I had a recent experience I think is illuminating and I want to discuss it. At a micro level, it's about teachers. But I think it can be enlarged to a macro-level discussion about all of us.
Here is the situation: one week I was running a theatre camp. I got a call on the second day from a parent who was upset because their child had come home sad. No one had been actively unkind to the child, but the child does not know the other campers well and was feeling left out.
The camp had started on Monday and this was Tuesday, so there hadn't been a great deal of time.
I didn't fault the parent for being concerned. It's very difficult to watch your child hurting. The phone call, as far as I can tell, was simply to make me aware of the situation. I don't think the parent was suggesting that it was my fault. So, although I felt it was a bit premature, I didn't mind the call. Still, I did perceive a subtext that somehow it was someone's fault--either mine or the other children.
The next day, I structured the entire camp around activities I specifically designed to help the child in question find a friend. I did that even though there was other work I wanted to accomplish in our time together.
The child in question was nice, but not very outgoing and tended to wait for others to initiate conversations and so forth, so that made it more challenging. So during a break, I asked three separate children to be this child's buddy.
At the end of the break, a game that they were playing really clicked and this child was laughing and squealing with other children--completely immersed and included. I decided to let the break go on--again, even though we had a performance on Friday for which we needed to prepare.
So, essentially, I re-ordered the entire day of camp and threw my plans out the window for the specific cause of helping one child. I was happy to do that. I'd do it again--but that parent will never know.
To be fair, I did get an appreciative email later that mentioned the daughter had a better day. But, the parent did not feel the positive in the same urgent, visceral way as the negative. This is ironic because far more effort was exerted to cause the positive than the negative.
I'm NOT critical of the parent. This is fundamental human nature. We tend to feel much more strongly about the negative than the positive. We are far quicker to complain than praise. Morever, the parent really had no way of knowing how much trouble I went to for their child, so there's no way to be properly appreciative. What I did was invisible. And that's fine.
But, I think this is a pretty common thing. When things go badly we complain and act as if it is because someone has done something wrong. When they go well on the other hand, we tend to assume that it's just the natural order of things and don't usually express appreciation.
The reality, however, is probably exactly opposite. In a wold ruled by entropy, it is far more likely that things going wrong can truly just happen. Things going right, on the other hand, are far more likely to be consequences of someone's careful work.
That's certainly true in a school and I suspect in other arenas as well.
Just a thought.
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