Green-Lights: An Analogy Exploring inEquity

A person driving home has to go through the city. While he usually takes the turnpike to avoid traffic, he needs to stop at a store in center-city to make a purchase. On his way to the middle of town this driver is pleasantly surprised to find every single traffic light green. He doesn’t even have to slow down once. This causes him to wonder whether paying the tolls to take the turnpike home everyday are even worth it! 

In the specialty store where the man must make a purchase, there is a very long line at the single open register. He contemplates coming back later, but decides to at least scout out the items under the glass counter. A sales clerk asks the man if he needs some help. While he is there and now getting some personal attention, he might as well find out the specific prices of the items he’s interested in buying! 

“Yes, may I please see these two items up close?” he asks. Upon closer examination, the man makes his final decision to buy his favorite. The sales clerk chooses to ring the man out right then and there. Neither of the two people engaged in this encounter pay any attention to the lengthy line at the other register that has doubled since this sale began.

How lucky I am, the man thinks to himself, as he gets back into his vehicle to continue his trip home. As he coasts through more green lights, he might hear a hint of a remembrance of someone from the store he just left mentioning the irregularity of the traffic lights today. Why ponder good fortune? he dismissively wonders right before noticing an elderly woman stepping onto a crosswalk.

Our driver slams on the breaks, producing a small screech of his tires. Between the sound and his waving, the old woman realizes the driver is intent on letting her cross. She does so very slowly. With each new vehicle forced to stop behind the Good Samaritan, his feeling of importance grows. I made it possible for an elderly individual to have safe passage across this treacherous road, he muses. The feeling of power is heightened when he allows the now long line of traffic to begin moving again. 

Wait! Someone else is getting ready to jump into the road! They are not on a crosswalk, though. Also, they are clearly nimble enough to jog across at a natural break in traffic, the driver assesses. And, the conclusion is to give the jaywalker a warning toot of the horn, while weaving a little to ensure there is plenty of space between the pedestrian and vehicle. With an additional silent internal warning of following the rules and heading patience, our driver dismisses all further thought of the incident. 

imagesHad he sat through a rotation of red lights when allowing the elderly person to cross the road? How could every traffic light still be green? the driver wonders as he continues home. There are dozens of green dots dangling from dark metal branches for miles, ahead. They would look like a gloomy green airplane runway, if it weren’t for the buildings lining each side of the boulevard! 

Luckily, the road is plenty wide enough for our driver to swerve out of the way of a small fender-bender. It doesn’t look like anyone was seriously hurt, our driver notices as he slowly passes. The hit car must have tried making an illegal right on red, when there wasn’t quite enough clearance, our driver concludes. The city can be a treacherous place to travel. Perhaps the turnpike is safer. No one pulls out in front of you speeding along on the turnpike

110927-F-GK203-018.jpgIt isn’t until this lucky driver gets safely home and turns on the news that he remembers seeing some of the faces of people sitting at red-lights on the side streets. Coasting through green-light after green-light, our driver turned from time to time, glancing at the cars waiting for their chance to enter this magical thoroughfare. They looked angry and irritated. Come to find out, the road our driver had traveled had been victim to a traffic light malfunction. As it turned out, his drive home really had been magical; The lights hadn’t changed for over an hour. It just so happened that he turned onto the road that had been broken in his favor right when the lights became stuck on green. His brief stop in the store hadn’t been long enough for him to escape this lucky coincidence! He drove all the way home, before city workers fixed the lights, and travelers on side streets could safely exit their parked prisons!

Some couldn’t escape. There were vehicles that ran out of gas, engines continuing to run in hopes that the light would turn green at any moment. These clogged the narrow side streets as others honked at them, trying to get around. Additional fender-benders occurred. Pedestrians jumped to the steps of buildings as vehicles hopped the curb and drove on sidewalks. 

