Unconditional Positive Regard.
Most of my life I believed I was bad at math. I excelled at things like art and creative projects. I excelled at discussion and writing of ideas. I made people laugh. But math, no math was not for me. Algebra was confusing and I could never understand why if Nancy has 8 apples on the train leaving at 9am, and Susie has 4 pears in the car leaving at 10am and running adjacent to the train, how they were to magically have a pound of blueberries to give to Carl at the bus stop at 6pm. and what was the qoutiant I was finding again?
Teaching me math must have been deeply frustrating for my teachers. The amount of patience and understanding they had to have just for me to earn a C was immense. But somewhere in the space created between my challenge in understanding and their frustration in teaching, they stopped seeing me as who I was and became focused on the task. I learned I must be bad and stupid if I couldn't do the math. I can't tell you how many times I came home crying or feeling totally ashamed that I couldn't do the thing they were asking. I even had one teacher tell me I was stupid at math. And my parents paid top dollar for that education.
Now, as luck would have it I got a math teacher in high school who, to this day, is one of the best teachers of any subject matter I have ever had. What makes her special is that she was able to sit in the frustration and fury with me as I painfully made my attempts to learn math at the high school level. She sat with me for hours after school some days and helped me understand my own problem-solving skills and where the errors were. She never saw my worth connected to the outcomes of class. She always maintained her presence with the young girl across from her. I'm sure she got frustrated, but I never felt stupid learning from her. She managed to maintain what we call Unconditional Positive Regard with me, and as a result, I actually learned and grew. Her teachings have made a lasting impact two decades later.
It may sound rather obvious, but one of the most Psychologically Sound ways you can build and teach your classes is to provide your students with reverence and respect. One of the most healing things you can do is hold a space of what we call Unconditional Positive Regard. Without this lens, a lot falls flat and you can become embroiled in unconscious games and patterns of will.
Unconditional Positive Regard is a concept in clinical work referencing the way the clinician respects and honors both their client and themselves. It is this positive regard for the Other that potentiates relational healing and healing around one's sense of self and being.
Ultimately it is the fertile soil for growth, development and any healing. It is the essential space we all long to gestate in, be birthed through, and the arms of holding and nourishment that lends all the rest. As children and young adults, we encounter an unsavory and unfair world and we learn that not all spaces are safe. We learn to feel the disdain of others and sadly, set up barriers to prevent that pain. We also lose sight of the goodness in others especially as we face our adulthood, raise our families, do our work and look at the realities of the Other part of our countries party lines.
Now, don't misconstrue this. This perspective doesn't condone evil actions of any kind, and it doesn't demand idiot-compassion and forgiveness.
It actually asks us to see how disappointed we can be in another person's behavior and the harsh reckoning and in some cases irreconcilable differences that emerge when abuse and love get entangled. Sometimes, in holding our selves in Unconditional Positive Regard we gather the resources and courage to leave the abusive relationship or family. Or to say, "No, not this." Or to start over. Or to forgive the other person so that we can be set free from the bondage of resentment.
But I wax poetic here, let me return to the classroom.
When you are held in the context Unconditional Positive Regard, your personhood is distinct from your actions. You can be deeply good and have made mistakes. You can have intrinsic worth and be messy. So, Unconditional Positive Regard is a perspective that aks the person in the seat of teacher/leader to hold those in their classes and under their tutelage with a kind of Light and reverence. The students or clients goodness is not attached to if you are annoyed by them. They are entitled to respect, reverence and the benefit of the doubt. Even if they do not do what you say in class. Even if they look angry or bored. Even if they seem confused.
Practically speaking, what Unconditional Positive Regard means for you and your students is that you honor where they are in the moment. You surrender the need to fix them or heal them. Positive regard means believing in someones potential and respecting their past so you can honor and accept their present. You are no longer the expert over them, but a person in relation to them that helps new experiences and learning emerge. You are fostering the context for learning to happen not through demands of facts, but through the presence of personhood.
Committing to hold students under the light of Unconditional Positive Regard is also a commitment to inclusion. When we offer this kind of high regard, we are taking the risk to look at our unconscious biases of race, gender, orientation, size, age, political views etc.. I might even go so far as to suggest that practicing Unconditional Positive Regard for self and Other as you work through these biases in practice, might be a deep skill set to building inclusivity.
Furthermore, when we attempt to hold this vision of Unconditional Positive Regard for students, we are also accepting that there may be certain tricky instances where a threshold is crossed and we can no longer hold them in that light we respect. In these times, it might ultimately be unethical to continue work with them since at some level they too deserve that spacious honoring of intrinsic goodness. Refer them to a colleague who has the bandwidth to hold that loving and present space if you cannot.
I am not talking about refusing to teach someone based on race, gender, ethnicity etc.. I think we all agree that's discrimination.
I am asking you to investigate your threshold. At what point does someones "misconduct" in your eyes limit your capacity to work with them. An example might be, you are working with a student who divulges information that they once sexually abused someone. What would you do? How triggered would you be? You would likely face fear, rage, and anger. Would this all cloud your capacity to hold them in a teachable light? If so, I would suggest not only seeking counsel on the issue but referring them to someone who you know who could be a better fit.
Essentially the threshold to this is: At what point does Unconditional Positive Regard become Conditional Positive Regard.
These are honestly, the kinds of really hard questions I want us all to wake up to as teachers and leaders. And these are what deeply investigating the center and the fray of what it means to lead with Unconditional Positive Regard.
What a gift, to acknowledge your own boundaries and hold yourself in high regard while also acknowledging the Others intrinsic value.
Unconditional Positive Regard also asks us to trust the students and trust ourselves. If trust is broken and the regard is tainted we either repair or refer. With this kind of lens in place, you can let go of shame, blame and guilt towards yourself and towards the Other. If your demo didn't work. You are still good. If you the student fell, you aren't terrible. If the student isn't understanding, it is not their fault. Do not be fooled and allured into the traps of this ego phenomena. The student is still worthy of Unconditional Positive Regard and so are you.
All learning comes out of this place. Without this high regard for the Other we lose sight of why this yoga matters in the first place. We lose sight of the growing edges of our own vulnerable desire. And when we are pushed so far to our capacity that this birthright of human decency and regard falls between us, let us commit to repairing or referring.
As well-meaning teachers, we sometimes stay when we should often let the student go or find them someone better equipped. We stay in schools and styles or with teachers who have lost integrity for us. You may never get an apology from the teacher who betrayed you. But you may find solace in holding yourself in Positive Regard. So much so you take a stand or change teachers.
Our students deserve our positive regard and our teachers deserve our positive regard. Let that human need be a guide to your teaching and relating.
Because yoga is about being deeply radical and practical.
Human decency and Unconditional Positive Regard ask us to embark on that journey of the radical and practical.
Go for it.
Fill your classes with this Light. Watch how it changes your interactions with students. Track closely when it gets lost in your sensory awareness.
Let us align towards the Good. And be fierce about it all.
The world needs our Unconditional Positive Regard.
I see you and believe in you.