Culture Shock

the Impala
One of my more oft-repeated mantras is “Always
Expect the Unexpected”
. It is, I believe, good advice and practice, for
embedded in there is a number of purposeful presuppositions and implied
embedded commands.
Interestingly, looking out for the unexpected can give us a wonderful
understanding about the nature of Unexpectedness and Randomness
– like that! The world is random anyway, so we become more “at one” in
spontaneity terms with what’s going on. “Always” is a command, by way of a caveat, since it is also in our nature to
be drawn into distractions and moments of unreadiness where our absorbed
attention to the Randomness of things is diluted.
Imagine the impala drinking at the water-hole,
noticing the crocodiles gliding around thirty metres away in the water – but failing
to notice the lions creeping up behind. 
I was at one of my After School Cricket Clubs this
week, talking with the players, when this ‘lion’ caught me unawares.

“Are you a professional coach?”
“Where do you go?”
“I go to lots of schools and also clubs.”
“Do you coach professionals?”
“I have done. They are professionals now though they weren’t professionals
at the time I coached them. They were just a few years older than you are now.”
why have you come to OUR school?”
Just for a moment I felt the jaws of the lion about
to close, yet with the speedy reactions of a spooked impala, I leapt back and
to the side. In the real-time context of the Club, the question and the players
waiting for my reply, there was a moment of complete suspension. Time stood
still – tumbleweed rolled through the empty streets blown on the whistling frontier
breeze. And in that moment I recalled some of the other times I’d darted away
from the “jaws of the lion”, by responding with total authenticity.
“Because I want to give YOU ALL a chance to enjoy
some cricket by playing, and to help you and show you how to get better at it,
so you can enjoy it some more. Which is why we’re all here today – isn’t it?”
Shocking and After-Shock
In the face of such a leonine attack, for me – the Impala
– it was not so much ‘fight or flight’ but rather duck, weave, and counter
punch. So maybe I wasn’t being Impala
at all! Maybe it was more like “wise old bird”.
However, there is a bit of a delayed shock for me,
as I reflect in the comfort of my own mind.
For the questioning child to ask why I should choose
to go to THEIR school, there has to be a deeply felt opinion by them about the
nature and culture of THEIR school and their place in it. And that opinion
contains elements of cynicism, sarcasm, criticism and more than a hint of
apathy bordering on depressive despair.
It would easy to think:
on earth can my simple message of learning through the fun of playing cricket
compete against such a raft of powerful AND growing beliefs in the mind of a 10
or 11 year old.”

For one hour a week they encounter my message, and for the remainder of the
time their growing beliefs are reinforced by all the other inside and outside messages
that bombard them on a daily basis.
It would SO easy for me to throw in the towel, by pointing
a finger at the apparent collective culture of the playground of this school and
say “enough is enough.”
However, I am “wise old bird” who has, I’m pleased
to say, been lucky enough to have worked in some pretty tough and challenging schools
– in pretty tough and challenging neighborhoods. For me, also, I am grateful
for what I have learned about the psychologies of perseverance and
non-reaction and why certain people, at whatever age, do what they do.
So cricket – and its wonderful message – goes on
regardless. The choice for those who don’t like what it is doing for and to
them is “Quit and Sit” – rather than “Stay and Play”.
For when we play, we can forget where we are, who we
think we are, and just be totally engaged in the fun and the activity. 
So next week we start again with a clean sheet, a
blank canvas. The struggle of their culture versus mine that took place at the
water-hole this week is a thing of the past. We have each learned something
through that struggle. I know and understand what I have learnt and will use
it, going forward. 

They may already see their world in a slightly different way as a result of the
struggle – and it would be wonderful and rewarding if that were to be so. For however desperate or
hopeless any culture may seem to those caught or trapped in it – we need to be
and remain aware that a culture, any culture, is only perpetuated by failing to
engage with it.