This is a rapidly-written and half-baked response to GardnerCampbell’s recent blog post, posted in preparation for Virginia Commonwealth University’s first MOOC on thought vectoring.
I read your recent post with great interest. I enjoyed the way you analyzed thinking in terms of feelings, breaking “thinking” into musing, mulling, and worrying before associating it with specific positive and negative feelings. I also enjoyed how you were able to bring Errol Morris in at the end, as is a Gardner Campbell trademark I am quickly beginning to understand. Thank you for such a thoughtful blog with which to start my day.
I, however, feel differently about thinking than you do (very respectfully). In fact, I would argue that the reason I “feel” anything about thinking is because I already “know” about my thinking. The “knowing” of Point A or Point B is the feeling realm, whereas “thinking” is the leap between the two, best done naked, bravely, and stripped of excess luggage. It is the old Donald Schon controversy; can a person reflect while in action, or must she stop for milliseconds along the path, reflecting and adjusting so quickly as if to appear to be reflecting and acting at the same time? I believe that if a person “feels” while thinking, it is because she is leapfrogging quickly along stones and logs in the river between Point A and Point B. She “feels” every time her toe alights. Only with a momentary grounding–on point A.1, point A.2, etc.–can she feel what she has accomplished so far with her thinking.
A personal example of thinking and knowing:
I was pregnant with my first child Sydney while I was an OB/GYN resident in a gruelingly busy Catholic hospital in Ohio. You would know it from the portraits of nuns that lined the hallways. This story takes place when I was just barely seven months pregnant and in charge of Labor and Delivery overnight. It had been a hard day for me, physically; I had been operating since 5 AM, standing perfectly still for hours in small, hot spaces, blindly cutting and sewing in even smaller spaces that tend to bleed without notice. And so when 11 PM came and the Labor and Delivery board was briefly quiet, I went to my call room to lie down.
I automatically checked my personal cell phone as I entered the room and found ten voice messages, all from my parents, individually and together, begging me to call home. “Who died?” was my first thought. But as I listened through all of them, a detailed timeline of the previous three hours, I realized that while no one had died an unprecedented family emergency had occurred. I needed to get home, maybe for all the same reasons leaders must walk around disaster sites before they can act.
I have found in my crisis-driven life (for I am a dramatic soul) that the Rolling Stones got it right – the universe tends to give me what I need whenever I am desperate in not having what I want. Without a word from me, the entire Labor and Delivery ward took a two-hour rest—not a single move among the dozen unborn babies—while I managed my family by phone and the medical student found me a flight on Orbitz. That capable young man found me something that would take me home immediately after my shift ended and deliver me back in time for my next shift, 24 hours later.
The trip itself was cinematic – all dramatic airport sprints and unadvisable credit card usage. I was thinking and leapfrogging without feeling, without luggage. It is freeing to travel with nothing but your wallet, keys, and a phone all conveniently tucked in surgical scrub pockets.
I was home for less than 24 hours but it was what the family needed (although not what they wanted), and then I flew back to Ohio. I drove directly from the Cincinnati airport to the hospital for another 48 hour shift. And as I settled in to the call room on my fifth day of minimal sleep, now 7 months and 2 days pregnant, the severity of what I had seen at home also settled in. I had taken care of my parents. I had made soup. But who would take care of me?
And in that moment of great uncertainty and loneliness, I felt her. I felt Sydney as she has the potential to be. I felt her kindness, her gentleness, and her innate ability to be a reassuring and unflinching witness in times of great sorrow. And when I hugged my belly it wasn’t to comfort my child but rather to receive the comfort she so generously gave, a special soul with gifts I can’t even dream of matching.
Sydney is now 8 years old, and I see youthful versions of her spirit almost every day. Sometimes when I am upset she’ll stop playing on her iPad and pat my shoulder without saying a word, a pat that takes me back to that call room every time because it is the same. The exact same.
My husband and I are thinking of putting Sydney in an all-girls middle school for a variety of all the usual reasons you hear among parents lucky enough to be able to contemplate it. She is eager – the girl can’t go a day without designing and building an experiment, and the school’s website promised she would have the opportunity to use a hammer and make things explode. There is an extensive application process with (among other things) essay questions for Sydney and my husband and I to complete.
I find myself “mulling” over one of the parent questions daily…. “How would you describe your role in your child’s education?” Good question. I am conscious of being in a neighborhood of helicopter mothers. I am conscious of “Race to Nowhere.” I am conscious that children need their space in order to find themselves. I feel the tension horribly. Should I be a warrior-protector? Am I an advocate? Do I strive to be a facilitator? Am I all simultaneously or somewhere in between? And no matter how I really feel, what is the “right” answer for the essay for heaven’s sake?
As I mull, I keep coming back to this one thought. Because of that night eight years ago, I know what my daughter has the potential to be, however she chooses to express it: civil engineer? Animal rights activist? Hula Dancer? She’s already aspired to be all of them. The role of parents in their children’s education is impossible, or at least Herculean. Somehow we must understand in advance what experiences will allow our children to achieve their best selves and then either let them or make them happen while buffering against the unnecessary damage that life can bring – at least, buffering where we can.
So much to think about. In terms of this essay, when it comes to feeling my daughter, I feel because I know, and because I have thought and will think again. But not because I am currently thinking.
Thank you for the opportunity to write this.
Your Graduate Fellow
Learning Innovation Center (LINC)
Virginia Commonwealth University