to say it can’t be done

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[by John]

At a recent multicultural education conference, Dr. Carl A. Grant gave the keynote talk. He was standing in for Dr. Jacqueline Jordan-Irvine who had taken ill. Because of his backup status, he had little time to prepare, yet little to lose. It was one of those daring occasions where someone uses PowerPoint for the first time. Doing it away from home and in front of teachers and teacher educators further increased the tolerance from the audience. Kudos  for jumping in as both a speaker and a power-pointer.

Boldly, Dr. Grant insisted that the local tech guy sit on stage behind the lectern in case problems developed. This distinguished and dynamic scholar of color charmed us all in an instant. Dr. Grant began his talk about culturally responsive teaching by preparing the audience to view a video called The Danger of a Single Story that is a TED lecture by Chimamanda Adichie (http://snipurl.com/adichie). The essence of her talk is that when we rely upon a single story to understand another group we are destined to get it wrong because one story necessarily lacks sufficient complexity.

Primed as we were, there was a collective groan when the audio did not work. Tech Guy was on his two-way radio, apparently to God, trying to fix the problem. When God didn’t appear, Tech Guy was left to his own devices. His solution involved turning up the laptop speakers and bringing the lectern microphone close by. I could hear the narration if I didn’t breathe. Dr. Grant asked if we could hear and received a collective “no.” More fiddling by Tech Guy and then the sound rose so the author could be heard. We were now almost 2 minutes into the video. Someone called out with the legitimate request: “could you start it over at the beginning?” Tech Guy shook his head and said “no.” Dr. Grant explained to the audience how important it was to get the big picture — and Tech Guy relented. Using all his physical strength and technological brilliance, he dragged the slider back to 0:00, pushed by the communal will of the room.

The rest was the kind of rare and wonderful magic that I am incapable of fully communicating. I encourage you to watch the whole twenty minutes yourself. The point here is that much would have been lost had the lecturer accepted Tech Guy’s refusal at face value. His only task as the assistant was for the audio to be loud enough. That the message was not being delivered was immaterial to Tech Guy. His job and motives were discrepant from his responsibility to Dr. Grant and the gathered community. What should have been a shared goal ended up being misaligned. Only through intervention and insistence was the goal realized.

We often find ourselves at the gates of an Emerald City. The doorman refuses to let us see the Wizard until we tell who sent us and provide proof. Dorothy had to evoke the name of the Great Witch of the North and coquettishly display her ruby slippers to substantiate the claim. Dr. Grant had to lean on Tech Guy to slide a virtual controller a couple of centimeters. To his credit, Dr. Grant was calm and benevolent. He also stayed true to his purpose and would not be deterred. The lesson for us is to refuse to accept the initial “No, it can’t be done” when offered by someone else — especially by those whose goals are near-sighted aim or non-existent.

This tale of gentle graciousness and mob mentality converging so Dr. Grant could fulfill his purpose is but one example of our responses to the word “No.” Other strategies — persistence, annoyance, deviousness — might be effective in other settings. Crossroads is but one example where the insinuation that “it can’t be done” was enough to push it to fruition. From the outset there was a clear goal in mind — and more have since emerged. Continued and collaborative pushing brought us to this point. More importantly, individual Ventures arise as direct response to Vexations. Those with clearer and deeper senses of purpose can accomplish what needs to be done without being told. It is as if you arrived with sufficient foresight and boldness. There are big differences between “can’t” and “won’t” — recognizing the distinction and making strategic decisions is how things will get done.

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