Wisdom from a 3rd Grader … “Boxes, Lockers and Islands”

I follow Sarah Hodsdon on Twitter. She’s a mixed media artist, author, DIY female McGyver and works in a bat cave … or at least that what her bio says. Maybe she does? Who am I to say. But what she really does is tweet about what her kids say – ages 7, 9 and 10.

I learn more from these three everyday by 8:00 am, than I do from all the gurus, experts and rockstars I follow all day. Their gift is to take complex sociological issues and boil them down in simple terms, in other words … we get to see the world through their eyes. The clarity they have, well … we could only hope for.

Well this me got thinking about when my daughter, Alexandria, was seven. Alex and I were living in Tiburon in northern California. At the time I was recruiting and living near my ex-wife’s family and I was having difficulty communicating with a member of her family.  Alex was in the middle of it.  She told me how she dealt with the … bone-headedness (her word not mine).  “You can’t think she’s like the people you work with.”

Alex has always been a master of metaphors. And this time was no different. She divided people up into “types.”  Each of these types were described according to how their brains worked (the big words are mine, but the descriptions still apply).

  • Boxes – with closed lids: Members of this archetype organized ideas and thoughts in large groups.  They had lots of different types of thoughts in a box and this person could easily put them together.  These people had more than one box also.  They could jump from one box to another, with effort, and sometimes they moved stuff to different boxes.  The close lids, however, made it kind of hard to move from one box to another, thus switching cerebral gears.  She said most people we dealt with had “Boxes – with closed lids.”
  • Boxes – with open lids: This is pretty much like the “Boxes – with closed lids,” except that the person could move between boxes, i.e. Meta thought groups, easily.  She said these people can be kind of hard to follow though.  It took practice to see the connections they they were trying to make.   I have “Boxes – with open lids.”
  • Lockers: People with lockers were organized.  And they had multiple lockers.  Everything was segmented in its place, more so than “Boxes.”  People with “Lockers” were perfectionists and didn’t jump to quick decisions unless it was a micro-decision and all relevant input was contained in that locker.  “It just took a while to open the lockers.”  Alex had “Lockers.”  (As she’s gotten older, I think she’s moved to “Boxes – with open lids”).
“The islands of the mind”
  • Islands: People with “Islands” existed in their own synaptic world.  “If you are on an  island how are going to be exposed to what other people are thinking?”  The word empathy doesn’t really exist.  There might be other islands out there that they can see … but if they can’t swim or don’t want to learn – they’re stuck in their own world, on their own island.  Our relative, the person in question – had “Islands.”  And as Alex said, “she’s not leaving her island anytime soon.”  We  just had to deal with her that way.
Now, let’s come back to 2011. There’s a million books on relationships and how to communicate with people.  But it all comes down to realizing that people are different and all our brains work differently.  Whether they have boxes, lockers or islands, you just have adapt your communication style accordingly if you want to get your point across. What works for you, doesn’t necessarily work for them. And you can’t really change them. If you don’t recognize … well, you won’t communicate.

But then again, there’s always help … maybe there’s 3rd Grader available.

P.S.  Check out my blog post “Who’s batting third in your line-up?” It’s Alexandria’s take on the same subject, thirteen years later at age twenty.  It’s worth it.


If you like this … please Tweet it and follow me on Twitter @clayforsberg


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