What could we learn from being Peer Leaders in a school environment that could apply to supporting the wellbeing of our families, friends, and neighbours during this Pandemic?
Likely the best place to start answering this question is to look at what we do as Peer Leaders, both in our school communities, and in our neighbourhoods.
In schools (as you all know), we mentor peers younger than us at the beginning of their high school years. We do this through facilitating workshops with them on areas of personal development important to any person’s social/emotional growth.
The mentoring is done through sharing our learnings from the different exercises in each workshop. This sharing is a more equitable way to nurture each person’s thinking and personal growth because it avoids the feeling so often associated with ‘top down’ mentoring, namely that we’re working from deficits in our own or other’s characters.
We take this Peer Leadership approach to mentoring through facilitation knowing that everyone is different in so many ways. Some of us are more vulnerable, more hurting, more gifted, more capable of learning, or more mature in group settings at this time in their lives. The differences ultimately don’t matter because these areas of social/emotional development are common to us all. And when a person needs to grow in a certain area of their life, they will. And our workshops have introduced them to some of the key dynamics in each of these areas.
For a Peer Leader wherever a person is in maturity terms is not a primary concern. The point is to empower everyone to move from a position of relative weakness in a particular area of their life to relative strength. Because then they are likely to have the inner assurance to recognize the validity of another person’s self-same struggles in personal growth, and be able then to productively participate in community.
Thus, what is implicit in being a Peer Leader is that we help people help themselves, which is often made somewhat less challenging if they feel supported to do so.
What is also inferred in this Peer Leadership approach is that considering the other person’s innate worth and their growth is as important as the products of your work together.
This simple statement is actually very important for creating the kinds of fair and inclusive communities we want in a diverse world.
We live now in a multicultural world where people’s diversity extends to their attitudes and beliefs, their perspectives and maturity levels, as well as their ways of defining a successful life. But we still live in societies where patriarchy remains a defining force, societies where we believe there is one preferable definition of success, with systems that favour people and ethnicities that agree to these preferences. Nowhere does this show itself more clearly than the fact that we consider the outcomes of our work, both as individuals and in groups, as more important than each participating individual’s social/emotional growth. This idea -usually expressed as sacrificing for the common good -is so prevalent as to be unquestioned. Ultimately, the result is that ideas and material things are often considered more important than individual human lives, especially if those lives appear as deviant or otherwise problematic.
Experiencing the reality of a pandemic contradicts this. Each of us is ultimately vulnerable. Each of us, despite status, accomplishment, or age, is processing the effects of the pandemic in both unique but also in common ways.
The pandemic is actually demanding of us that we pay attention to the welfare of other people as well as our own wellbeing. We are also being asked to pay attention to the various degrees of vulnerability we share with the members of our community whose health is already compromised.
This we have actually experienced in the classroom as we deliver our workshops, albeit in a less threatening and serious way. Some of the participants are connecting with us, you might say, while others have no intention to participate- all indicative of differing degrees of social/emotional maturity.
Therefore, those of us that have the health, strength, maturity and opportunities to volunteer to help in our communities, especially as regards those more vulnerable to the virus, are already trained as it were.
We know what it is like to address the needs of our shared humanity, while meeting the challenges of our differences, towards making a fairer, more inclusive world.