Contingencies and contingency

Maybe not the best choice, given how that one pans out, but you get the idea

Reading Chad’s post reminds me – as if it were needed – that we operate in increasingly contingent times: there’s very little that is secure and dependably reliable.

That’s true of student enrolments, central financing and even the structure of the subject matter we study. Everything’s in flux, all the time.

This was driven home for me by a meeting I attended this week in Northern Ireland of the British and the Irish political studies associations, where we were talking about how Brexit is challenging us on a number of different levels.

Of these, the question of how to teach Brexit looked quite prosaic and manageable (as we’ve discussed previously here), certainly compared to big challenges like institutionalising the new interactions with practitioners that Brexit has created, or changing the way the academy sees impact.

Those discussions are on-going and I’ll come back to them at another point when they have moved on some more. In the meantime I want to think about resilience.

As you doubtless know, one of the worst things about contingent situations is the draining nature of the uncertainty: to spend you whole time wondering/worrying about what is happening (or might be about to happen) is just plain tiring. It’s hard to lift your head to a brighter future when you’re knee-deep in whatever unpleasantness you find yourself in.

A central part of coping with that is to recognise that you’re not alone.

Much as it’s terrible that colleagues face the same kind of challenges that you do, it should also be a source of strength. As the old saw has it, a problem shared, is a problem halved. By being able to talk with others about these things we get not simply to off-load it all, but also to find someone who can help to manage and relativise it.

If nothing else, to find that you don’t have to face this all alone can be a comfort, even if it can’t resolve matters. If we draw an analogy from our professional paradigms, we make better and more sound advances by sharing and trialing what we do. Likewise, by sharing and working together, we might find ways to better address our situations.

Certainly, I can attest that it has been the support of colleagues on both big and small issues that I have found most comforting and helpful in my career.

To take the most obvious example, this blog and the network of people associated with it has been a central part of my developing practice as an educator and as a public communicator. It’s also been a huge source of help and support for issues that go well beyond the particular remit of what we nominally do.

Life can be tough, and our professional lives increasingly so, but that should only strengthen our mutual bonds. If nothing else, it’s one of the things that remains largely under our own control: in the seas of structure, there are still islands of agency.

We should make the most of them.