None of this was reported on the news. A more important story about a business merger had captured the headlines. Our driver will never learn about the fate of the fender-bender he’d passed during his green-light adventure. A Ford Crown Victoria that was driven by a man who grew up delivering giant cubes of ice, cut from a pond in Northern Maine’s freezing cold winter for summer iceboxes, the first refrigerators, had experienced a heart attack. His soon to be widow was driving him to the hospital, because they thought that they couldn’t afford an ambulance. In his childhood, they would have harnessed horses and sleighed across town, snow hiding all traces of road and property boundaries. Now, one desperate right on a red light found them trapped in a lengthy waiting period while police officers interrogate the other driver. Was he drunk? Driving without insurance? A wanted man? Who knows?

Our lucky driver does remember this green-light adventure one more time. There is a day when he ventures into the city for an errand. Sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, he sees a pedestrian skipping through cars to cross the street. The frustrated driver thinks back to the jaywalker he didn’t allow to pass. Oh, to be free to run around the streets, our temporarily-stuck driver thinks to himself. 

But, how free is he, really?

Trust Two-Point-0h: The Heart’s Strings

Spool_of_stringI have a new trust metaphor for you: String

When you meet someone for the first time, you might find that you have some things in common. These similarities tie the two of you together. They are usually thin threads of thought that help you relate to one another. “I also have a dog. What kind of dog do you have?” … “Does your dog chew things, too?” Connection, connection, connection= thread, braided-thread, forming string.

If there was something uniquely interesting about the acquaintance; This is a person whom you’d like to meet and spend time with again, you may choose to firmly attach a stronger string to the person, tying it to their garment before parting ways. Then, as you swim through the cave of your life, you may follow that string back to the person. 

Perhaps you saved his/her information as a contact in your phone. Maybe you got a business card that you put in a special place. People who spelunk, especially in 22031066109_9ffd96dff6_bunderwater caves, know that there are two paths of every caving expedition (Bernstein, 2017). The one from the entrance of the cave into the earth is the first. And then, there is the path from the end returning to the place you entered. Cave divers will often have a bright nylon string attached secularly to something outside of the cave and to themselves. Legendary cave diver Thomas Iliffe explains that in addition to losing the path to the exit by forgetting the turns one has made through a maze of tunnels, it is possible to kick up sediment that will blind a diver (Grundhauser, 2015). With the multitude of distractions of life swirling around us, how could we ever find our way back to conversing with an interesting person whom we connected with? Sometimes we must carve out; forming our own cavern of time in our schedules. Even if we do, will that person be able to meet you? Pull them in by reminding him/her of all the many connections that you had formed when initially speaking. You may have to string them along a little, but how much will they thank you when you get together and realize that those threads were the beginnings of relational ropes that you can count on? 

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Trust is a give and take.

While the trust forged in an informal meeting is thin, a measure of how deep it is felt could be found in how many threads there are. You are both human. That is a teeny weeny thread. Perhaps you’d trust this person more than the house plant next to him, but it is very limited trust. Were you to learn that, although you now live hundreds of miles away, you both grew up in the same town, and then you begin remembering with the new acquaintance all sorts of things that the both of you independent of one another experienced that are the same! The shared location of growing up is the source of the threads, but now many are shooting out and attaching, some weaving, some solo, and some loose, maybe even unattached (an experience that only one of you had that doesn’t make a mark on the other). You both frequented the same bookstore. The same memorable clerk sold the two of you books. There was a place in the bookstore where you liked to sit and read; You both did this! It’s possible you sat across from each other at some point in what feels like a parallel universe. What?! Wild. I may not have this person babysit for me, but I’d definitely check out a book that he/she recommended. I would trust their opinion over a person whom I’ve known for years, but does not share my affinity for reading.

download-1How can we make this metaphor useful?

When forging relationships, look for and celebrate similarities. Rope is a bundle of flexible fibers (How Products Are Made, n.d.). If you want a student to trust you, tie him or her to you as you lead them through a windy, dark cave of learning. Make sure that the rope of trust is tight and strong. If you dive into teaching with an un-secure knot, the kid could come loose and drift away. They may need constant reminders to find the rope, hold onto the rope, don’t lose the rope… If the rope is not strong enough, the student could get snagged on an idea and the tension could cause the string to snap. Do not assume that a teacher-to-student relationship automatically forms and ties knots of strong string. That is merely a thread, and the end is stapled to the student. If you don’t work on it, the thread will slip right through that staple. 

