If there is one word that would sum up the pressure that my participants feel, it’s this one: burden.
This is the word they most commonly use to describe how they feel about the performance expectations placed on them at school, and also to describe their sense towards the work they have to accomplish during our training program. Ask any other teacher trainer in Korea, and they’ll probably agree that this is one of the the most used words among their participants.
Wanting to help alleviate some of that burden, I’ve recently been introducing the element of choice. On two occasions this semester, some participants didn’t complete in-class writing tasks, and so I told them that if they wanted, they could finish it at home, but emphasized it was their choice. From my point of view, the writing task didn’t need to be finalized (published) in order for learning to happen. The writing process was the center of my objective, not the final product. However, I could appreciate that some may have liked to finish it to feel a sense of completion, so I gave them the option. No matter how the task ended, I asked them to add it to their progress portfolio. By giving them the choice I thought I was fostering a sense of autonomy, and control over the end result of their portfolio.
What I never realized was that by giving them the choice to finish a task at home, I may have been inflicting more pressure. This was brought home when I heard,
“I feel more burden now that it’s a choice.”
It is at this point that I decided to examine this word more closely. When I say that I feel burdened, is this actually a feeling or is it a pseudo-feeling? A pseudo-feeling, or faux-feeling, is actually a judgment about what others are doing to us. Another example of a pseudo-feeling is ignored or abandoned. I cannot feel these without the action of another. The actual feeling behind ignored, or abandoned might be lonely or sad. Another honest feeling behind ignored could be relief. If someone ignored us, we would feel relief if we needed time alone (p. 43, Rosenberg). When I hear someone say they feel burdened, this is the sense I get. It seems like they are blaming the person behind the action instead of taking responsibility for how they are really feeling.
I bring this up is because I noticed how some participants welcomed my decision to make homework an option. What this told me was that the element of choice was not seen as bad by all. Some felt relief, and even cheered for the choice. They could go home knowing they didn’t have more work to do.
Others, however, felt confused, and sighed with irritation. I can appreciate this confusion. The participant who felt burdened by the choice probably felt more like this, “I feel annoyed because I’d like some clarity. I want to know, if I don’t do this task, will I look bad? I need assurance that I am doing my best work.”
What this has taught me is that choice may work for some and not for others. It is clear that some people need strict support and guidance, whereas others feel just as safe when set free. My job is to understand these two sides. My job is to see beyond the burden.
Rosenberg, Marshall B. 2005. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. 2nd ed. Encinitas, CA: PuddleDancer Press.