Simple things

Simple things can be taken for granted and overlooked, or they can induce wonder and awe.

I recently purchased a manual crank pencil sharpener for my learning space. My girls like every aspect of this simple machine. They enjoy manipulating the lever that secures it to our table. They carefully spin the ring of holes to find the perfect fit for their pencil. They work together to help others sharpen their pencil successfully.

It sometimes takes a bit longer to use than an electric sharpener, but the time is time well spent. As they work and struggle to sharpen their pencils, they practice grit, perseverance, curiosity, and kind helpfulness. They strengthen the muscles of their hands and fingers. And, remarkably, they experience wonder and awe!

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The other day, one of them was chatting with me about the sharpener. I don’t recall our exact conversation, but at one point I took the sharpener apart. Perhaps I wanted to show her the insides, perhaps I was just emptying the shavings.

I was unprepared for her response. When the sharpening gears were exposed, she gasped. Her eyes were wider than I’ve ever seen before. She gently grasped the handle — as though she might destroy the wonder, or damage the machine. As she turned the crank, the gears rotated. She was glued to the movement and with hushed excitement said “Wow!”

 

20181025_092203-01I asked if she wanted to try sharpening her pencil. She said yes and began to work on replacing the cover. I encouraged her to sharpen it without the cover so she could observe what happened. Her astonishment and joy were palpable as she sharpened the pencil, adding to the small pile of shavings at the base of the sharpener.

 

I feel similar things when I use a standard wedge sharpener. I love watching the wood and paint sliced off of the pencil — with incredible precision. I like the crisp sharp point, and I marvel at the beautiful shapes of the sharpening scraps.

20181106_104023-01 Simple things. Big feelings. Important experiences.

I want to be mindful of these moments. Mindful in noticing them. Mindful in helping facilitate and provoke them. Mindful in finding small moments, and large blocks, in which we can play with simple things. Mindful about protecting and nurturing the wonder and awe of the simple things.

I think I will begin saving the sharpening scraps in our makerspace trolley. I’m hopeful they will intrigue and inspire my makers.

At the very least, they will bring me joy, and that’s a good thing.

Time will tell.

 

 

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The Power of Language

Lately I’ve been struck by the profound power of language.

Last night at a mindfulness session someone pointed out the difference between saying: “I am a worrier!” and “I am experiencing worry.”

Do you hear a difference? Do you feel one? They are very similar statements, but the small variations cause large differences in meaning and impact.

The first statement says something about me, and therefore about the possibility of my actions or thoughts. I AM a worrier. If I am a worrier, I have no choice. I worry. If, instead, I am experiencing worry, I have choices. I can notice the worry. I can observe it. I can choose to turn towards the worry and learn from it. I can choose to do something to alleviate it. Or, I can worry, lol.

The point is, the change in my language opens possibilities for me! It gives me options. It creates space to be, and to do.

I share the worry example because it helped me to understand my experience of another rather subtle change in language.

I’m writing an article on creativity and leadership. My editor suggested I change “How might we?” to “How can we?”

What do you think? Say the questions to yourself a few times. What do you experience when you read the questions? Do you notice a difference? Do you have pull or preference for on or the other?

I definitely experience the questions differently, and I have a clear preference!

I am experiencing — in my life and in my practice — that the power of “How might we?” far exceeds the power of “How can we?” Sounds a bit crazy, right? But, it’s not!

“How can we?” offers two options: we can, or, we can’t. That’s it. Too often, when given the choice of can, or can’t we choose can’t.

I can’t do that! I can’t walk a half marathon! I can’t solve that problem. I can’t write a story. I can’t do a multimedia presentation. I can’t pass this test.  I’m not able. There is no way. (sigh)

If we avoid the “I can’t!” quagmire. We may fall into the “I don’t know” trap because”How can we?” suggests we are looking for the correct way to do whatever we are doing. If the person being questioned is at all unsure, this often leads to the answer: “I don’t know.”

In both instances — “I can’t” and “I don’t know” — the problem remains unsolved understanding stagnates, learning is limited, and, perhaps, most tragically, the one questioned is now more convinced than ever that they really don’t know, and they really can’t .

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In contrast, “How might we?” is more flexible and less prescriptive. “How might we?” invites divergent thinking, allowing us to go wide with our answers. Even the uncertain can offer ideas because the “rightness” of the answer is not demanded.

Often the answers which fail, are more valuable than those that immediately succeed. They allow us — demand it actually — to reflect, examine, explore, talk, learn and try again. In this process many positive things happen. To name just a few:

  • Understanding (of ideas, materials, students, ourselves, others) deepens.
  • New strategies emerge.
  • Trust, confidence and relationships grow.
  • Thinking and ideas are valued.
  • New ideas are formed.

The power of simple changes in language is intriguing. I’m super excited by the possibilities of HMW questions, and am working on using them more often in my life, and in my practice.

Give them a try. If you do, I’d love to hear your reflections.