Sunday, 23 July 2017

Mary Makes Sense

A lot of meaning in so few words and that was the unique capability of Seuss, to condense a lot into a little. But what does this mean?  Our ‘me-ness,’ what or who we believe we are is as varied and unique as a fingerprint or an intricate snowflake.

Our children I believe do as Seuss did; cram a lot into a little. They process the messages they receive and make logical deductions about what these messages mean. They determine how worthy they are as people according to the sense they make of their experience. They are constructing their reality of who they are, parsing out what makes sense to them from the stuff that is non-sense. What happens when the non-sense makes sense and the sense is nonsense? And what are they missing out when condensing so much information into a one-word meaning - good, bad, smart, ugly etc? Who or what is the ‘me’ beyond the one word label we assign our person hood?

Seuss again says:
“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living; It's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, And that enables you to laugh at life's realities.”
Nonsense, as a fantastic inversion of reality, a temporary world of fantasy and fun of our choosing contrasts with what we accept as true and we can revert back to reality; our reality when we choose to. But it is not a game or adventure when our worldview is built on nonsensical constructions that our reality tells us are true. It is a dark fantasy to learn that we are worthless or dumb and that no one cares about us. Douglas Adams reminds us:
“Everything you see or hear or experience in any way at all is specific to you. You create a universe by perceiving it, so everything in the universe you perceive is specific to you.”
Adams reminds us that the reality experienced is unique to the person who is living that experience. All we perceive via our sense experience (sight, sound, smell, feel) creates the universe we know. But it isn’t the same universe that others have created.

A child in the classroom will be as unique as the fingerprint we referred to earlier. How one sees the world will be particular to them, specific to them. They are constructing their version of reality according to their interpretation and understanding of their own lived experience.
… ‘people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences.’
In an ideal setting our children are active participants in their learning. They do not only receive and automatically accept what is given to them but they process and test input against the evidence available and make informed decisions. It is the job of teachers to help children learn how to think; to enquire and test the hypotheses they are encouraged to make. What’s true or not at the time? How are these truths challenged by new evidence? Etc.

What of the counsellor who sits before the young person who seems to be living her ‘nonsense’ induced dark fantasy of her ‘reality?’ How does the counsellor know this is the case? What do we do? Why?

How do we know this? Her demeanour, how does she present? Is this usual or characteristic of her general behaviour? What have others observed? What is revealed in her talk? (No one likes me; I’m dumb, what’s the point)

What do we do? We work out together to find out the non-sense that we assume is causing the young person to feel and act as self defeatingly as she does. We listen to what she says and we isolate those ideas that we agree don’t sound right. We challenge those ideas with evidence and make new assessments of old constructs. We work hard to understand our new learning, to replace old habits of thinking with new more helpful, sensible ones.

Why? So the young person can help herself know when non-sense is gaining ascendency and to quickly relegate it to the non-sense files when needed and to be able to monitor emotions and mindset as a matter of course.

Albert Einstein reminds us that:

Mary is a student in a primary school. Her belief that she is worthless and unlikeable is a problem for her, a persistent illusion. What ‘thinking rule’ has she constructed that causes her to feel and act as she does? What opportunities does she deny herself because she believes she’s not worthy or that she is not good enough? These are questions the counsellor will explore with her young client. This is the ‘non sense’ to be teased out of Mary’s subconscious and placed in the clear light of day for very close scrutiny and examination.

Alfred Korzybski General Semantics says that we ought to be more thoughtful about the language we use and to be mindful of the messages we are trying to convey. Too many and inappropriate words can confuse understanding and he suggests we develop a ‘scientist sensibility’ for listening. He talks about creating a ‘verbal pollution free zone’ by asking three questions that encourage specific answers. They are:

1. What do you mean?
2. How do you know?
3. What did you leave out?

When applied to Mary’s situation this is how a discussion may unfold:

Mary – ‘I am dumb and no one likes me.’
Counsellor – ‘What do you mean? What is your understanding of ‘dumb’? What do you mean when you say no one likes you?’

Mary – ‘I can’t do anything! No one wants to be my friend.’

Counsellor – ‘How do you know? What evidence is there to prove you can’t do anything and no one likes you? ’

Mary – ‘I never get anything right! People don’t want to hang out with me.’

Counsellor – ‘What did you leave out? What things can you do? What have you ‘forgotten to remember?’  What can we find that proves you cannot be dumb and unlikeable and that this could all be non-sense?

Mary Mary
Please be wary
Of the nonsense you believe is true
You can act dumb and fail at stuff
But don’t let that define you!

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