This place where we are now, right this second, is the intersection of our circumstances and every single one of our choices. In our lives we have made millions of choices, perhaps unaware of any one particular choice’s impact on our arrival at this moment.
If life is about choices, then, at its core, a formal education attempts to provide guidance with regard to those choices. All schools emphasize academic skills, but great schools also try to help students form a framework for the act of choosing. The goal is for young people to understand the concept that how we see affects what we see.
Perspective is defined as, “a particular attitude toward, or way of regarding, something; a point of view.”
This definition requires two things: a lens and a belief. If we accept this definition, we also accept that our mental world affects how we see our physical world. Many years ago I read the novel Contact, by Carl Sagan and watched the film by the same name. Contact is a story about cosmic mysteries, beliefs, and human behavior. Opinions about the novel and film vary, but what struck a cord with me is the story’s concept of SMALL MOVES.
In the story, a young girl named Ellie, whose mother died when she was a small child, enjoyed studying the night sky and astronomy with her father. Her father was a gentle soul, guiding her toward self discovery. At one point in the story she becomes frustrated trying to adjust a radio telescope and he quietly fixes it for her, reminding her that the process is all about “Small moves”.
“Small moves, Ellie. Small moves.” Watching his daughter, the father knew that she was trying to tune or focus the telescope with a heavy hand…moving it too far to the left or too far to the right- when what she needed to do was to be patient, quiet and ever so slightly make a move that would turn static to sound and bring the entire universe into focus.
For all of us, Ellie represents our collective quest for truth and figuring out how we fit in this great big universe. Finding our place among the stars is a daunting task, which makes adopting a concept of ‘small moves’ counter intuitive to such a big project.
Educators spend a lot of time talking about choices, so you would assume that we think choices are a pretty big deal. The truth is -the choices themselves really aren’t a big deal. There is rarely such thing as a big choice. Instead, life presents us with opportunities, making our only big challenge the regular and consistent act of choosing. This means we must realize that we are actors in this world, not simply reactors. Our brains have to be trained to see the path not simply because we are following the masses, but because we see where it may take us. It is this daily collection of small decisions that creates an entire lifetime.
Just to illustrate, people clearly do not choose their character in one swift decision. A voice from the sky does not echo down to ask any of us, on any given day, “Hey you, person A, the ‘powers that be’ want to know if you will choose to be a good person or a bad one? ” Instead, it is the quiet accumulation of our actions that becomes our character.
Great stories of human accomplishment rarely involve one big decision. The world’s greatest authors, artists, scientists, and leaders have been faced with the same daily choices as the rest of us breathing air. We all have a sea of thoughts swimming around in our heads, but the difference between those who imagine and those who achieve is merely the collection of small moves that it took to turn the dream into something real.
We all sit under these same stars with the power to bring our whole universe into focus. To do so, we need only to concentrate on the small, yet deliberate moves that each moment presents. If we do that, the stars are just the beginning.