Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Just one right answer

A friend in grade two is struggling with his math homework, and I wonder if the problem is maybe that he is not happy with being limited to one way of thinking. In arithmetic, there is a right way and all other ways are wrong. Some children find that unduly limiting. Why is there only one way to count or to subtract? Why do you always get the same answer to the same question. Kids succeed quite often by asking the same question until they get a different answer: they ask until "no" turns to "yes."

Later, there is comfort in knowing that there is sometimes only one right answer. I remember my first week in university: a week in which we attended lectures before choosing classes in which to register. At the end of the week, I picked Calculus over philosophy: I wanted a class where I could verify that I had the right answer.

Do we cycle between these two all of our lives? Sometimes being mature means recognizing that there is only one answer and moving ahead in that knowledge. Sometimes, it means knowing that there are always alternatives and opening our minds to explore them. Both positions hold equal measures of hope and doom, and both are right and wrong at different times and in different situations.

Think about a situation with which you are struggling. Is there one right answer that requires your acceptance or are there multiple alternatives that require your exploration? How do you know? Whichever you assume, think about the other possibility and notice what changes.

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