Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Power of Prediction

The countdown clock is ticking to the big day... the First Day of School.  One week from today, we all sign on for 180 days of teamwork toward a common goal; educating our children.  The plan is to build skills, knowledge and character from Kindergarten up and hopefully end up with civil, mannerly, successful citizens, employees, moms and dads.  (My, that was a run-on sentence.)

As the excitement builds, so does the anxiety.  I am fascinated by anxiety and the role it plays in human interactions.  It makes people do strange things.  Students are not the only anxious ones.  Parents and faculty have their butterflies also.  I am a perpetual observer of people. 

The greatest strategy I see for managing the anxiety of back-to-school is prediction.  Parents want to know:  Who is my child's teacher?  What is the scuttlebutt about him or her?  What can we expect in terms of homework and discipline?  What other students are in my child's class?  Will my child get along well socially?  Teachers want their class list, pronto, so they can compare notes with teachers of earlier grades and find out the scoop about these new pupils.  They talk about how the year will be since so-and-so has Johnny the troublemaker, thus-and-such will be teaching Jessica the drama queen.  (Vast gender stereotype there, I know.)

The funny thing is, in reality, these are less than accurate means of prediction.  I've heard many stories about last year's bad girl returning as a sweet child after a summer of maturation.  No one really knows how the intricate social dynamics will play out with a completely new mix of students with a new leader.

Prediction helps us feel somewhat in control of the vast unknown.  Think about it; weather, economics, fashion trends... we love to predict and pretend that we have some insight into what will happen in the future.  (Why people would be anxious about fashion trends, I have not figured out.)

Murray Bowen would call this phenomenon an anxiety binder.  He observed that when a group of people get anxious, they look around for something (a person to blame, a social issue, a legislative solution, a program) to hold their anxiety.  The anxiety binder acts like a 3-ring binder with filler paper.  It holds in order what would otherwise be a chaotic mess, flitting all over the place, rumpling, crinkling and generally getting out of hand.  The binder gives us something to talk about, something to focus on, something to have faith in, something to calm our nerves and avoid the fact that life is essentially dangerous.

Anxiety (in this broad sense I am talking about) is not bad, it is simply a part of being human.  Anxiety binders are not bad, yet personally I think the pitfall of putting faith in them is quite a threat to sincere reliance on God.  Maybe He is the ultimate anxiety binder for those who trust Him.

Anxiety is quite contagious.  One way to keep from catching it is to see yourself as a detached observer.  During tense times, visualize yourself wearing a lab coat and holding a clip board.  Watch the human subjects around you and pay attention to what happens as tensions rise.  If you are particularly proned to getting sucked in to an epidemic (with family of origin, in particular) feel free to use the mental image of that handy one-way mirror.

So, off I go this morning into the land of uncertainty.  Can I simply sit with the fact that the year ahead is wild, unpredictable, vast and uncontrollable?  Can I avoid catching anxiety from others?  We shall see.

{Readers, I need a favor.  This is the type of writing I gravitate to often.  I get more creative and apt to tell stories when I'm relaxed and open.  I guess these are just my thoughts out loud.  I need opinions.  Compare and contrast  my creative works of poetry, fiction, etc. with this kind of pontification piece.  Any insight you can offer would be appreicated.  Honest, of course!}


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