Image from Dennis Jarvis on Flickr, Creative Commons attribution

Image from Dennis Jarvis on Flickr, Creative Commons attribution

The other day my daughter came home with six or seven black crow feathers that she had found on an  “out trip” at day camp. My first internal reaction was one of the Yuck! variety but she was so excited about the feathers that we talked about how she could keep them.

Since I hadn’t seen where she found them (probably in a rotting pile of dead crow) I had a strong desire to clean the feathers before she played with them at home, so we boiled them in a pot on the stove and laid them out on a towel to dry. Funny thing was that – you guessed it – as soon as they were dry and available for playing with, she promptly forgot all about them.

And, apparently, so did I. I later found all the crow feathers stuck in the washing machine when taking out a load that had the same towel in it. One of us in our household (let’s face it, it was probably me) had scooped up the entire towel and feathers cache without realizing it and put it through the wash in a dark load. The crazy thing was that the feathers looked pretty much the same coming out of the washing machine as they had coming out of the boiling pot. None were even bent. No wonder crows are seen as tough little birds!

I got thinking about the weird symbolism of machine washing a bunch of crow feathers so I did a quick Google search to see what crow feathers represent. Apparently Native Americans see them as representing balance, skill and cunningness which is ironic since throwing feathers in the wash doesn’t actually seem like a very smart thing to do! But the balance part intrigued me as it was in fact an attempt to balance my own wishes with my daughter’s that led to me allowing the feathers into our home in the first place. I tried to balance my first reaction of the feathers as “unclean” with her first reaction of “super cool”.

Take this situation into the work world and a simple crow feather reminds me that I need to be very conscious of balancing the opinions of my client with my own opinions, and go gently into the space where they don’t intersect very well. For example, a recent client didn’t initially agree with me that facilitators who are teaching online should be aware of their students’ participation levels and reach out individually to check in with students that haven’t visited the course in a number of days, especially if the student is about to miss a whole unit’s worth of information and interaction. To this client, as they prepared to teach their first course online, this practice of checking in seemed too “Big Brother”-ish. But just as writers say “Show, don’t tell” it came to pass later during the online course that the client experienced the necessity and usefulness of checking in with students around their extended absences, and was a convert to the practice. And I realized yet again that having a person authentically experience something for themselves is much more powerful than telling them. In the end, we both got what we wanted.

I must admit that the saga of the crow feathers with my daughter didn’t end as neatly. Truthfully, I threw the feathers in the garbage as I picked each one from the washing machine! But it was still a useful initial exercise in parent-child collaboration, a time that we worked through how to balance both of our needs. I’ve learned since that crows are smarter than we think – could there have been a lesson in this all along?