Polonius

It is always a bit tricky to give people advice when they start a a new venture. It is parodied in Hamlet (Act 1 sc 3) like this:
And these few precepts in thy memory
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion’d thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar:
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledg’d comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,
Bear’t that th’ opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are most select and generous, chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all- to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell. My blessing season this in thee!

and it would be possible to give similar advice today (I come close  to it in my previous post). How do you get on with other people as a young person in an unfamiliar environment? Polonius’ threadbare advice is to make and keep friends; dress well but not showily – and keep to your budget – and if you get into an argument make sure you win. Is this really the advice we’d want people to get as induction activities start at Brookes and elsewhere?

There’s an interesting look at this in Dave Aldridge’s blog which in turn cites this paper by Simon Edwards from Portsmouth. It might be about “academies” rather than “The Academy” (ie University), but has this interesting statement:

Relationships were viewed as a collaborative project where particular practices and attributes were valued as supporting the development and managing of relationships.

Relationships are collaborative. In University this is true, too: groups are set up and worked at by lecturers, and by students, too; but they are to be worked at (worked at by staff and students: this is not one of those “Ain’t this cohort dreadful?” posts). The writer goes on to suggest that

the task of everyday life in the school classroom for these young people was to bridge the gap between individuality, which was their fate and the practical and realistic capacity for self-assertion, which for them was located in collaborative relationships. Constant testing of relationships was critical to in order to orientate the self-project within relationships where there was no original self and no authentic representation of this original self. Therefore maintaining the flow of relationships and the narrative was more important than the space in which the young people occupied.

In looking (as we are this year) at the ways in which we can support well-being in the University (without losing sight of other critical parts of the task of academia), we need to look at the ways in which we demand academic probity, writing skills and effective relationships all at once from students – and how the successful student is very often the one who can manage the adult relationships (student-tutor as well as student-student) in such a way that there is an “authentic representation of this original self” – other words, as one Polonius-like figure told me before I went to University in the 70s, “Don’t be in a rush to become someone else.”

He had a point: relationships – positive ones – sustain and challenge. If we encourage effective working relationships between students and between students and staff, this has to be on a basis that we are all, to some extent, ready to “be ourselves.”

That’s a big ask for any of us.

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