when right isn’t so right…
“If you tell me what I’m supposed to see, then I can look for it and tell you if I see it.”
Sound familiar? If I had a dollar for every time a patient has recited that line, I’d be writing this blog from a beach somewhere with a Mai Tai standing by. Well, there’s no sand under my toes and no beverages in sight, but there are thoughts of of Socrates in my brain.
The Socratic Method is a form of inquiry or teaching which utilizes the asking and answering of questions to stimulate critical thinking and self discovery. In layman’s terms, it focuses attention on the process of thinking, while pushing the product, or answer, to the background. Since vision truly is learned, this method is extremely valuable in the therapy room as we re-work and re-calibrate visual awareness, motoric abilities and visual perception. But why Socrates? What value is there in asking questions to stimulate thought anyway? Turns out, a bunch. By asking our patients open ended questions like “What do you see?”, “How has it changed?” and “How did that go?”, we encourage and invite them to look around, be aware of all the available information, and consider aspects of their visual world that may have previously been overlooked. The process of thought here is so valuable.
The real world, however, paints a much different picture with its demands. Most of society doesn’t care how you get the answer, as long as it’s correct. Bank tellers can count on their fingers for all we care, if their mathematics short change our paycheck, guarantees they’ll hear about it. Try explaining to a police officer that you realize the product of your action was speeding, but you were in the process of slowing down. When he gets done laughing at you, enjoy that citation. Many school children face standardized testing to determine their worthiness for the next level of education. Think most of their parents are concerned with HOW their children arrive at the correct answers? Think again.
Vision Therapy goes against all societal wisdom – a humorous oxymoron – when hyper-focused on the process. We focus on the “how you got that answer” instead of the answer itself. We focus on the pile of pieces in front of us, rather than the correctness of the conclusion. We focus on how to reach the top of the mountain, rather than what the view is like when we get there. We ask questions to promote thought and strengthen the process, because in the therapy room, the immediate product doesn’t matter.
So when patients ask what they “are supposed to see”, we should teach them how to use their eyes and brain in harmony, and let them discover the answer on their own. Not the other way around. After all, achieving the right answer on a simple task in the office may be nice, but learning how to use that skill over and over in the real world is so much more exciting.
Maybe old Socrates was on to something after all. Reminds me of that old Chinese Proverb:
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime