I read Connson’s article on the day that Donald Trump was installed as 45th president of the United States, and I found one line particularly meaningful, if not prescient:
[O]thers will defer to a confident powerful individual even when that individual’s confidence is unjustified – in other words, when that individual’s judgment is wrong – thus harming collective performance.
My reaction to it was to submit to despair, which is neither helpful nor hopeful. Connson though is both hopeful and helpful. She exemplifies how social science can (as it ought) to be grounded in, and aim at, real life. Even if academic research can only report on how things are rather than dictate how to change them, it does serve the purpose of alerting us to potential problems. Potential problems rooted in our psychology perhaps, our decision making, our socially determined trust in leaders; and it may ultimately effect some change in our future collective behaviour. The influence it exerts is small, but it is not nothing. In interview, she shared with me the words she found to comfort some of her American students the day after Trump had been elected:
We have a circle of concern and we have a circle of influence, and though the latter is much smaller, it includes the things we actually have control over and can make a difference about. If we focus on what we can actually do something about, it will make us feel better.
Her words made me feel better too, and that is not nothing either. Through her academic practice, Connson exerts her small circle of influence; and through her teaching practice, she extends it by giving her students on the MSc HRO course a useful, grounded educational experience. She is determined that her teaching must be useful, that it should be tailored to her students’ needs. That means their actual educational needs, not their perceived needs, or wants.