A mountain climber will have safety lines attached to him/her when scaling the side of a cliff. If a rope breaks or comes loose, the secondary string keeps the climber safe. He/she reattaches the primary rope and continues. When building trust with students, have many lines. Attach them all over your pedagogical pinnacle. Make connections between lessons, and connect those to the backgrounds of your kiddos. Weave a whole safety net of trust so that students feel comfortable performing trapeze tricks of practicing newly learned skills, swinging from concept to concept. They should behave as if they will just bounce if they were to fall. Falling (failing) could very well be even more fun than completing a trick! But, if they stick that tough trick, the whole world will know, because friends will shout from the mountain sides. 

Perhaps there’s a pupil whom you have a hard time making connections with. There just doesn’t seem to be much that the two of you have in common, or maybe he is not interested in forging a bond with you. Find one thing that you can hold onto; one thread; and coat it with additional flexible fibers of support every time you see the student. If they play a sport, learn everything you can about the sport and mention one thing each time you see this person. Don’t over do it: That could strain the thread and it could snap. If the student feels like you are stringing him along, he could pull away, breaking the thin thread of trust. Add a new fiber, one at a time, and eventually you’ll have a colorful, strong mountain-climbing rope attached to that student. When he finally realizes all of the work that you put into researching the thing that matters most to him, he’ll know how much you care about him.

Screen Shot 2019-11-14 at 6.11.31 AMIn a previous blog about trust (“Super Highway”) I had mentioned the connection

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This reminds me of the old can and string phone.

between neurons. Myelin coats the axon that sends information between connected neurons. The myelin acts as an insulator. The more there is the faster the information travels between the two brain cells. Your brain wants to send information speedily. That helps you think successfully. It can’t coat every connection with extra myelin, and you wouldn’t want it to. The best is for the brain

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Zip Line of Trust

to choose the most helpful pathways of thinking and coats those with extra myelin. It’s your job as a communicator in the classroom to figure out the best connections to have with students and coat those connections with extra attention, understanding, and interest. If you do this, you will be able to communicate learning experiences more clearly and quickly with your students.

Before I end this analogy, I want to mention the problem of misplaced and broken trust. First of all, the thickest rope has its limits. In fact, mountain-climbing rope has many styles, gauges, and types (REI co-op). Is it possible that you were putting too much trust in a connection? Were you counting on a shared similarity with a student too much? Perhaps you need to attach some safety lines. Here’s another idea: When mountain climbing, you DO want strong rope, but you don’t want to have to carry a million pounds. You have to balance being trustworthy without burdensome.

I like the metaphor of rope for trust, because it has a lot of give. It takes quite a lot of force for even a little thread to break. The trust can snap, but it withstands pressure. One thing that will cause a string to break is when it wears down. This would happen if it were rubbing on a sharp edge. Trust will wear down if there is too much friction, also. Keep this in mind; The heavier the weight, the more friction and faster decay of the line of trust.

This thread/string/rope analogy for trust can go on and on. I would love to hear what you think of it. Please, add to it by commenting below. Share personal experiences, insights, additional metaphors and symbolism, and also diverging thoughts. 

Sources:

Bernstein, D. (2017, June 23). Under the Mountains: An Idiot’s Guide to Caving. Retrieved December 9, 2019, from https://www.theoutbound.com/dan-bernstein/under-the-mountains-an-idiot-s-guide-to-caving.
Grundhauser, E. (2015, October 23). Cave Diving Is Every Bit As Dangerous and Wonderful As It Seems. Retrieved December 9, 2019, from https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/cave-diving-is-every-bit-as-dangerous-and-wonderful-as-it-seems.
How Products Are Made. (n.d.). Rope. Retrieved December 9, 2019, from http://www.madehow.com/Volume-2/Rope.html.
REI co-op. (n.d.). How to Choose Climbing Ropes. Retrieved December 10, 2019, from https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/ropes.html.