I have been training a puppy for the past two years.It’s no small feat considering the
handful of personality and energy that he encapsulates: he’s a combination of two parts lab, one part st. bernard, one part border collie. We’ve had our ups and downs; he’s wont to make his own decisions at times but he’s done well overall, and, like most dogs he only wants to please. In the past three or four months, just after his second birthday, he’s gone through a bit of a maturity spurt and has earned my confidence in areas where before there was conflict between my desire for his behavior and his own independent impulses. As a result I’ve shifted my position a bit with him in terms of our relational dynamic. I’ve stepped off from the role of Master position and stepped beside him in a role as a Partner.
Its a feeling of accomplishment to be able to do so. It means there’s a deeper level of trust between us: he understands that I trust him to behave a certain way and have given him considerable freedom because of it. He trusts me to treat him more as a team mate, on somewhat more equal footing and his wont to please rises to the occasion – if I am his Partner, then he’s going to put his heart and soul into doing right.
The dynamic of shifting from Master to Partner was never so clear to me as it was in this instance and it got me thinking about other relationships and where it might apply as well.
Work? Yes, this applies to my work life directly! I am privileged to work with teenagers, and this year my colleagues and I find ourselves interacting with a more high maintenance, high energy group of kids. As usual at the beginning of the year, I set very clear, immovable boundaries and at first will err on the side of being more harsh than soft when it comes to enforcing their validity (a lesson I learned from my own jr. high school teachers and seems to be fairly effective). This year I am taking a slightly different approach and utilizing my newfound epiphany: I’ve made the boundaries clear, but I find that if I take a moment to consider the one on one relationship with each student and conceive of some way to Partner with them instead of try to Master them, I get a much better response and they seem be settling in with more ease. The element of conflict that can inherently exist between a Master and Student is replaced with a mutual trust and common goal; sure I am still the authority figure but my willingness to engage from the side instead of from the front assures them that, on some level, they have a certain amount of respect and trust from me at the outset. They seem to be responding by rising to the same level of respect.
Partnerships seem to work better than Mastery on the creative level too, I’ve observed. I’m sewing a quilt for my niece at the moment, she’s beginning her freshman year in college, away from home and family. If I employ my newfound nugget of wisdom and work with the machine and fabric on a Partner level, as a team mate instead of a Master, I notice a difference in the process. There is a sense of enjoyment in the mix. It’s holistic in a way; it’s not just my energy but the way I work with the energy of the machine as well that effects a kind of harmony, instead of subjectivity, and together something new and meaningful is created.
On an intrapersonal level, the idea of trading a Master for a Partner has, for me, been one of the most important adjustments I’ve made in my life. I don’t know about you, but I am much harsher with myself than I am with others and I’ve definitely had a Master approach when it comes to self-discipline and correction. If I step aside though, work WITH myself instead of against myself in my head and heart, I find a peace I hadn’t experienced before, and whatever issue I am wrestling becomes manageable instead of a kind of drudgery. Furthermore, I find I have more trust in myself to do the right thing where before I might have contradicted the ideal simply for the sake of outdoing my harsh ‘Master’.
I understand this idea doesn’t work in all relationships and I also concede that there are some instances where we must always be “Master.” But whenever possible, from now on, I will look for ways to Partner instead. The benefits are mutual and more vibrant, and much more satisfactory to the soul.
Here’s to Partnerships instead of Mastery. May we find ways to morph some of the latter into more of the former…