy, medium-rare ribeye steak, they're going to appreciate it much more if you serve it to them on a clean plate, than a dirty ashtray, and this goes both ways.
 

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It's a very difficult leason to learn. How do we tell truth to power. We start with "You're wrong" or "That makes no sense" and when we find that doesn't work, (after a few decades) we learn something called tact. Everyone has pride. People get defensive and close minded when you attack it.

I've been told many times, things that have made no sense to me, or I believed to be wrong outright. Over time, what I learned was, maybe my position was correct from my inexperienced point of view, only to realize later, I was the one who's wrong given more information or experience. So, the way I learned to deal with that, is not by making claims or judging the decision in any way, but to address the issues that made me feel the statement was wrong. In other words, I wouldn't address his statement directly, I would address my own out loud. He could not feel attacked because he never was. I would offer up different perspectives and points and see how he addressed them. Did he acknowledge them? Did he explain why they weren't valid?

To make a long story short, I, as well as he, understands that because I'm junior to him in experience I cannot see things the way he does. His assertions are based on more fact than mine. If I make a point that he cannot explain or dismiss, I then drop it. As Jenna said, the seed was planted. There's nothing more to do. In time, he would come back with a revised train of thought. Oh and, this doesn't just apply in the class. I've found that by challenging indirectly as opposed to directly has proven far more successful.
 
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IcemanSK

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I brought this question up again in part as an extension of a thread I read on another forum asking folk's thoughts on a senior instructor who told racist & gay jokes during class & Flying Crane's "Good stuff?" thread here.

Some folks think that because "Sensei says so" it's ok to endure physical abuse & thank them for it, or teach classes for free for years while Sensei dangles a carrott of advancement in front of them for years (that never comes true), or allows themselves to hear jokes that create a culture that they wouldn't put up with anywhere in the rest of their lives.

In my own experience, I came face to face with one of my fears 2 weeks ago. Because of my very mild case of Cerbral Palsy, I'm not physically capable of making some hand techniques the way they are supposed to be made. I found myself in a forms class taught by the man who invented the forms we were working on, GM Park, Hae Man. I knew he'd zero on my "bad form" & I was terified by his response. This says more about me than him, for sure. (He's the man in my avatar with me) He walked up to me while I was holding a technique, showed me the proper way to hold my hand, & asked "can you do this?" When I said, "No sir." he said simply, "Ok." and he moved on. He was nothing but kind to me in my time in his class. I suppose I expected him to berate me, like my 4th grade teacher had. But I'm an adult now & not a 9 year old. Being an adult (& being aware of this issue in my life) I am on the lookout for people who use their authority for unfair advantage.

Telling Truth to Power is not easy for some. And there is a time, place & way to do so. But I think the Arts should teach us how important it is to speak Truth to those over us. If we train to receive confidence "on the street" we should also be able to have confidence with our instructors.

I guess this was my "Dear Diary" entry for the day. I hope others can use it as well.
 

stickarts

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One approach i have used from time to time is not so much to tell someone something, but to lead them to a conclusion by asking questions. This is not always easy but it has worked well when tact is necessary and it also helps get people to think for themselves by having to think of the answer. In fact, often, they don't even realize they were being gently led!
I do not mean to do this in an evasive or sarcastic way. But in a thought provoking way.

I have used this with both students and my teachers.
As Jenna, stated, putiing yourself in the other persons shoes can go a long way toward having a constructive conversation.

An instructor should have good reasoning behind why they are asking you to do something. If they cannot answer you, in my experience, that has usually meant that they don't really know the reason except that perhaps their instructor taught them that way.

Successful people never stop asking the right questions.
 

Flying Crane

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Good thread, Iceman.

I think it really depends on the person you are dealing with. Some people are set in their ideas and just aren't very open to hearing other possibilities. Other people are more open. I think you can often tell what kind of person you are dealing with, long before this kind of issue might arise.

Regarding martial arts, I tend to not associate with those who aren't open, or who are going to stifle what I have to say or what my viewpoints might be if they differ from his. Other areas of life are often not so easy to control, however, like situations in employment, a difficult boss, etc.
 

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IcemanSK said:
I posted this question is another thread in the TKD forum. In a few threads in this forum it came up again in various ways.I thought I'd bring it up here because I think I've figured out what I was trying to ask.

One of my favorite episodes of "The West Wing" is when they bring in the character of Will. Before he could be fully "in", they put him in a position where he had to tell the President a difficult Truth.....to see if had trouble telling truth to power.

In MA we are asked to be subservient to an instructor, "sensei," "shihan," "master", "grandmaster" etc. in order to learn an art. The best instructors teach us to own the art for ourselves & grow into the authority to teach others. The worst take the authority given to them as reason to feed their own egos & stunt the growth process of those under them.

Maybe it goes back to our own childhood as to which type of authority we expect or accept. Maybe I'm just learning of my own growth process in my question....How do we say "no" to the authorities above us? How do we tell truth to power? How come that for some people in some places its easy & for others its like remembering a bad experience being reprimanded by a teacher as a child? Maybe my question is....How do we learn to tell Truth to Power? How did you learn?
I have found that the best way to train is just to bust your a$$ and hope for the best. Also, the best way to teach is to bust your students behinds and hope for the best.
 

Kacey

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IcemanSK said:
In MA we are asked to be subservient to an instructor, "sensei," "shihan," "master", "grandmaster" etc. in order to learn an art. The best instructors teach us to own the art for ourselves & grow into the authority to teach others. The worst take the authority given to them as reason to feed their own egos & stunt the growth process of those under them.

How do we learn to tell Truth to Power? How did you learn?

First, I have to say that I was never asked to be subservient to my sahbum - respectful, yes, try to do everything I was told to, yes - but never subservient, so perhaps that's part of the difference in my outlook. However, I would not tell my sahbum I couldn't do something in the dojang (barring inability due to injury) - I would simply do it as best I could. I have told him 'no' about other things, and told him about others who are also his students whose behavior was, perhaps, not ideal (and that included someone senior to myself). Was it comfortable? Not really - but not because I can't tell him no; rather, it was because I know how much I owe him for his instruction that goes beyond mere monetary pay, and will, if possible, do anything he asks me to do if I am able to do it. Sometimes life gets in the way and I can't do it - and then I tell him that.

I can see, however, in other classes, where this could be serious problem, depending on the personalities of both the instructor and the student, especially as a beginner. Because it is so personal, I can't give a single, simple answer to your question.
 

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