After spending sixteen years in our modern education system, I picked up a few habits that have not aged well. It wasn’t until I experienced a new way of learning that I figured out I was battling against a long-ingrained practice of staying silent.
All throughout my formal education, there was no shortage of questions asked, and we were given the chance to show our knowledge and contribute what we thought in front of everyone. Teachers and lecturers wanted to make the journey about us and what we were learning, and I could not fault them for working with what we put in front of them. So why were we so quiet? Turns out, the limbic system is a hard task master.
As a student, my intuition was smarter than my logic. Most of us understood that offering an answer was far riskier than staying silent. Underneath that, the benefits of not offering any answers along with most of the rest of the class far outweighed the stress of saying something. Even if you were correct, every student intuitively knows that being right too often brings its own social cost.
Silence equals safety (in your seat and in the tribe), without a risk of looking stupid, looking too smart, being embarrassed or being incorrect.
Later in life, for me silence came to represent an identity of being in control, of being the ever-revered “listener” in conversations, and avoiding conflict.
During the altMBA, you are not taught what you need to learn in order to achieve the qualification. The 48-hour rhythm of create, ship, comment, reflection summary; the style of coaching and the intimacy of learning groups are all designed to make sure that you take responsibility for what you want to learn, and you contribute what others are learning. I’d never been in a situation that demanded so much of what I thought without expecting me to come to the “right answer”.
See, listening is brilliant and worthy and we don’t do enough of it… until we realise the silence we’re contributing to is the kind of silence that upholds the status quo, that takes more than it gives, that is the silence I can hide my ego behind. At the beginning of the altMBA, the team said, “the more you put in, the more you’ll get out”. In order to make the most out of this incredible experience, I could no longer stay silent, and nor could I rely on listening to try and find something perfect to say. I was there to say what I thought, and that’s all anyone could ask of me.
As we learn, the silence of ease, consent, and the status quo becomes less and less of an option.
So please, for all our sakes, speak up, even with a quiver.
Push the buzzer.
Reject perfection in the face of better questions.
The only way to learn and move forward is when we’ve discovered what we didn’t know. So talk, share, offer opinions. The world is better for us when you’ve found your voice, because then we can learn together.
The whole is far greater than the sum of its parts.