Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Calculating differences

In grade two, students begin to learn the art of calculating differences. They are told that two take away one always leaves one. As long as the model is number systems, this is true.

Later, we discover that calculating difference is more complicated than this suggest. We cannot always accurately predict what difference it will make when we take just one element out of a process or system. Sometimes, the results are not incremental, but exponential. At other times, they are merely different than we expect.

Imagine a party where the one person you most want to see is absent. Imagine a box of chocolates, complete except for the space where your favourite should be waiting. Imagine waiting for the phone to ring.

And now, for something completely different, imagine just the opposite: the evening spent with the person whose company you crave, the taste of a favourite treat on your tongue, the sound of the voice you are waiting to hear. And then let your mind move forward to notice what comes next. Is it more of the same? Or is the course of your day, your week, your project altered by this one moment, this single interaction?

Last week, my son misplaced his keys, and we each spent hours looking for them. Today he realized he has been carrying them around in his favourite messenger bag. The keys have only moved from inside a pocket to inside his hand.

And that small movement makes an enormous difference!

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