And What Are the Chances of That?

Another school related story today. So much seems to come up at work. One more week and I’m on holidays though so this might be the last one for now!

Our last unit in Math is on probability. The expectation for the grade ones is that they need to understand and identify scenarios that are certain, impossible, likely, and unlikely. Do you see where I’m going with this? Right from the start my mind is preoccupied with the likelihood of being widowed at 27. Unlikely. Yet it happened. Not impossible. But when I think of the word unlikely I don’t frame it in terms of things that might happen. I frame it in terms of things that probably won’t happen. And when I think of things that probably won’t happen then I pretty much stop thinking of them because, well, it probably won’t happen. That makes sense to me and apparently many others as well since when you look up “unlikely” in the (google) dictionary the synonyms that come up are: implausible, unrealistic, inconceivable, far-fetched and the list goes on. Unlikely events are simply dismissed because it is thought that they won’t happen.  However, that also doesn’t sit well in my brain now. Because then where does that leave my thinking when something that is highly unlikely to happen, so unlikely that you don’t think of it, actually happens? Again, I know that the actual outcome can be different than predicting the probability but still, that’s not how I thought of it.

What I do think and feel is cheated. I feel like “unlikely” was actually supposed to mean close to impossible which it certainly does not. It never did mean that in the first place. It was just made up that way in my mind. It feels like unlikely meant almost impossible for me but maybe slightly more likely for someone else that I don’t know somewhere off in a distant place. It also does not mean that. It means exactly as it is presented - not likely to happen but it still could. I had just cut out the last part that it could happen.

Now I know that I shouldn’t discount the second part of probability that what is likely to happen also might not and what is unlikely to happen still might. I also need to keep in mind that those two parts (likely but might not and unlikely but still might)  are both still present and good things (whether probable or improbable) can still happen. I need to keep in mind that all the bad unlikely things are not necessarily going to happen to me. They might, but they also might not. I am not (I hope) a magnet for bad luck. It’s hard though when you’ve been on the side of having something rare happen to you to think differently. When I don’t hear from David when I know he’s driving for 5 hours for work I think something bad happened to him instead of that he’s busy with work or driving. When someone tells me they need to talk to me or call them as soon as I can, I automatically think they are going to tell me something horrible. When I go to the doctor I assume that I have the worst case scenario for whatever small symptom I have. If I have too many missed called from someone or a call at an off time (errr..my Mom) I panic wondering what has happened. I can’t just think whatever bad outcome is unlikely so it hasn’t happened. My mind wants to go to the worst.

All of this is going on in my brain as I ask the kids to come up with events for each probability (impossible, unlikely, likely and certain). Yet I know that the kids will find a positive, refreshing view on it and if I listen closely to them they help teach me and help me see a lighter side. So this kid comes up to me with his events written down. Now, I’ll preface it with this child often struggles socially and emotionally at school for reasons I won’t get into. I read what he has written for “certain”: “I will be happy sometime today” and “I will have fun sometime today.” He reads it to me with a smile on his face. Simple. Certain. Confident.  A positive affirmation. Not that he will likely be happy for the whole day but at some point he will, even maybe just for a little bit.That’s realistic. I think even with all the things that might or might not happen, if I look for it like this child does, I too can be certain of at least a little bit of happiness. There’s a 100% chance of that.


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