The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Seeking to improve

Action research might sound like something impressive and beyond our day-to-day interventions. That may be true whenever one starts to formalize it. However, it also describes a way of life that can be rewarding when confronted with a desire to improve something. At the same time, it makes the discomfort accessible that such an approach involves.

The desire to improve always starts with a felt need to do something. But such a need lacks clarity, it is the intent that emerges from it that will transform into action.

Our normal reaction to this sequence is to step into action and assume that we know what to do. That is where action research steps in with the idea of informed and purposeful action. It implies that we actively question our own motives, critically evaluate our findings, and suspend judgment to remain open to other points of view.

Or said differently, instead of assuming that we are not understood to ask ourselves what it is that we don’t know about the other and that lets us perceive their reaction as not understanding something.

All of this is easier said than done.

Action needs commitment. But once there is a commitment to action, this commitment is confronted with the reality of others and self. And starting from a position of research, that is not knowing, there is nothing tangible to provide a direction. It brings us back to values as our guides. And yet, it is almost impossible not to constantly question ourselves and our ability to live up to our values while seeking to experience ourselves as living in their direction. Much of this feels like being alone, especially when others don’t agree with our approach or our values. And as we check with others if our values are right a lot of critique and self-critique can appear. How not to be tempted to go along with public opinion? But we have to be able to listen and must be attentive to others to confirm how well what we say is perceived to be aligned with what we do.

Commitment to action will have a hard time staying present if we don’t find a way to protect our well-being and moral integrity. Which means to develop the ability to listen and be open to others as well as to be firm about our values.

Between a need to do something and being committed to act, there is intention. Otherwise, it would simply be a reaction.

Intent triggers the capacity to take action and informs social action. But considering the idea that action research is about exploring new possibilities and life potentials, the research will uncover new reasons to act. For example, when injustice is revealed. Such a situation easily triggers a desire to change it. At the same time, it could lead to an endless quest. This implies choices. Dealing with personal discomfort in such a situation is problematic and requires reflecting on what it is that can be realistically achieved.

The desire to influence beyond ourselves through our research is to transform our and other people’s practice. But actions require an intent that is aligned with the real world. When suggesting change, we are meeting other people’s understanding of what good is, and ethical dilemmas may result. That is because being able to adapt to reality may require our values to be justified and negotiated. Otherwise, others may not welcome the suggested change and our ability to make change happen will be disappointed.

We can’t make change happen without other people’s consent and engagement.

This is where seeing and experiencing our discomfort becomes a strength. It helps us see what others might experience transforming it into a shared experience.




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