When I was a teenager, I met a man who had worked with Gandhi in India. He told me that the key to Gandhi’s success was that “he looked at every problem as an opportunity, not as a pain in the butt.”

I don’t know if Gandhi would have quite used that language but, nevertheless, I view that conversation as one of the most important moments in my life, and have thought about — and applied — that advice constantly since that time.

It’s served me well in my personal life, during my nineteen year career as a community organizer and during my nine years as a high school teacher.

I’m not trying to get all “New Age” here and suggest that just by looking at things positively we can fix all the problems in the world. Thinking positively can only take one so far, especially for so many people in the world (including lots of my students) who face many more challenges than I ever will.

I am, however, suggesting — and reminding myself — that, as the title of this post says, “much of what seems real to us is governed by our own perceptions” and that keeping this in mind in the classroom will make it a better place for everyone. Our students act out of their perceptions of reality, which sometimes means they do things they should not, but that doesn’t mean they are bad. Perception is not all relative — there are things that are just right or just wrong — but taking the time to understand where kids “are coming from” can help us move from being “right” toward being effective

The title of this post is from a very interesting short article by Michael Michalko, who’s known for the idea of “Thinkertoys.” Here’s a story from it about Picasso when he was at an exhibition of his work in Paris:


There may, or may not, be any Picasso’s in my classroom, but I need to remember that — nobody how much I might be tempted to — it helps nobody to “call the hold thing off….”