Intuition and listening—Act now and see what happens—I made a mess, too

Tragically, my previous wife and I separated when our son was only three years. We were civil and cooperative about sharing parenting, with Clark spending alternating weeks with each of us. I knew that the separation would not be easy for him, and I tried to stay tuned into his emotions—not fretting or worrying every moment but trying to be observant and aware. He was often happy, nonetheless. However, one day he seemed different, for although he was usually very neat and organized in the way he played with his toys, that day he started throwing his toys around making a really big mess of things on the floor. I suspected that he was angry and upset. In one of those spontaneous decisions that we sometimes make on the spot, I sat down on the floor next to him, and began to throw his toys (being careful not to break them) all over the floor as well, and I proceeded to make an even bigger mess than he had. I believe he was stunned by my behavior, and he stopped and watched me wide-eyed. Then, I calmly said to him, “Ok, both of us have made a real big mess, let’s clean it up together.” For the next hour or so the two of us happily worked together to clean up the mess that both of us had made.

I’m sure that someone who is more psychologically expert than I am will see a number of dynamics in my response to Clark’s first making a mess. In the moment, I had no conscious intention at all, except perhaps to throw myself into his situation with him. I think at some semi-conscious level, I knew that we needed to be “together” at the moment in roughly the same circumstances. Perhaps the “moral to this story” is that sometimes we need to participate in, or create circumstances for, being in the same situation with those whom we love and/or with whom we wish to collaborate and leam. Then, we can move forward together, transfonnatively.

Where are all the Native Americans? In teachable moments, teachers learn

About ten years later, after I had remarried, my wife, Janet and I had twins, Kyle and Nicole. We took them to many state parks and national parks, and all sorts of other outings. One time we were in the Sierra foothills and walking along a nature trail. The park service had made some guides to the nature trail available so we could leant about the environment. In this case, the park service had skillfully adopted the point of view of a teenage girl, who was a member of the Mi-Wuk Native American tribe, and what she might have done over hundred years before while walking along this route. As a parent wishing to engage and educate his children, at each of the numbered points along the trail, I would dutifully read verbatim, what was in the guide. For example, “here, by this oak tree, she might have stopped to gather some acorns for her family.” By the time we got to the eighth point or so along the trail, my two kids begin to turn the heads from side to side, looking around. Finally, one of them said, “So, where are the Native Americans?”

This was an extremely relevant and perhaps almost obvious question, but quite beyond my own awareness and also that of the park service educator who wrote the guide. Remember, different people, with different views, different life experiences and from different circumstances think to ask different questions. Again, I made one of those spontaneous decisions. I knew my children deserved an honest and informative answer. So, I said something like the following. “Our ancestors did something horrible, they came to this area, killed most of the Native Americans and took their land away. It’s not your fault that they did this, but you need to know about it, and try to make sure that we don’t allow awful things like this to happen again.” I know we discussed this further, although I don’t recall all the details. I do know that it mattered a lot for us to have this discussion.

In retrospect, I realize that along with the nature trail guide, Nicole and Kyle, created what some might call a “teachable moment.” I immediately realized that I learned a lot in the moment as well, it wasn’t only about teaching them. I learned about the importance of asking questions and the power of curiosity and inquisitiveness. I also once again, realized how important it was that we were all together in trying to make sense out of our circumstances. We were doing action-and-inquiry together, Janet and I, and Kyle and Nicole, even though each of us was “beginning” our collaboration having had very different previous life experiences and knowledge.

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