‘This’ by Susan Campbell, NIODA graduation speech 2018

   The poet Marie Howe wrote ‘This’ following the experience of caring for her brother before he died at age 28. It’s called ‘The Gate’. I had no idea that the gate I would step through to finally enter this world would be the space my brother’s body made, he was a little taller than me a young man but grown himself by then, done at 28, having folded every sheet and rinsed every glass he would ever rinse under the cold and running water. “This is what you’ve been waiting for” he used to say, and I’d say “What?” and he’d say “this” holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich and I’d say “what?” and he’d say “this” sort of looking around.

I’m sure this is an unexpected poem for  graduation speech, allow me to attempt to explain how my ponderings on this poem resonate with my experience of being a student at NIODA.

In the poem juxtaposed in the devastating scene of impending death is the honouring of ‘this’. ‘This’ is not listed on the Graduate attributes or profiled on NIODA’s website, yet I believe it is woven throughout or perhaps the bedrock upon which everything else rests. It is something that this course has embedded and growing in me. ‘This’ is the acknowledgment of the rich present moment authentic human experience. ‘This’ is the honouring of the now, noticing surroundings paying attention, real attention to the lived experience above and below the level of consciousness.

When my daughter is practicing piano I say to her “pay attention so you can learn” but my course has encouraged me to learn so I can pay attention. I have a hunch that knowing more about the ‘this’ and being attentive to the ‘this’ is what makes us more effective leaders and managers than we were three years ago.

“This is what you’ve been waiting” for he used to say to me and I’d say “what?” and he’d say this holding out my cheese and mustard sandwich and I’d say “what?” and he’d say “this” sort of looking around.

What we have been learning about, and being formed in, is delightfully ordinary. The context of our experiences and our learning is played out in the cheese and mustard sandwichness of the world of work. Of the places where we spend so many hours each week, of the offices and virtual meeting rooms and desks we commute to day after day after day, groups of people talking, listening, emailing, writing, penning plans, writing reports, proposing changes, creating, designing, problem-solving, achieving goals, getting stuff done. We’ve learnt about the ever-present timeless culture soaked dynamics of people, ordinary, common, familiar, yet our knowledge and experience is about the deep powerful complex dynamics of what occurs in groups. Envy, trust, collaboration, competition, task avoidance, collusion, dependence. The unconscious group dynamics that occur in a split second
and change the direction of an organisation, the tremor with butterfly wings, and the dynamics that can develop and grow slowly, a deep undercurrent gradually heaving and groaning silently influencing people’s behaviours actions and experiences, elephants in boardrooms.

“This is what you’ve been waiting for” he used to say to me and I’d say “what?”. Oh how many at times we have expressed ‘what’ over the last three years. ‘What’ was found in the confusion of small study group sessions, and in question marks scribbled in margins of complex readings. ‘What’ was communicated between us in eye contact at a Group Relations Conference, or in phone calls and late nights before essays were due. ‘What’ was exasperatingly murmured or shouted in our home offices as we wrestled with unfamiliar and complex ideas.’What’ was sighed as we left a consulting interview filled up with data wondering how we would ever untangle it and make sense of it all, but true to the ideals of an authentic educational experiences and in the passing of time and very hard work, the ‘whats?’ lost their frequency and their potency. Tight-fisted anxiety morphed into open-handed silence, enabling more confident and comfortable pondering and thought making. ‘What’ moved over and made room for other expressions, aaah ah huh I think I get it! I know, and I know that I know, and in knowing that I know, I know there are also alternative possibilities.

“This is what you’ve been waiting for” you used to say to me. ‘This’ is what I reckon our teachers were looking for and listening for in pre-enrolment interviews, a hint or a whiff of ‘knowing’. Intuition, a hungry desire to grow that part of us which feels when something’s not right or there’s something different or something more. Perhaps, unconsciously and deeply we’ve already known some of this stuff, as Bollas would say our ‘unthought known’. Awareness of what has always been there, yet has not been able to be thought about, and made sense of yet, what we have been waiting for in us. I anticipate, based on the evidence of the last three years that fleeting micro experiences will occur again and again.

That ‘this is what you’ve been waiting for’ moments will happen, maybe when we notice our somatic experiences during a conference and consider what they might mean, or if we facilitate a reflective time at the end of a meeting and we hold the silence, and hold it and hold it and hold it long enough for a sigh or a shift in the seat or a comment a vulnerability and honesty that changes the trajectory of the meeting, or will ask the seemingly left-field question during an interview that jolts and disturbs and leads to new awareness and information. We’ll listen for metaphors, we’ll keep crayons in our desk drawers, we’ll pay attention to our dreams, we’ll raise our eyes from squinting at an organisational problem, to standing back and seeing the broad view, the historical view, the political view, the gendered view, the cultural view, the whole system, and we’ll also lean in towards the problem we’ll look down at the black dark water surrounding it and with a combination of cautious wisdom, courage and humility, we’ll feel what’s below the surface, we’ll feel it with our eyes and our ears and our emotion and our intellect, we’ll draw on the theoretical understanding of all Bion and Benjamin, Hoggett and Hirschhorn, of Long, Newton, Nossal and Harding, and of my colleagues Olver, Grace, Lee and Pearce. Then we’ll revisit that problem with a new perspective raise what was hidden below the surface, allow for creativity and new solutions.

‘This is what we’ve been waiting for’. “This is what you’ve been waiting for” he used to say to me and I’d say “what?” and he’d say “this” sort of looking around.

My final comment is about the this ‘this’ out there on the streets of Melbourne an ordinary Tuesday night, but what’s happening in here? Extraordinary! Lets, my friends, hold this ‘this’. Let’s honour it, celebrate it, the investment, hours hard work, sacrifices, pain points, and the fun, the laughter, the joy of learning, the friendships, the opportunities. ‘This’ sort of looking around we see others who are here with us.

We won’t, but if we could, we could rip a corner off our certificates and give them to our partners Rowan, Jurgen, Tim, Monica and Christine, and another piece would be torn off and given to our kids and friends and colleagues and family members who have read our essays, looked after our children, cooked our meals, and had many many nights and weekends without us as we have studied. And a strip of it to our organisations who have supported us and given us much juicy data with which to reflect. And another portion, may be the bit with the logo, is owed to the board, committee members, admin staff and volunteers who provide all the scaffolding and supports for NIODA to exist. And a final strip, perhaps the largest, is for our teachers Claes, Wendy, Caroline, Susan and most particularly Brigid and Wendy who have carefully, thoughtfully, and expertly walked alongside us as we have learned, our sincere thanks.

This is what we’ve been waiting for.. ‘This’


‘This’ by Susan Campbell, NIODA graduation speech 2018


Would you like to read more? Check out this… Alumnus insights address to the graduands by Deb Martindale

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