Assumptions

Dear Teachers,

Confession time: I have a teensy little iPhone addiction problem. There is something about that screen that calls my name all day (and sometimes in the middle of the night). Whether it’s quickly scanning Twitter, seeing how hot it’s going to be today, checking email, or playing a couple of dumb games, I often have a hard time ignoring my screen. I’ve played one Sudoku game hundreds of times now, always selecting the “Medium” difficulty level. And I challenge myself not to make any wrong guesses: to not make too many assumptions about what the number might be. So often, I don’t have complete information, and I make the wrong assumption, leading to a (gasp!) red number in the square, which indicates it’s womp-womp wrong.

And I do that in real life too. I make a lot of assumptions based on incomplete information. That happened to me again this past week. A set of circumstances led me to believe that something was one way, and I began to get “in a snit” (as my mother would say) about it. And then one conversation completely turned my prior assumptions upside down.

It reminded me of one of my favorite TED Talks, On Being Wrong. The speaker, Kathryn Schulz, says that feeling of being wrong feels exactly like the feeling of being right: it’s only when you realize you’re wrong that it feels icky. She says that most of the time, we have “error blindness” – meaning that we don’t have internal cues to tell us when we’re wrong about something. It takes having another conversation, or eavesdropping on someone else’s perspective, or getting some other missing piece of the story before we can say, “Oh… I didn’t know that. That changes everything.” Maybe it doesn’t exactly change “everything,” but with a little luck, at the very least it might change us. (And when I say “us,” in this case I actually mean “me.”)  Even a small extra piece of information often catalyzes my empathy, and I can look at something in a completely different way. I’m happy that this past week, one conversation did that for me.

But we have to be willing and able to add the new information to our mental models, and be self-aware enough to maybe change what we think. We humans seem to be awfully heavy these days on the moral certitude and righteous indignation. I get kinda tired of it, honestly – except when I’m the one doing it, I guess.

In the TED talk, Schulz said that she once interviewed Ira Glass, the producer of NPR’s “This American Life.” She said she had noticed a trend in his podcasts, that the show was all about people who ended up being wrong about something. Ira confirmed that that is often a theme. “I thought this one thing was gonna happen, and something else happened instead” makes a good story, it turns out. I thought I’d be a stay-home mom and be celebrating 33 years of marriage this year, but something else happened instead. I thought I’d go to the grocery store last weekend, but something else happened instead (the ER visit is a whole other blog post). This week, I thought I needed to be mad at someone, but something else happened instead.

At the 2017 ISTE conference in San Antonio, Jennie Magiera urged teachers to consider untold stories over a single story. We all create narratives for ourselves and others, sometimes intentionally but most often unwittingly. There are always so many more untold stories in a given circumstance than the single story we create for ourselves. I would challenge you this week to examine the stories you might tell yourself about what’s happening in your life, and to maybe look at things a little more deeply. How might saying “but maybe I’m wrong” help you in your relationships? What untold stories might help you change your perspective? Be willing to be humbled by your inaccurate assumptions this week. Turns out, discovering I was wrong wasn’t so bad after all.

Fondly,

Nancy

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