Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mental Construct

I said good-bye to someone I recently met.  I said good-bye because this person no longer exists.  She was completely in my mind.  The image, and all that went along with it, were based on misconceptions.  Here's the context.
A few weeks ago I began to mentor a couple of first year teachers.  Since one of the two was someone I never really met, and didn't know well, I assumed I knew she was.  That assumption came from a memory I had when we were actually in the same room together at the beginning of the previous school year. It was an orientation meeting where all the new student teachers meet their supervisors for the upcoming year.  Somehow, I held on to this image as if it existed. So here we are, a year later and this person is now a first year teacher assigned to me.  We spoke on the phone a few times, and I've gotten to know this young teacher in these early attempts to build trust and learn a little about each other.  That kind of trust and knowledge is essential if my efforts and her interest in them are to continue.

So last weekend, after a handful of failed attempts, we decided to split the difference in miles between us and meet face to face. I drove the 50 miles to a coffee shop in Salem. A different person showed up.  She was not who I thought she was.  She looked completely different from the image in my mind.  Maybe there is another teacher I actually did meet once a year or two ago that fits the image I have.  But I was way off.  Off in age, appearance, and demeanor.  The voice was the same, rather hoarse, but the rest of the person was completely different than I expected.
The immediate response I had was one of overwhelming relief.  I'm not even sure why.  perhaps tis revelation brought with it the chance for a new beginning.  It got me thinking, though.  How many times do we construct images and personalities of people based on seemingly reliable information? If we do this, and we do, what are the consequences?
Maybe this isn't a big deal at all.  Maybe it's just a reminder that people are always much more complicated than we think. That, and we are often misled by our mental constructs.
My mistake was an honest one.  I'd met a roomful of young teachers a year ago, thought the one I'd been in contact with was an image I retained from that meeting, and then found out it wasn't.  Sp why the tremendous relief?
I can venture a few guesses.  I realized the instant the face to face meeting began that everything I previously thought about this persons personality and ideology, her values and level of commitment, was subject to change.
What if she experienced the same thing regarding me?  That's certainly possible because all we really knew about each other in terms of personality or ability to work with others, or even our teaching styles, we got from other people.
I was reminded, from this experience, how it applies to interpersonal relationships like dating.  Ever meet someone through a phone call?  Images in the mind abound.  Then the day of reckoning and the person that shows up to the first face to face meeting either fits the image or doesn't exist.  I think the latter is often the case.

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