“Not the twizzlers! NOT. THE. TWIIIIZZZLERRRRS!” my friend’s toddler would scream at the sight of tweezers in the event of a splinter. It seems other than fingers, the bottoms of feet are where small children most frequently experience the assault of splinters, impeding their ability to move about freely and shooting pain into their tender feet. And yet, the fear of the solution, the antidote, the instrument of healing, convinces the small child that the impediment of the splinter is better than the terrifying pain of removing it.
As adults, our response is not all that different when it comes to change, whether that be external changes in our circumstances or the changes that are inherent in learning and personal development. As teachers of children, we recognize their resistance when introduced to new concepts and asked to struggle through the process of learning. Children and grown-ups alike momentarily assume that the uncomfortable process, one that begins with not understanding and then moves into a period of disorientation, is the sum total of the event and therefore to be rejected immediately upon introduction. And yet, this process is much like a vaccination. The pain of the injection is not the doctor’s purpose but rather the prevention of the greater pain of viruses in the future and the ultimate flourishing health of the patient.
Reading through my Facebook feed after significant national events over the past few years, I see very intelligent, “good” people giving impassioned arguments from opposing directions. There unfortunately appears to be this same resistance to listening and learning from one another because the initial reaction to an opposing view is so distressing that we just want it all to go away. I can be so committed to my own interpretations of my personal experiences that I just refuse to see them from another perspective. This fear of the “twizzlers” is certainly why a large number of people have begun begging for their newsfeed to return to pictures of babies and food. Those cute and happy images do not require that I move through dissonance and disorientation. But those images also do not help me to grow.
Educators are forever promoting the ability to see a situation from another point of view and to embrace a growth mindset. But in order for this to be achieved, one must submit to momentary intellectual and emotional distress just as muscles must be broken down to be strengthened. It is helpful for me as a teacher to recognize that my own default mode is to resist change, to be an object at rest that stays at rest and might throw a tantrum at any implication that I should be asked to become an object in motion. I am not inclined to be moved until I am convinced that life without the splinter in my foot might actually be more enjoyable, might allow me to run without pain, might allow me to go further and experience more.
What if we as adults begin to more tangibly model a willingness to see beyond our own experiences of the world to understand the validity of someone else’s? What if instead of resisting the discomfort, we welcome it, not as martyrs but as those who truly believe it is the golden ticket to enjoying life and loving others even more than a chocolate factory? What if we could then invite our students into the process of change not just for its own sake, but because we had come to believe that a growth mindset requires a moment of distress, but that struggle leads to a lifetime of flourishing?
Learner, Thinker, Writer: Jane Gilbert, serves the Trinity School community as a 4th Grade Assistant Teacher