Around 10 years ago there was this group of guys (and, yes, it was all men) who
always often presented about the same topic at events in the biggest TESOL organization in the country I resided in at the time. Frankly speaking, I can’t say that I went to many of these presentations. Part of the reason is that the topic didn’t really appeal to me back then. The other part is more personal. I thought these guys were sort of full of shit. In the esteemed words of my former college roommate DJW, “They weren’t dicks.” Yet their seemingly arrogant attitude caused me to think they were my not type of people and thus forced me to tune out their perfectly reasonable ideas. I think this latter point, my perception of their personalities and attitudes, contributed as much as their ideas to my lack of interest in their presentations and pedagogical insights.
Sometimes I think it’s a bit sad I missed out on the presentations and ideas and all because they might have helped my teaching and thus my students. I write this not as a confession or a chance to beat myself up but rather as an example of how our perceptions of others can contribute to how willing we are to listen to their ideas. I think it was very human of me to be cautious in accepting the ideas of slightly dickish dudes. Even if I have the slightest tinge of regret I think it was a natural response.
I wonder what you think, dear reader. Do you think that we must separate the message from the messengers? Do you wish you could do so but find it challenging?
For whatever reason when I think about general dickishness and the spreading of messages in ELT (including and perhaps especially positive and good ones) I think about Dr. Phil. I don’t claim to know much about this gentleman but I know he was frequently on Oprah in the 90s. I am not sure I ever saw him there but somewhere in the back of my mind his catchphrase “How’s that working for you?” remains.
In ELT we have lots of people with good, interesting, and important ideas to share. I suspect that sometimes these ideas might not reach the intended audience for reasons that go beyond the ideas themselves.
I wonder if those who (with, I assume, the purest of intentions) are interested in spreading the gospel of Gamification, Task-based Learning, Reflective Practice, The Lexical Approach, and Extensive Reading (to just name a few) are continually stepping back and asking how their messaging strategies and general public personae are working out for them in spreading the messages.
Maybe it’s not important and my one personal example above is insignificant because it’s from just one flawed human being. In my story above, the guys trying to spread awareness of certain practices were not even jerks and I was still turned off. Imagine how much more turned off I would be if they were in fact jerks.
Maybe some would say that the idea is the most important thing and that if the messenger causes issues for the audience it’s the audience’s fault for missing out on the inherent brilliance in the ideas. Maybe that’s true.
In regards to his famous question, Dr. Phil himself writes, “When I ask that, I genuinely mean it. How is what you’re doing working for you? Are you getting what you really want and need?” I ask the same question to those whose agenda* includes spreading their ideas to others.
*I am using definition C2 here before anyone starts crying in their tea about my word choice. Also, if you read this post and thought “It’s not about me” you are probably right. This post is also, of course, not any sort of endorsement of Dr. Phil who is not without controversy. I truly just remember the phrase and think about it quite often. I should also state that I started writing this post about a year ago so it’s not a response to any specific recent events, comments or general dickishness.