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Oysters and learning

It is amazing what can grow from one piece of sandYou might well ask what do oysters and learning have in common? At 3am I was asking myself this question.

I was working on my research. I was writing up a section on the pros and cons of formal and informal mentoring. Formal mentoring is when an organisation or community group sets up support structures to control the mentoring process and ensure it meets the necessary expected outcomes. Informal mentoring is basically the opposite scenario. The mentoring pair establishes the relationship without any kind of assistance or guidance.

An important part of the mentoring process is selecting the right person as the mentor. I read that if people are “left to their own devices” they often choose the wrong person. Typically they select someone they already know and that they get on with really well. This in turns means they may have high rapport but “typically very little opportunity for learning” occurs. It then went on to say:

Growing pearls of learning requires at least some measure of grit in the oyster.
How formal should your mentoring scheme be? Clutterbuck Associates, 2003.

I had a flashback as I read these words. I was about four years old. I was standing in this cold work preparation area. My early years were spent living in the back of a “Fish and Chip” Shop my parents owned. I remember looking up at this big concrete bench. My father was there too. He was opening the oysters. In those days oysters arrived from Bluff in sacks and my father had to painfully open each oyster shell to extract the delicacy within. I remember him feeding me the oysters directly into my mouth. He just popped it there and I swallowed.

I was relaying this memory to my father a few hours ago and he added a bit to this story. Smiling, he told me how I complained if the oysters that he fed me were too big. I apparently told him to save the big ones for the customers. I wanted the little oysters because they were easier to swallow and I liked them better.

This memory is special. As I write this I can feel that cold and wet environment where my parents worked for hours peeling potatoes, and preparing all the food they sold to their customers. My parents had the reputation in the area of making the best fish and chips. They worked very hard. I can also feel the love of my father and the pleasure it gave him to feed me these special treats. Funnily enough I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat an oyster now. However, when I do I always prefer them straight from the shell rather than cooked in any way.

I don’t have many memories from my childhood. I am not sure why. My sisters have so many more. Sometimes I wonder if I grew up with them or somwhere else. Trickles happen. Maybe I just haven’t connected them all up yet.

As for the pearl connection… well, isn’t this all about life. From a small grit of sand to a pearl, and who would know because on the outside nothing has changed. I wonder if my father thinks of me as a pearl. Do any of us see the pearl within or do we choose to ignore it? I see it in others but I still struggle to see it in myself. Is there any pearl in my research? I worry that it is not could enough. The perfectionist in me is speaking here. By the way, I inherited this trait from my father! You can run from your genes but you can’t hide.

The Oyster

There once was an oyster
Whose story I tell
Who found that some sand
Had got into his shell.
It was only a grain
but it gave him great pain.
For oysters have feelings
Although they’re so plain.
Now, did he berate
the harsh workings of fate
that had brought him
To such a deplorable state?
Did he curse at the government
Cry for election
And claim that the sea should
Have given him protection?
‘No,’ he said to himself
As he lay on a shell
Since I cannot remove it
I shall try to improve it.
Now the years have rolled around
As the years always do
And he came to his ultimate
Destiny – stew.
And the small grain of sand
That had bothered him so
Was a beautiful pearl
All richly aglow.
Now the tale has a moral
for isn’t it grand
What an oyster can do
With a morsel of sand?
What couldn’t we do
If we’d only begin
With some of the things
That get under our skin.
David Cohen

I used a story similar to this with a group of at risk youth I taught. I had a look on my bookshelves to try and find it but it is eluding me at present. It had quite an impact on these young people and a number of them carried it around with them and kept referring to it. We all need these reminders to keep going. It is sometimes very difficult to see beyond the ugliness of the shell, even if it is protecting what lies within.

Just before I do go, here is an update on where I am at with my writing. It is flowing along even though I am way behind where I needed to be by today. It almost seems my writing is tidal – it has its own ebb and flow. Oh yes, and this is also true of my weight loss.

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