Curiosity is terminal

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Just Musing...

The offspring called yesterday for advice.  It is blizzarding at her end of the country and she had a door that had stopped latching properly  "What is a quick fix?" she asked me.  We discussed the problem and I had her look at the door to see just what was and was not happening.  The answer for the moment  was just to move the strike plate.  It might have been necessary to shim the hinges too.

I began to wonder about the ways I could help people with that kind of thing - not doing people's odd jobs, but teaching them how to do them  themselves.  I also wondered why I hadn't thought about it before.

I grew up with mechanically inclined parents.  They just did stuff.  My dad is a carpenter, and there was a wood shop in the basement all my life.  He wired and plumbed the house he built and he always let us help with whatever was going on.  My mom sewed and she could design clothes at the drop of a hat and while she never actually did any kind of art herself, she filled the house with art supplies and she encouraged all kinds of sculpture and papier mache and what have you.  She was a great designer of dioramas for school. For 17 years I lived with a man who was a mechanic, auto body restorer and welder.  He taught me bits and pieces of all those things. It never occurred to me that I couldn't learn to do things.

It took me a long time to discover what a gift this was.

A few years ago I was going to a knitting group and one of the members was learning to sew. I remember one of them showing me a pattern for a bag she wanted to make.  She was utterly baffled by the pattern.  How on earth were those pieces going together?  As we talked about it, I realized that the ability to see how things go together, and to look at an object and understand how its components are shaped was not something that came to all of us naturally.

Shortly after the conversation with the offspring, I mentioned the idea of helping people learn this stuff to a co-worker.  He is a handy guy.  He is trained as a welder, and he does his own repairs and maintenance at home too.  He grew up with parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles like mine. He was the kind of kid who took his bike apart just to see how it went together.  He has a girlfriend who has never had that kind of experience;  she thinks she can't do "that stuff." He is flummoxed by this because he is quite in love with her, and he thinks she is really wonderful and remarkable, but he has always thought of people who can't do "that stuff" as stupid.  He doesn't think his girlfriend is stupid, and he is wrestling with this dissonance.  We talked about the ability to see things in their components and to understand the way objects can come to be, and how not all people can see this.  "Its physics!" he said to me, "everyone has to take some physics in school! How can they not see how things work?" My answer was that not everyone can translate basic high school physics from the boring (to some) basics into real world applications.  I personally had a few teachers who presented their subject in a vacuum, as if it had no other reason for existence.  My co-worker said he could not get his head around the idea that there were different ways of seeing.  (I argue with this guy about politics all the time.  He is a bootstrap kind of dude and thinks the Canadian dream is the same and equally attainable for all.)  Except that by the end of the conversation, he had said the word empathy and was looking thoughtful.

Over at Sooey Says, there is a conversation going on in the comments about whether homelessness is a choice and about the closing of mental health facilities.  Someone said the homeless are sick and should be institutionalized, and someone else asked if sociopaths shouldn't be institutionalized too?  Mike Harris, Gordon Campbell and Ralph Klein were all mentioned as having done more to marginalize people.

(Aside:  I am sick of the words left and right wing, liberal, progressive and conservative.  I don't think any of those words is big enough to contain anyone and they have come to be mainly insults from each direction.  They are words that allow us to dismiss one another.)

I have been thinking all night about different vision.  I have always thought this planet is Babel, that we all speak a slightly different language and that the point of our existence is to learn to speak to one another and to be understood.  (I don't mean language as in English or French or Swahili - I mean the way that we individually express ourselves.  I can speak English to my English-speaking partner and have him not understand a word I am saying ) I have always wondered about the relationship of language and thought. Do different languages cause us to think differently?  Now I wonder about the relationship of vision (is perception a better word?) and language.  If we all perceive the world slightly differently and we express ourselves and behave according to that perception, could part of  the difficulty be an inability to understand this difference.  Could it be that we don't realize there is a difference?

I'm still thinking about this.

Oh! Happy New Year.


  1. It's interesting - I was thinking something similar recently. I was helping a student who couldn't find a single useful quote in a book (Machiavelli's Prince). I don't know the book very well, yet I flipped through, and, in about 10 minutes, found 7 solid quotations to support her thesis. I don't know how I can do that so easily, and, therefore, more importantly, how to teach that skill to others. It's a way of scanning that students seem to have lost over their years of googling. OR that I just happen to have by sheer luck.

  2. I wonder how that works and how to teach it too.
    I also wonder about the things we tell ourselves about our abilities. My little sister is really quick witted and wise about people, but insists that she can't do math, to the extent that she won't apply for any kind of job that might ever require math. This has really hampered her. I also know a woman with a background of terrible abuse who didn't learn to read until after she had finished a bachelor degree in social work. She told herself for years that she was stupid, but the compensation in order to earn that degree was enormous.