Over the last month here in northern Florida and southern Georgia we have been dealing with smoke and ash, as even now the fire that has consumed over 130,000 acres in the Okefenokee Refuge remains ablaze. The smoke clouds our vision and chokes the airways. It reminds me of the strange paradox in post-modern culture that very complex issues are framed as if they are merely black-and-white, while many simplistic concepts are treated with debilitating complexity. When the view is cloudy we pretend it really is not and yet when vision is 20/20 we heap “facts” into the view until the resulting muddle is paralyzing. When details are not known, the temptation is to “fill in the gaps” with pieces that appear to fit and yet, which may be totally inaccurate.
This February, I rekindled a passing acquaintance with Dr. Michael Thompson. I first met Dr. Thompson at workshop for prospective heads about 25 years ago and over the intervening years we stayed in touch at other workshops. He became our inaugural, national visiting lecturer for the Episcopal school I led in Texas. The psychologist and author provides clarity in the cloudy world of child development and parenting through vignettes, stories and anecdotes. A student question during his visit in Texas found its way into his writing. The technique is intended to foster a personal connection or memorable analogy to deepen audience understanding. This is very different from creating meaning or attempting to develop an accurate, complex picture from anecdote alone. For example, children often arrive home with a story from their day that may be clouded by their personal developmental roller coaster. The best parent response is typically not to assume the picture is fully accurate or developed in the adult sense. A more helpful path forward is usually, “what do you think that means?”, “what do you think you could have said (or done)?, or “who could have helped you through this issue?” In these ways parents and teachers seek to build coping skills and strategies for future navigation.
Teaching developmentally appropriate coping and strategy skills is good preparation for the inevitable issues that lie ahead. The world, its issues and the relationships we all rely upon are getting more complex by the day. Coping together to face such a world takes time but provides much greater clarity than merely snowplowing the issues aside for a child. The groundwork, laid together to prepare for future solutions on complex issues will be of infinite value. May we be wise enough to peer through the smoke and ash for clarity and understanding!