Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On value: perceived and intrinsic

Those of you who are Facebook friends will know that I lost something during my recent holiday. It was something of no intrinsic value, and yet I treasured it enormously. It was something that has been featured on this blog before. It was the bangle my father gave to me for my 17th birthday.

It was the only truly personalised thing he ever gave me, and the only times I wasn't wearing it were the times it was broken. It occupied pride of place on my right wrist through thick and thin for about 30 years (albeit with the aid of several repair jobs). If you have met me in person, you have seen it, even if you haven't noticed it.

It has been swimming, climbing and jetskiing... and survived it all.

But one day during our holiday, my elder son playfully grabbed me by my wrists in the sea. As I felt it move on my arm, I yelled, "My bangle! My bangle!" It took my son a moment to understand the import of what I was saying, by which time the bangle had fallen off. We could see it clearly through the water, lying at my younger son's feet. In distress, I yelled at him to pick it up for me, but he couldn't see it, and - as I watched in horror - accidentally stepped on it, burying it in the sand.

Although we borrowed goggles from kindly people nearby and spent the next 40 minutes or so searching for it, we finally had to accept that it was gone.

I am unashamed to say that I wept huge, wracking sobs for the loss of it. I felt hollow. I even dreamt that night that it was returned to me. I still keep absent-mindedly trying to adjust it on my arm, and there is a faint tan line where it used to be.

Someday, maybe, someone else will find it: a badly made, shoddily repaired silver bangle cut in the shape of an unusual name not their own.... and it will have absolutely no value to them.

Will they even be able to tell that it had once had enormous value to someone else? Will they know as they hold it that there is a woman somewhere out there whose delight would know no bounds if they were to find a way to return it to her?

So it is with learning. Sometimes we share things in this space that have inspired us, or from which we have gleaned enormous value. Sometimes we wax lyrical about something we have found or made or seen... to a round of utter indifference.

And what of it? Does that diminish the value to the beholder? I certainly hope not. There is space for a wide range of value systems and measures.

As learning providers, we need to be careful not to denigrate certain resources simply because they hold no value for us. One man's meat, as the saying goes...


V Yonkers said...

I lost a pair of earnings my parents had given me when graduating from high school. Like you, I had had them for almost 20 years, through thick and thin. I was very sad when I lost them as I felt they were one of the only symbols I had from dad who died about 25 years ago.

However, I soon learned that they were reminders that I didn't need to remember my father. I remember the earnings, which I loved, and I remember the day I received them. It is not necessary that I have them anymore.

This makes me think of the student who is so afraid to move away from the symbols of learning (books, tests, even a beloved teacher) that it sometimes becomes a barrier to trying new things. Later that year that I lost my earings, my mother gave me a box of letters I had saved (and forgotten about) when I had studied in Holland, and again in Switzerland. While I was in away at college, my parents and I would talk on the phone. But so far away from the US, my father and I had written back and forth, he telling about the banal goings on at home and I writing about my experiences immersed in a new culture.

Perhaps you loosing the bracelet will allow you to find some other connection with your father or at the very least allow your sons to understand how your relationship with them is so different than the one you had with your father. I'm sure your sons must have felt horrible.

The upsycho said...

@Virginia Thanks for sharing your perspective.

You are right in that the bangle is just 'stuff' in the final analysis. Just 'wereldsgoed' (worldly goods) as we say in South Africa.

My Dad and I had such a toxic relationship that there isn't anything else tangible to evidence it. But that doesn't change anything about it, and I must come (and am coming) to terms with that.

My boys felt awful. But we sat together afterwards and I told them, "Yes, I could wish that you had each done something differently. Yes, I am devastated to have lost my bangle. No, I am not angry with you. You are more important to me than the bangle was. You are more important to me, even, than my father was."

That seemed to be enough, because they bounced back after that.