There’s a powerful section in Seven Thousand Ways to Listen where Mark Nepo explores the implications of the Portuguese phrase e daí? “And then?” is how it translates literally, but for Nepo (and for the Monday Evening Book Group when we talked about it this week) there are at least three different levels of meaning. First, he says, it means “How is this thing important in the big picture?” Then, once you’ve established that, it means “What possible courses of action are there?” And finally, once you’re clear on the why and the possible responses, it means “What’s the right step for me to take?”
I’m sure you can see the connections between that phrase and Douglas Kiang’s five principles that I started exploring on Monday and Tuesday. Art and life are mirroring each other in odd ways! When you run into an unexpected struggle or setback, it’s natural to feel some fear. If it seems really major, panic or despair may grip you, at least for a while. But when you ask the first e daí question, you reconnect yourself with your bigger story. And when you ask the second and third levels of the question, you reduce the fear and start to see what Kiang calls the “multiple paths to success.” And once you can see them, you can make an intelligent (but not necessarily “perfect”) choice of which path to take.
Apparently that’s a lesson I needed to re-learn this week!
It turns out that many of us in the Monday Evening Book Group are recovering perfectionists. B’s mother made it clear to Young B that perfection was the goal and mistakes were unacceptable; decades later, B has mostly broken free of the perfectionism and the terror. My family didn’t demand perfection, but when things were tough at home, school was a Great Escape for me … and the factory-model school story is all about perfection. “What if I mess up?” you’re supposed to think. “What if this ends up on my Permanent Record?” There were actually a lot of growth-mindset messages too over the years, but that fear of permanent failure is hard to shake.
For a while I was convinced that the Tres Columnae site would be unfixable and that I’d permanently damaged or even broken a long-time friendship. That’s when the voices of terror get really strong.
Mark Ensign’s blog post from yesterday “just happens” to be related. Stop asking the fear-based questions, he says, and start asking “So, now what?”
Or, in other words, e daí?
“So someone hacked the site … now what?” Well, there’s the emergency backup, the PDF copies I keep in a Google Drive folder in case of site problems or downtime. And there’s a fairly recent backup of the site that could be restored if necessary. “So I think I gave my friend an incorrect understanding of something … now what?” I could call or email now, or I could wait to have a face-to-face conversation. You stop focusing on the fear and terror, you reconnect with the why, and you start to see the what and the how again.
The District Q Latin Family has been reading the stories in Tres Columnae Lectio XXIX this week. Young Vipsanius and Valeria, married for about three years, have a toddler and an infant, and both children (and their parents and nutrix) have been awake all night. Exhausted, but wanting to display all the relevant virtutes Romanae, Vipsanius greets his clients at the salutatio and “just happens” to encounter a particularly rude (and drunk) client … whom he sends away without a sportula today but does not reject permanently. There’s a lesson in that story, I realize, for all of us recovering perfectionists who fear that today’s struggle, failure, or setback will lead to permanent ruin.
It might lead to some pain or difficulty, but permanent ruin? And no options? When I hear those terrified voices in my head, it’s easy to fall under their spell … but sooner or later I find myself asking “So, now what? E daí?” And when I ask, and listen for the answer, the terror subsides and the options appear.
In Google+ comments on Monday, George reminded me that story isn’t as simple as it used to be:
I think the concept of story that we cling to has two challenges. One is narrative collapse, discussed by Douglas Rushkoff all over YouTube and in Present Shock. The other is context collapse, discussed in different ways by educator-friendly Mike Wesch and by danah boyd.I have been reminded of this because my classes are reading Rushkoff this semester.
Building something that matters in the context of education is allowing a person to develop into a unique individual. When this process is focused on the person and not on content then there is far less chance of a story collapsing.Also when learning is personal no matter how bad the circumstances, the narrative never changes. Under bad circumstances where there are mentors and coaches involved, learners are guided through bad circumstances and this path is part of the narrative.
The issue today is that school is attempting to write a common story for everyone and the narrative has already been written by curriculum and course designers.