It was the best of times, it was the worst of times—for my elder son that is! As many of you know, he recently transferred elementary schools. He began the year at an urban public school in New York City, and he’s finishing it up at a suburban public school in Tampa Bay. Both schools are excellent by any objective measure. They achieve high average test scores, have committed, involved parents, caring, concerned teachers, and both are well funded. But when they evaluated my son, each saw a different kid.
The New York City school saw my son as a special needs case. He was receiving extensive services for speech and language, motor skills, and interpersonal relations. His report cards showed him floundering in reading and math, and he had trouble fitting in with his peers.
The Florida school sees my son as academically gifted. His teachers there cannot understand why he was receiving special needs services. They report his reading abilities are, in many respects, well above average, and his math scores are much higher. They have recommended removing special services, enhancing his curriculum with independent studies, and testing him for their gifted and talented program. In fact, my son’s guidance counselor said she was shocked when she first started working with my son, because, to her, he was the exact opposite of what his New York City School records had led her to expect. He also seems much more confident and relaxed, and fitting in much better.
Different Data—Different Perspectives
So, who’s right? Well, they both are. The two faculties just emphasize different measurements. Objectively, my son is weak in phonics and does not write particularly legibly (though it has improved). In New York, these weaknesses hurt his math scores because his teacher took off points for writing the numbers wrong in his answer. And because New York City schools were evaluating his reading ability based on his ability to recognize and pronounce particular words, his reading scores suffered.
But the Florida school noticed something else. Though my son’s mechanical reading skills were weak his reading comprehension was extremely advanced for his age. Put another way, when he is given something to read aloud, he stumbles over many words and appears to have difficulty reading relative to his peers. But when he reads the same thing silently, and then answers questions about it, he has a more sophisticated understanding, better detail retention, and deeper insights than many people his age. He may not get every word, but he gets the point.
Both schools were gathering accurate empirical data, but the New York school never noticed my son’s comprehension abilities because they were not measuring that. Same thing with his math. The New York school downgraded him for sloppiness, but the Florida school gave him a laptop to do his math on, rendering his handwriting moot, and his math scores soared.
The Positive Often Hides Behind the Negative
In my son’s case, phonics and handwriting obscured comprehension and problem solving ability, but as I contemplate these two very different outcomes, it occurs to me that this phenomenon occurs an awful lot. For example, let’s say I look at my stock portfolio on a day when the market is down 500 points. Looking at the numbers, it would be entirely reasonable to conclude that I’ve lost thousands of dollars. But another way one could look at it, depending on the state of the overall economy, is that stocks are on sale, and now is my chance to buy more of them at lower prices and profit when the market rebounds. Or think about forest fires. While the destruction they can bring about is no joke, they can also be necessary for clearing out undergrowth and replenishing the soil.
You Must Look At All the Data
Imagine an accident where your car is totaled. On the one hand, you may have to hassle with a lot of paperwork and be out several hundred dollars, on the other, you walked away (isn’t it wonderful that today’s cars have crumple zones to keep the impact out of the passenger compartment).
It is a dark and stormy day here in Florida, and the weather ruined plans I had to go to the beach (yes we can do that in April), but I now have a chance to write this blog where I was procrastinating.
Last Saturday, my family spent a day at our community pool. It was our first such outing of the year (we could have done it sooner but Floridians apparently think 80 degrees is too cold to swim). After spending a few hours relaxing by the pool and watching my children play, it occurred to me that I was feeling an unusually intense flavor of happy. I was somewhat familiar with the feeling of relaxation and contentment and overall joy that I was experiencing in that moment, but it had been so long since the last time I felt it that I couldn’t remember when that was. And when I thought about it, I realized that it was probably because I was living in a place I love, running a small business I really enjoy, and that my wife and kids were both thriving. And I realized, the reason I don’t remember when I had last felt that way was that it had been a very long time since things had been this good. Even before the onset of my major depressive episode in early 2017, I had not been this happy. Nothing was wrong, but everything was just OK. It occurred to me that I had major depression to thank for all this. It was not pleasant to go through, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I’m relieved to be in remission. But it did force my wife and I to reevaluate our life goals and make changes that took us both to the next level. So on the one hand, it was a very dangerous place to be, but I came out of it far better off than I was going in.
The upshot is that when we evaluate situations, we often look at the information we’re accustomed to looking for. But if we can stretch our minds to consider the existence of factors we normally don’t look at, we may often find that a situation is not as it seems, and that can open a world of opportunities to us.
So think about ways you can look at things differently to alter your perspective, and let me know in the comments what you find.