The Nth

Normally, I talk about “the Third.” Here’s why:

When two people show up to each other and bravely represent and hear each other’s separate realities, a wonderful thing happens. A third reality emerges. This third reality, or “Third” (or “potential space”), is novel. It is co-created by the two people who have shown up to each other. It isn’t a thing or a sentence;

it is, at its most basic, mutual understanding and, at its most amazing, mutual discovery.

In my mind, the Third is desirable. It’s worth working for. It’s worth taking the risk of showing up and honoring your reality while also listening to and resonating with another’s reality.

The “Nth” is like the Third except that it implies more than two people. The Nth is more what happens in a classroom

  • when the question at hand is genuine — no one in the room quite knows the answer

  • when multiple perspectives are necessary and welcome

  • when the teacher ensures — through explicit, student-generated ground rules and active intervention when the ground rules are broken — that the Nth, the shared understanding that everyone is co-creating, is not crushed.

What crushes the Nth (and the Third)?

  • refusal to hear or accept a particular perspective

  • bullying or contemptuous or dismissive treatment

  • self-righteous adherence to one’s own perspective

  • accusations and “you statements”

Teachers, set up your classrooms so the Nth can emerge. Look for ways students (and you yourself!) crush it. Develop methods for re-opening the Nth so learning — mutual understanding and, if you’re lucky, discovery — can happen. Constantly ask yourself,

“Where’s the Nth?”

P.S. Why the “Nth”? Because it isn’t just two people who co-create reality. Any number of people can work together to hear and understand one another. Rather than call this emergence “the Third or the Fourth or the Fifth or the Sixth” (awkward!), I use a stand-in: the “Nth.”

Betsy BurrisComment