This post is dedicated to all my Turkish colleagues who communicated to me how sad they have been in the past few weeks over the politics in the country, how they could not concentrate on work, how they lost sight of doing what they are supposed to do, how they found themselves weeping in between classes… You are not alone! Never give up!
Language, writing and public speaking skills are important for academics, whatever their field may be. Be it lecturing in class, talking to a peer audience at a conference, writing for a scholarly journal, defending an argument at some academic commission meeting or appearing in the media as an expert on some topic, we are expected to be precise, clear and articulate in what we say, orally or written.
And most of us live up to the expectations… most of the times.
We lose our sharpness, we find ourselves babbling in front of our audiences or spending hours looking at a blank paper trying to figure out what it was that we wanted to write.
Other things get in the way:
A writer’s block, a personal crisis, a family story, a derailment of interest in our area of expertise, an illness, fatigue, burn-out syndrome…
And sometimes alienation …
Alienation caused by looking at the state of the world, at the state of your own country, at the dreams and realities of the academic profession, at where you wanted your students to be and where they are, at where you thought your peers and colleagues would stand yet where they choose to sit and at where you thought you aimed but got stuck now…
Alienation brought about by a mixture of all of the above, making you see that they are not totally independent of one another, that they are more like different layers or levels of analysis which force you to see that the picture you have in front of you is more serious than you would admit.
With recent developments in my home country in particular and in international relations in general, I oscillate between an underlying and deeply felt sense of alienation from the world, from my country and from my profession which makes me feel most helpless and short-lasting but repetitive episodes of a sense of motivation, coupled with a heightened awareness of the need to fight with all that I feel and witness, through education, through kindness, through civic engagement.
Sometimes, it is hard to leave aside your humanity and talk theoretically about the state of the world affairs when you know that at the very moment you talk about them, there is more counter-practice in the world to the theory you are trying to teach in a classroom of four walls. Sometimes, it is hard to leave aside your passport, your sense of citizenship, your roots when you know that you have to be able to look at the world and your own polity more objectively to be able to be the wo(man) of science you aspire to be. Sometimes it is hard to know that as a result of academic politics, which mirror oftentimes the state of politics in your polity and can be better explained by bureaucratic politics or organizational process models of decision making than a vision for better education, you lose so much of your valuable time and creativity and that you are not even half the academic you know you can perform to be.
Oftentimes, we are the ones, as professors, who listen to our students’ struggles with school in particular and with life in general. Their stories are often presented to us in the form of excuses to delay a deadline, to postpone an exam or to explain an absence. We may see our students as young people who are learning how to deal with life’s gray zones at the same time they are trying to get an education and thus sympathize with them as we know where they are coming from.
Contrary to the students, we do not tell our stories to others and instead put on a smile behind a motto of “the show must go on”, valid not only for actors taking stage in theatre plays but also for professors performing in classrooms.
Because even on a day when you spend all the time in your office weeping and feeling sad over the state of the affairs in the world, over the state of your own country, over the dreams and realities of the academic profession, over where you wanted your students to be and where they are, over where you thought your peers and colleagues would stand yet where they choose to sit and over where you thought you aimed but got stuck now… you know it damn well that knowledge, education and facts are your most important allies if you want all involved to be winners in the end.
We all have our “sometimes”. But we do not give up!