My first choice for the name of this blog was “Still Learning,” but somebody already had that one. Maybe my second choice–”What’s Not Wrong?”–is even better.
This phrase comes from a game-like activity I enjoy doing with my classes. It stems from the realization that it’s usually easy to make a list of what is wrong at any given time. We have no problem articulating what is wrong with the world, our health, our schedule, the people around us, the government, and on and on. But when we are asked to name one thing that is not wrong, sometimes we struggle with that.
Here is how I do ”What’s Not Wrong?” in class the first time. I write the question “What’s Not Wrong?” on the board in enormous letters. (I like to use the Spanish upside-down question mark at the front end of it. Wouldn’t it be nice if English did that too?) I also give each student a small piece of paper. Old page-a-day calendars are perfect for this, especially if one side is blank. Then I tell the class, “Right now, we’re going to have a little dose of positivity. It’s easy to think of things that are going wrong in our lives and in our days. That’s easy. Your challenge right now is to write down one thing that is absolutely, incontrovertibly Not Wrong–anything that is going well for you, anything you’re happy about or pleased with, or something that makes you smile inwardly or outwardly. Write it down anonymously. Don’t show it to anyone. Give it to me when you’re finished. Go.”
Then the questions begin: “What if we can’t think of anything?” “What if I’m having a really bad day?” “Can we write down something that is true, like 2+2=4? Truth is not wrong.” I just smile and say, “Do your best, and do it quickly.”
Some students take to it right away; others struggle mightily. I wait until every student has given me a paper with something written on it. Then I sit down in the front of the room and read them aloud, prefacing most of them with the question “What’s Not Wrong?”
Sometimes students write about a recent strong test score or achievement in an activity or sport. Some write about upcoming vacations or events planned with friends. Some mention recent or upcoming milestones: removal of orthodontia, birthdays, anniversaries. Some write about rainbows, or goldfish, or their own personal avatar of happiness.
After spending a few minutes listening to the not-wrong-ness in the room, no one is able to continue with a negative attitude, at least outwardly.
The next time we do “What’s Not Wrong?” several days later, most students are able to come up with an idea more quickly. Before too long, students start to ask, “Can we do ‘What’s Not Wrong?’ today?” Sometimes I say yes, but if it doesn’t fit the daily schedule, I say, “You know, you really don’t need a teacher or class in order to tell yourself what’s not wrong. You can do it any time any place.”
On our class web site, I added a What’s Not Wrong? Group. (I’ll have more to say later in other posts about our American Studies Ning.) I’m heartened to see the number of written posts students have submitted to that Group.
“What’s Not Wrong?” has turned out to be a memorable experience for many students. Imagine my surprise to hear from a former student who conducted a What’s-Not-Wrong segment every Thursday morning on her radio talk show. A group of former students held an informal reunion and found themselves playing “What’s Not Wrong?” I was thrilled when one of them emailed to tell me about it. Another former student posts a “What’s Not Wrong?” idea on Twitter from time to time.
So, why title my blog “What’s Not Wrong?”? Because I want to focus on good things here. There is enough badness in the world, and I don’t want to add more. Of course, sometimes I’ll be compelled to write about problems that I’m working through or frustrations that are vexing me. I realize that no one wants to read rants, so by naming this blog “What’s Not Wrong?” I am reminding myself to focus on solutions, not problems. To concentrate on events worth celebrating and finding my way to the positive aspects of difficult situations.
Thanks for your time in reading this. Your comments and questions are always welcome.