Tuesday, 18 May 2010

How many elephants have you missed today?

As a designer and facilitator of learning experiences, a well-used technique in my toolbox is that of the "jolt" -  a brief experiential activity that engages the participants and provides new insights. 

I love the notion of the jolt. In my head they work like changing the points on the railway - there you are trundling along on a particular line, then if the points are changed, you end up going down a completely different track and finishing at a new destination or departure point for further learning.  

I had such a welcome jolt to my thinking today, kindly and unknowingly gifted by an Italian student who is staying with us at the moment. She had her first day in London yesterday and returned full of exuberance and joy at the delights of "my" City in the spring sunshine - SouthBank, Westminster, London Bridge, Soho and so on.

However, I was completely foxed by her pleasure at seeing "so many elephants" followed by a question about why they were there.

Now - I have lived in London for over 30 years' and have seen many things - but a plethora of elephants doesn't spring to my mind in association.

I asked again, (rather patronisingly with hindsight) if she indeed meant "elephants"? (Luckily, since the Italian for elephant is elefante, I was spared the post-facto cringe of having reached for the dictionary to check on her grammar - ouch!)

I was fascinated by the number of ways my brain continued to work to try to quash her "perception" that London was full of elephants and assert my "experience and knowledge" that it wasn't - here's a few of them that I'm not particularly proud of - but can't deny that they did happen...:

"She's a tourist and has spent one day in "my" city - she must be mistaken as she couldn't know more than me"
"Does she really mean elephants? Maybe there's an Italian word that I don't know - it's just sounding like elephants"
"Maybe she's got a thing about elephants and noticed something that I haven't ever noticed - like I notice the dolphins all around the embankment and other people might not..."
"Maybe there was an exhibition somewhere - small eared Asian elephants at East India dock? or -great flappy-eared African elephants somehow connected to the World Cup in South Africa? - I mean there has to be a logical reason why elephants would be used..."

It is scary how my head flipped so easily into making quite so much noise - rejecting, sorting and strangling ideas and alternative thoughts.

I was only saved from mental lock-down by my natural curiosity - and the internet.

The truth is...there are elephants - everywhere!

250 of them, gloroiously invading as a public art exhibition to raise money as part of the Elephant Parade that has been set up by the Elephant Family Charity throughout the world and visiting London for the first time from May 3rd - 29th June ( Each one is the size of an adolescent elephant and will be painted by an artist or celebrity to make them ready for the Elephant Parade, before they are auctioned off by Sotheby's.

So - I know where I am off to next time I am in town - down to The Scoop to see the first 25 grouped together.

I am also wondering what one would look like under the cherry tree in my garden...

So, it seems that my big-eared friends have provided me with a well-timed and fabulous jolt about my own listening skills!

How many elephants have you missed today?

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