Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Secret Ingredient(s)

We often speak about the magic of childhood, of having an unlimited imagination and unrestricted ability to believe in what is and could be, to be able to play and enjoy a world well beyond the mundane reality. Later, whether it is the development of the brain or the evils of the education system, this magic is slowly dispelled until we become cynical adults. But there is a much different mundane magic that seems to start in childhood that often lingers far into one's adult years.

Take mealtimes, for example. When I was young, evening meals turned up on the table and family banter naturally blossomed. Of course, I knew my mother usually made it, but that was just a function of her being a mother. Take a book: they were there by the hundred in the bookstore or library ready to read. How did they get there? Take any institution, object, person or concept that has been with us for some time and you have something overlooked in its beginning, its development, its refinement and its possible end. These can all be put into a common box of phenomena, "taking things for granted", "ignoring in plain sight" or "the effortlessness of others to do what is a strain to oneself". It's as if there is a secret ingredient or ingredients in almost everything - that proportion of something's being or doing that is not seen or understood.

I thought about this several times recently. Once was when our school moved premises and we got the teachers over to help with creating the new arrangement. The teachers however thought the school would be mostly "prepared" for them. But there are a thousand decisions to make for a school, not all made for by some "moving people". What makes a school feel like a school? When they arrived, the conclusion was "it's a dump" and there was surprise at the need to move around tables. Even to try different tables in different rooms requiring us to set and reset. Perhaps they always had been to schools that were already set up, the "magic" was already there. Or they thought all the decisions and effort would be done by "someone" like it always had been. In this case, I'm not sure by whom or when they expected it to happen. To sustain the magic in something else, just don't ask questions and believe and hope for the best. 

One of the difficult decisions sometimes is deciding if and when "the magician" wants people to know what the secret ingredient is, or how much they are throwing in. During childhood, parents generally keep children from most of that mundane magic of maintaining a happy marriage, keeping the gutter clear as part of a showering routine and keeping your inventory of food in the fridge and pantry just right, just as only in certain circumstances do we talk about sex, birth and death with children.

As a manager I sometimes don't know how much of the magic I should dispel from my position. Magic is a good thing and people don't need to know all the nuts and bolts. But by the same token, a lot of the decisions can appear arbitrary or efforts unappreciated. 

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