Two different styles

April 10, 2012

This is to illustrate with a concrete example how one person’s worldview may be incompatible with another person’s reality, an issue I touched on in my previous post.

My example has nothing to do with David Brooks, though, or his worldview, as far as I know.  It has to do with someone I was good friends with, who explicitly declared her desire to help me navigate some school issues concerning my younger son.  She had been a teacher and had become a science education liaison at a high level.

Her approach was to become an expert on the framework of rules and regulations and statutory provisions with which the school was supposed to be complying.  We pored over print-outs and books.  The technique is to know the rules and insist on compliance and be very clear on where compliance by the school has been inadequate and insist that the school do what they’re supposed to or else (or else be summoned to a hearing, for example) — kind of confrontational, but I do know people who claim to have used it with good results.

But, in the middle of all this, my friend had to drop out of participating — illness and higher priorities at work.  And the confrontational technique requires more than one adult advocating on behalf of the student to work.  So, I switched on a dime to something like finessing, which I could do more on my own, with support mainly behind the scenes.  I tried to figure out myself what might help, what the school might be willing to do, and propose that more casually and broken down into specific ideas.  I had a lawyer, mostly in the background, who did things like make sure the paperwork I was sent was consistent with the agreements that the school, the district, and I had reached.  We limped through the end of that school year, and a new school was found for the summer and following years.

What this experience taught me, among other things, was that perfectly legitimate approaches won’t work without certain secondary and unarticulated factors being present, that not every approach is available to everyone or appropriate to every situation.  An analogy might be trying to use good cop/bad cop with only one cop.  More generally I learned that I “wasn’t in Kansas anymore,” that the world I had been taught existed did not obtain in the situations I was finding myself, and that one of the ways things were different was that nobody felt they had to follow the rules.  I could see that to try to make them follow the rules in some cases would be a Pyrrhic victory, if one at all, and that part of what I needed to do was to figure out other approaches and when to use which approach.  It was this sort of thing that reenforced my preference for asking for guidance from the universe to figure out what to do when, because I certainly couldn’t figure it out on my own and nobody in a body was collaborating enough with me to allow me to depend on another human being for help.

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