Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Coming of age: Resting the horses at the fence row

Plowing corn with a team of horse at age 13, and the beginning of reflective listening/learning.

I will never forget the summer of 1943. I grew up in a number of ways during my 13th year. Plowing corn with a team of horses for the first time stands out as a major transition story in my life. I count it as such in my memory. This an adult activity. I was entering the manhood world of farming back then. Before it was gathering eggs, feeding the horses, leading a horse for the hay fork, being a water boy for threshers, etc.,but now I was out in the field for a day’s work. I was also paid a small sum.

I was being taught by my father who was a few rows away with a cultivator and a team of horses. The cultivator was a work in itself. You sat in the seat with your feet in sturips to set the depth of the blades and help guide the cultivator. You held on to the handles to guide the blades also, one for the left hand and one for the right. Getting rid of the weeds in the center of the corn rows was the object. And above all, being sure not to get into the corn row and root out a hill of corn.

Back than the corn planters would check in the corn so you could row in both directions, north south or east west. Now they plant the seeds very close together in rows and they till more with pesticides. The number of bushels of corn is much higher now for a number of reasons.

When we would plow up and back, stopping at the fence row, my father would share his views about people, life, and the world. I don’t remember the specifics but I do remember his way of continually thinking about something. I credit him with introducing me to the importance of reflecting on our life situations.  I gave this memory a metaphorical name, “resting the houses at the fence row,” and moved the practice to many different places.

When my father later became chronically depressed over the loss of the family farm the reflecting continued but in a more repetitive manner without the freshness and variety of his younger years. The reflections displayed more anger at the same time. But the early benefit had already been adopted in my practice even though it became a lost cause for him.

When I became involved in Clinical Pastoral Education I found reflection was built into the learning methodology.  I readily grasped the importance of this discipline.  And I realized this wasn’t a discipline everyone adopted as a way of life.  Just like having a time for prayer there was the time to come apart to reflect. The mind became the playground for emerging possibilities. Or the same good could be done on one to one over a coffee cup, or in a small discussion group. There is a whole discipline of reflective learning and reflective listening.

The Befriender training and the pastoral care department incorporated the practice which led to a number of innovative pastoral programs.

A more humorous outcome of the expression came about in this way. During a cardiac rehab session there was a farmer who was a typical type A. He was old enough to have plowed corn with a team of horses. I asked him, “Did you ever rest the horses at the fence row?” He said, “No. I always had another team waiting there.” The horses had the rest and he kept jumping from one plow to another. Would a more reflective life have benefited his heart? And was he about the change now? I can’t say he did.

Marlin Whitmer
Founder of the Befrienders, story metaphor listeners in a hospital setting, who were identified as making a difference in the quality of life in the community.

Transformative dimensions of adult learning. - ‎Mezirow - Cited by 8894
Transformative learning: Theory to practice - ‎Mezirow - Cited by 3082

Reflective Learning Theories. ... Schon studied Dewey and his theories very carefully, and he believed in two types of reflection: Reflection-on-action, which is an unconscious event that deals with the knowledge we use to solve problems and carry out actions. Reflection-in-action, which occurs as the action is happening.

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Reflective listening is a communication strategy involving two key steps: seeking to understand a speaker's idea, then offering the idea back to the speaker, to confirm the idea has been understood correctly.


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