The Blog

As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

Are You a Participant or an Observer?

The world seems to be made up of people who are either participants or observers. Which role we elect sometimes is a matter of choice and sometimes a matter of expediency. At some professional conferences, the role of the participant costs considerably more than the role of the observer. Participants can contribute to the debate while the observers are not permitted to talk. This is hard on some observers since, in many instances, they know more about the topic than the participants. Their potential contribution is not permitted, however, because the rules of the game are that only people who can afford to be a participant can be heard.

There are many examples of this in everyday life. For example, there are some people who can afford to send their children to law schools. There are many potential lawyers who can not afford law school. As a result, our country is being run by a select group of lawyers. We are deprived of the thinking of that group who cannot afford to be participants but who may have the potential to be better lawyers and better leaders. In this case, this group of potential lawyers is forced into the role of observing the law profession.

As a nation, we need to be cautious of this trend. Education should not be something that only a select group can afford or benefit from. We need to take advantage of the thinking of our diverse population. This kind of attitude is expressed in the play, “My Fair Lady”. The greatest surprise Professor Higgins had was to discover that Liza was intelligent even though she was poor and sold flowers.

There are some people, however, who, when given the choice, choose not to be participants. They prefer to be observers. Mainly because observers do not have to take risks. Observers go through life in passive roles. They protect themselves from hurt by remaining uninvolved. An example of this is expressed, perhaps unintentionally, in the play “Brighton Beach Memoirs” by Neil Simon. Neil Simon is the young son who narrates what is happening in his family. He seems to stand outside of their suffering and is an observer, not a participant. This may have been his way of surviving, but in the telling, he seemed to lack empathy for his family.

There are some people who, by temperament, are born cautious. They tend to stand on the sidelines and the world seems to pass them by. They have no impact on the world. They do not make decisions. Eventually, nobody asks their opinion because, in many cases, they have none. They are not challenged by the world of ideas. In general, they take a backseat in life and almost disappear. Try not to let this happen to your children.

In the coming year, gradually encourage your cautious child to take small risks. If he does not like to go to parties, try taking him for fifteen minutes the first time and eventually increase the time as she gets used to the activity. Do not give up on him by labeling him as somebody who is afraid of new situations and prefers to observe rather than to participate. It takes extra effort on your part, but it is worth it. It helps if you can model risk-taking behaviors. Talk about the risks you take that were worthwhile taking even if they all did not turn out perfectly or as you expected them to. That is life. Life is meant to be lived. It is not meant to be a spectator sport.

Posted in Behavior, From Experience, Getting the Most For Your Child, Labeling, Parenting | Leave a comment

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