Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Open Like a Flower

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Reading Time: 5 minutes

If the rose at noon has lost the beauty it had at dawn, the beauty it had then was real. Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it. If change is of the essence of existence one would have thought it only sensible to make it the premise of our philosophy. We can none of us step into the same river twice, but the river flows on and the other river we step into is cool and refreshing too.” (W. Somerset Maugham, apparently

Let it be known that I love flowers. And I have always loved that quote. I didn’t know the second part re change/essence and rivers, but  copied them now…

Today someone expressed surprise that I loved flowers because he thought I was practical and flowers are not practical. 

Hmmm

I don’t think I am practical, even professionally speaking. I pretty much do most things for love, from a place of love.

Then I remembered that quote which I used to have on my “telnet” (old command-based email system) “wall” (I don’t remember what it was called; it was like your pinned tweet or something but for command-line email) for some time as an undergrad. Probably as I was getting over a failed relationship. Or something. 

But now it made me think of openness as a flower. 

Openness is like a flower in its vulnerability and fragility. Imagine how a flower feels when it’s in a field with other flowers, and then how it feels when you take it away from its roots and its kin. It’s why those of us who are open seek community. It feels so much more fragile to be open when you’re not surrounded by it. And flowers are closed before they are open. Some, I think, close and open throughout the day.

Open can be like a flower in its fleeting beauty. Think about all kinds of open things that rush by and are beautiful in the moment but lose their sparkle later. Yet they were totally worth having. Sure, Vconnecting conversations are recorded but their beauty is in the moment. And the unrecorded beauty of human interactions before and after it (off the air) is beautiful as well. Yes, we can refer to tweets after they happen, but if no one ever refers to them again, they had value in the moment when they happened. I’m ok with streams that way, Mike Caulfield 🙂 Though it helps to know we can go back to  gardens we have cultivated.

Rhizomes

The other day I was sitting and standing outside the American embassy and these white things floated around me. The flower whose seeds are white and fluffy like cotton almost and cause allergy? And I kept wondering why do they plant it here? Then someone yday told me those are dandelions and I realized they are weeds and rhizomes. No one planted them, just someone neglected to remove them so they grew.

Ever since #rhizo14, I have an empathy for rhizomes. They’re only fighting for their right to exist. Perhaps they’re a nuisance to others, but whose right is it to choose which plant gets to flourish? If you leave an empty patch of fertile soil and a rhizome grows there, who’s to blame? The rhizome found an opportunity and took it.

It’s maybe a stretch of an analogy, but for me, there is a huge hole in my professional growth if I only focus my efforts locally. There are these wide open spaces where I can grow with others, day in and day out, and I’m gonna take them dammit because it’s important for my wellbeing.

Sheila MacNeill wrote recently something that echoes my own thoughts and feelings:

my external connections and sharing actually only enhance my ability to do my job.  At times my external  connections and the support I derive from them is what actually keeps me going.

She also wrote:

It’s a fundamental part of my professional identity.  How can I authentically support anyone in the use of digital technology if I don’t interact with it. How can give meaningful advice and support around developing digital capabilities if I don’t actively engage and reflect on my own interactions?

Amen

And this also really important point:

“I have a greater connection with my external community that I do with my internal, institutional one

Which is important to mention in the context of this quote from Donna Lanclos (gonna read the full post, it seems like she was in a space of Sherri Turkle fans or something):

When people are connected to one group, does it come at the expense of connection to another?   Is connection a zero-sum game?

BONDS

Simon Ensor wrote a response to Suzan Koseoglu’s post on openness and boundaries. I am unsure what he meant by the following (but I will share my thoughts):

Freedom always includes bonds.

Freedom from language, from social bonds, from love, is chaos.

It made me think about why I cannot scale back my open online presence (something my boss recently suggested as mentoring advice). I cannot because I have built bonds. I don’t think of the bonds as restrictions of my freedom but rather as relationships. Nothing binds us like having children, it does restrict our freedom but we do it willingly (by having kids in the first place, there is an Egyptian saying by women to “bind their man with children”) and we carry that responsibility until they’re grown and independent. 

