It was back in 1985, I believe, that my entire future began. I was ten years old and dealing with the cultural and social events of the time- wearing my jean jacket and newly permed hair proudly; reeling from the nightmare of the Challenger space shuttle explosion; and learning the ins and outs of being a pre-teen. And then something happened that everyone knew was a big deal even back then- we started getting computers in our classrooms. The kinds that kids could play games on. And our class got not only one, but two computers, and they both had a new game on them that would change the way I looked at the world from that point on.... Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
I played that game, along with the Oregon Trail game that also was installed on those bulky containers, and I got pretty good at finding out where that elusive lady in the big hat was hiding out. I went from person to person, clicking on each so they would provide me with much needed clues. I got so good at it, that when they eventually added the version that allowed us to search among the states for her, I aced that game too, like a pro.
With such an introduction to this article, you may all be thinking I'm heading down the path of discussing the importance of computers in our world, or the social aspects of playing computer games... But I'm actually not. You see, regardless of the impacts of computers (such as increasing access to knowledge and social media and all that important stuff,) I believe the most important part of accessing the computers in my fifth grade classroom for me, was learning the social lessons from that one, silly game with the terrible graphics and one-track plot. In fact, to this day I use the underlying universal theme from that game in everything I do, (and I often am heard giving it credit too.)
Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego operated on one premise that reverberates throughout our lives- that every person we ever talk to has an important message for us. It may not make sense now. It may not even seem to ever make sense. But everything we hear and see is giving us clues about life and even when we don't specifically know what acted on us, each interaction is making us who we are.
That homeless person calling out to you as you walk by is teaching you that life can be tough, or perhaps when you stop to offer a kind word or a smile, or even a handout, you are gaining compassion and offering your own message to him or her- that life is also kind and that people care. And later, when you are sitting in a class or group discussion and the issue of homelessness or compassion or hard times comes up, you have an example that was given to you by that interaction with that person on the street. When someone wants to know what you think, you have information from a firsthand experience to offer as a potentially helpful insight.
Enough of those interactions and it might even change the course of your life... You may choose to help people more, or find ways to keep your own life on track so you don't end up like that. There are so many possible outcomes to such an important interaction, and yet at the time it may seem like merely an obstruction in your path on the way to something you deemed even more important.
And when someone says something that seems to be random, just watch... That comment will come back to you when someone mentions something similar and you now have something else to connect your thoughts with. Each statement someone makes; each action someone takes; and even every inaction, adds to the context that is making your life make more sense. Nothing is wasted.
You will use those clues you gather as you build meaning and you build the walls of who you are and what impact you will have on the world. We aren't looking for Carmen Sandiego... But each of us is looking for something that we don't even yet know exists, and those clues will get us there.
This is especially important for gifted people to learn early and to keep in mind as we travel the journey of humanity. Sometimes we think we know something and we don't listen well to what is being said. Sometimes we have so many lofty goals that we discount things that we think are a waste of our time while we rush past them on the way to the next priority. And sometimes we struggle with social skills so we don't know how to slow down and really listen to others.
One of the most important things we need to teach our gifted children- both the ones we get to help raise and the ones we get to impact along the way in our own lives, is that everything is connected. We are all connected to each other in random, yet amazingly intricate ways. This planet is small, and we have no idea how our actions and words will impact each other. But what is guaranteed is that each encounter is a building block that will add to the richness of our experiences.
This way of looking at the world as being filled with clues has kept me more alert and more willing to pause and take in my surroundings. It helps me listen to things that otherwise might offend my sensitivities, and helps me tuck away the little comments that don't make sense or seem relevant at the time, because they often pop back up later and I realize their importance. Sometimes those clues have saved me from embarrassment (someone commenting on something they had to do before in a similar situation, or someone showing me a photo of someone doing/wearing/messing up something and it connects when I most need to tow the line right.) They have helped me navigate (when I remember statements about great restaurants or horrible traffic in areas, or even when they give a half clue about something they saw, and then I see it and the other things I know help me make sense of where I am...) And they have helped me be more sensitive (after hearing what things were or weren't helpful for people to hear when they lost someone they love, or when I see how hard it is for someone to walk far when the disability parking places are all full...) The world is full of helpful information, and if we don't listen carefully or pay attention to even the trivial things, we may miss the clues that help us get through the tough spots.
Just like many scientists believe that the world contains the remedies for whatever maladies ail us here- be it in the jungles we are cutting down, or deep under the seas... I believe the clues to help us through even the worst parts of life also exist here. They may be hidden along the way, but like in the game, we just have to talk to enough people and listen carefully, and we should get all the information we need.
This blog article is part of the Hoagies' Gifted Education Blog Hop on "Social Issues". Please visit the Hoagies' site at http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_social_issues.htm to see some of the other great articles on this topic!