“Welcoming the unwelcome refers to the capacity to see challenges and obstacles as opportunities for learning and growth.” – from page 72 of The 5 Dimensions of Engaged Teaching
How many times do we encounter “obstacles” in our lives we wish to turn away from or avoid? Our writing team experienced such challenges on a weekly basis— from unexpected delays, to deadlines that seemed to come much too fast, to realizations that we needed to rework parts of the book yet ‘one more time.’ Inevitably, we would find ourselves groaning or resisting a particular challenge. And yet, apparent “delays” allowed us to rework or rethink important aspects of the book or to include a perspective we might otherwise have missed. A rescheduled meeting ended up providing better timing to work through an issue. And tense moments gave us the opportunity to take a breath and a break so we could more skillfully move through the grit of the situation.
Inevitably there are experiences in our lives that are difficult to embrace or welcome. Perhaps one morning, we race out the door to our teaching job, only to arrive in our class to discover that half of our students haven’t completed the homework assignment. Frustration arises. And in that moment, we have a choice—to react negatively to this challenge or to welcome it as an opportunity to engage the moment with creativity and flexibility and to invent a fresh approach. Or, in another situation, perhaps we encounter an unexpected change—an unanticipated move, a job shift, a leadership restructuring. By remembering we can choose to welcome the unwelcome, we may be better able to see the possibilities and learning this change might bring to us.
In the biggest sense, ‘welcoming the unwelcome’ is a kind of “aikido” move. Instead of setting ourselves fiercely against an obstacle or avoiding an uncomfortable situation, we shift our perspective, lean into the challenge and discover what it can teach us. Of course, welcoming the unwelcome does not magically transform challenges into pleasant experiences, and it isn’t an encouragement to repress true emotion or avoid speaking up about transgressions or hurts. But it does give us a chance to engage the situation with curiosity and learn from what we might otherwise avoid, reject or turn away from. It also might invite our sense of humor. In our work, when an “unwelcome” situation arises we often look at each other and say— “oh great, another fabulous learning opportunity.
In the next week, look for moments where you might welcome the unwelcome in your life and work. Recognize that first flash of irritation or fear as a moment of choice — and then pause and see what might be possible. Pay attention to what situations tend to provoke your resistance. And please share the “learning opportunities” that come your way and the lessons you learn from welcoming the unwelcome.