Bad News or Good?

It had been a long, busy day, and I had plans for a quiet dinner at home.  But then I felt a sudden urge, almost a prompting to go to a particular local restaurant.  “OK,” I thought, “I can go there, pick up a few groceries on the way home, and go about my business.”

That’s not quite what happened, of course.  What did happen was one of those interesting combinations of bad news and good news.

I often see friends and former students, but the place was fairly empty when I arrived and, for once, the server wasn’t a former student.  I was sitting and reading, just about to start eating my zucchini fritters, when I heard a half-familiar voice.  “Mr. S!” she said, “I’ll give you $100 if you remember my name!”  And of course I remembered everything but the name … until I saw F’s mother, who was standing there and laughing.  It’s been almost twenty years since F was a member of the Latin Family; she finished her Ph.D. a few years ago and has a faculty job at a Rather Prestigious University.  It was great to reconnect with them.  And when they left, it was great to keep reading the extremely helpful book I “just happened” to find at the Local Bookstore earlier in the day.  Lots and lots of good news so far.

“I’ll just go get those groceries,” I thought, “and head home after that.”

But the left front tire looked suspiciously low, and I thought I saw a little crack in the sidewall.  “I’ll just head home,” I thought, “since it’s only a few miles.  And I’ll go to the tire store first thing in the morning and see about the tire.”

You can probably guess that the tire had other ideas!  I heard and felt those other ideas on a quiet, fairly deserted stretch of road … the only stretch between the restaurant and home with a wide shoulder and nobody’s yard to disturb.  It’s not the first time I’ve been grateful for the AAA app, for the quick response from the wrecker service, for a kindly deputy sheriff who stopped to make sure all was well.  And it’s not the first time I’ve been glad I grew up in a family that didn’t make much use of air conditioning!  I suppose I could have left the car running for the 45 minutes between flat tire and tow truck arrival, but I’m glad I didn’t.  And this morning I’m glad for free WiFi at the tire store … and for their roadside hazard protection plan which reduced the new tire’s price significantly.

Bad news … or good?  So much depends on your perspective.  Even as I felt the tire go flat, I was looking for the good in a way that might have seemed strange a few years ago.  I wasn’t on the way to the grocery store, a route full of narrow shoulders and fast-moving traffic.  I wasn’t on the highway, as I might have been if I’d made other plans for today.  I wasn’t upset at myself for not taking care of the problem earlier … and I wasn’t out of the loop, either, since both the dispatcher and the driver from the wrecker company called me periodically with updates.  Unlike twenty years ago, when I would have been hiking for a pay phone, or even five or six years ago, when I would have been trying to identify the location to a confused AAA dispatcher, I could sit in the car, call up the app on the smartphone, and send the location automatically.  I even had some time to keep reading that book before it got dark.  The spare tire was fine, the trip from home to tire store was uneventful, and they even had the relevant tire in stock.

“It may be a while,” said the friendly salesperson.  “That’s fine,” I told him, “since I don’t have anything mandatory on my schedule till late afternoon.”  We’ll be done long before that, he promised.

Bad news … or good?  Ms. X and Mr. Y tend to look for the bad, assuming the worst about any given situation.  Some healthy pessimism runs in my family, too, and I was half-expecting I might need four new tires instead of just one.  But as I’ve worked to build joyful learning communities in classrooms and online spaces, I’ve slowly but surely learned to look for the good without ignoring or discounting the bad.  And I’m grateful for that; it seems like an additional piece of good news to celebrate today.

Right before I left for my fateful dinner at the Local Restaurant, I “just happened” to see this link about a school district in California that seems to be trying hard to move beyond the factory-mindset.  I’m hoping for an exciting conversation about it on this Google+ thread, perhaps even something to rival the conversation Linda started about the new partnership between Starbucks, Pearson, and Arizona State Online.  I’ve seen several articles about the program, and a whole lot of conversations in various social media spaces.  What struck me, over and over, was how many people wanted to see bad news,  What if it’s all a Big Scam? folks were asking.  What if Not Many Employees take advantage of it?  What if this one little program doesn’t solve All The Problems of access to higher education?

Bad news … or good?  There’s something about the factory-mindset that encourages focusing on the bad, even sometimes reframing good news (or mixed news) so it seems all bad or mostly bad.  Zeckhauser and Sandoski, in that book I “just happened” to find, are discussing how to “conquer the fear of risk” in the chapter I’ll be reading this morning.  And I think that’s good news on a bright, sunny Thursday, a day when you can choose your focus.  A day when I choose to focus on the good and embrace the possibilities.

I wonder what other possibilities will reveal themselves!

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Published in: on June 19, 2014 at 2:37 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I “just happened” to find a book by Bryn Zeckhauser and Aaron Sandoski called How the […]


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