It’s not a good analogy for open. But my point is that my online presence is so deep I am bound to so many groups and people. Of all the dimensions of my identity (using James Paul Gee’s different dimensions) my “affinity” one is really strong online. My Twitter profile is partly my institutional affiliation and personal characteristics, but mostly focused on my affinities: Virtually Connecting (itself a gateway to more connections), Hybrid Ped/DigPedLab (also a gateway to the #digped community) and also DML and Prof Hacker. They aren’t spaces I just belong to, but spaces that are communities I am active in.

Boundaries of Openness

Suzan wrote an awesome post about the boundaries of open. She asks “What are some boundaries of openness for me?” and she cites Parker J Palmer and his six paradoxical tensions of good pedagogical design (these are brilliant – go read them there and come back).

The first of these is that a space needs to be both bounded and open. 

My boundaries are quite a bit broader than most people I know, but I still have boundaries. Like Suzan, my digital presence is largely professional, but, for example, my parenting also comes out, but it’s a trick, because as an educator much of how I reflect on parenting is relevant to my profession (thanks to an article I read when I was finishing my PhD not to be ashamed of this and instead to harness being a parent for my reflections on education). 

Boundaries. Not just in open and digital but boundaries with our colleagues and students. Boundaries and bonds.

I wonder… If at the edge of every boundary is a bond. And who has the right to set limits to our boundaries and bonds?

Some of my boundaries involve avoiding alcohol or people using alcohol, both in person and online. It’s a big deal to me and it limits how much and what kind of social relationship I can have with some of my Western (and earlier in life also Egyptian) friends. And yet those who share bonds with me find ways to make this work because our bonds are more important than our boundaries. They may involve restrictions of our freedom that we choose in order to strengthen our bonds. 

Sorry for this rambling post, written over a night and a day.

I don’t even know where I am going with this post!

11 Comments

  1. Beautiful wisdom, Maha… W. Somerset Maugham – one of my first favorites – would undoubtedly approve and agree.

  2. Thank you Maha for this flower.

    I particularly appreciate this:

    “Those who share bonds with me find ways to make this work because our bonds are more important than our [and their, he adds] boundaries.”

    Now will take time to walk a while with this ramble.

  3. Thanks Maha for this awesome post, I’ll respond with another post, I think! One thing I thought about when I was reading your post is that we seem to be using the word boundary a little differently. I used it as way to approach and make sense of chaos. So there is room for bonds or relationships in this. I need to go back and think:)

  4. The end of the quote from Maugham (?) is a reference to Heraclitus, I think – you can’t step into the same river twice. Always one of my favourite thoughts. Funny – I had this in my mind yesterday when I was speaking to Simon, and now it pops up again here in your blog. Serendipity?

    I love pretty much all flowers, but I loathe dandelions – we have them all over our driveway and they are nigh impossible to get rid of. They’re not rhizomes though – they’re taproots. I’d have at least a grudging like for them if they were rhizomes. Yeah -rhizo14 -that was something indeed. Funny – there were boundaries there that I didn’t notice at the time.

    Thank you – I woke up thinking about public and private selves and how that split didn’t work for me, and was working it out in my head when I read this. 🙂

  5. Thanks for the pingback, Maha, and I do hope you visit the entire post–the context was the #FutureHappens event, and while the room did have concerns about disconnection, there was lots of positive conversation about the potential of connecting, and how social media/digital places can facilitate that in new ways. Very little Turkle-esque stuff 🙂

    • Looking forward to reading the full post Donna. It’s open in my browser calling to me…but had so much to do that haven’t read it yet. Thanks for better noting the context. I was reacting to the small part I gleaned. May revise later…

  6. I responded to Simon’s post which was a response to this post ~ thinking about the restraints (inward) and the constraints (outward) that keep us in openness.
    https://etalesandstories.tumblr.com/post/160757522925/a-response-to-simon-ensor-sensor-post

  7. Lovely thoughtful post Maha. I’m endlessly fascinated by the idea of breaking boundaries and all the positive and negative connotations that entails. I touched on this in the piece I wrote for the Cost of Freedom book

    I also used this lovely quote from Miriam Mirzakhani in a talk called Crossing the Field Boundaries: Open Science, Open Data & Open Education.

    “I like crossing the imaginary boundaries people set up between different fields—it’s very refreshing. There are lots of tools, and you don’t know which one would work. It’s about being optimistic and trying to connect things.”

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