I need to address two things in this blogpost which have been bothering me about the permeability idea. The first is to challenge any notion that I might have mastered the art of optimum permeability and the second is that permeability equates with eliminating uncertainty.
Mastering the art of being permeable
Reflecting on the feedback I’ve had about the permeable practitioner, I’ve started to think to myself: ‘I hope people don’t think I’m a beacon of permeability!’ I’m not and I can do impermeable and porous, just like everyone else. The cluster of helpful behaviours and characteristics I have called being a permeable practitioner are things I have noticed in practitioners who seemed to be aware of uncertainties and who also sought to resolve those uncertainties. So, I am not describing myself, I am describing what I observed in others. However, having noticed how helpful these behaviours and characteristics can be in helping us to recognise our feelings of uncertainty and taking action to do something about these uncertainties, I am paying more attention to my own permeability.
Never has this been more apparent than during these months of Covid-19 pandemic. There’s been more uncertainty than I might ever reasonably have anticipated as I completed my PhD in the summer of 2019. In my work-life, my home-life and my social-life, I’ve flip-flopped between extremes of highly permeable and rigidly impermeable. Paying attention to those helpful behaviours and characteristics has occasionally brought me to rest in a sufficiently permeable place, but not always. I’ve noticed how, even within a group of people I know really well, the imbalance of permeability about specific events and phenomenon can be highly socially disruptive. So, when my mates have been pretty permeable about something previously somewhat taken for granted, like going to a restaurant, but I have remained pretty impermeable about that, it feels utterly unfamiliar and unsettling. However, I’ve also noticed that trying to be a bit more permeable by being self-aware, aware of and for others and sharing that awareness can help me to begin to navigate the uncertainty. That doesn’t necessarily mean I feel more certain, but in recognising and sharing the uncertainty I sometimes work out how to tolerate or accommodate it. So, that’s the first thing, me, not always wildly permeable, but working on it. And that brings me to the second thing, which is that permeability is not the promise of a solution for all our uncertainties.
Permeability: not a promise of certainty
Striving to be more permeable is not a promise of certainty. Indeed, being more permeable might tune us in to uncertainties we previously had limited awareness of. But being permeable helps us to be more willing to share our concerns and uncertainties with others as a first step in our efforts to resolve uncertainties or to work out how to tolerate them. This is such an important first step in maintaining professional and public safety because our awareness of our uncertainties can provide us with a prompt to learn. So, it follows an unacknowledged uncertainty won’t trigger a prompt for learning, presenting instead the potential for risk or harm if left unrecognised, concealed or unresolved. The permeable behaviours and characteristics help us spot our uncertainties and explore ways to resolve them, but it is the learning that’s been prompted by an uncertainty that holds the key to feeling more certain.
Further reading and resources
To find the possible further reading mentioned in this blog and activities for exploring the idea of permeability go to Ideas and Resources