Every Snowflake Is Different, But They All Melt
I have recently been working on a paper that looks at the arguably sensible standardisation of pay periods, term times and day length. Whilst it is not within my power to add a thirteenth month, unilaterally create a balance of term time and holiday weeks or make each day more or less than 24 hours, we all have the ability to put out a view, debate the benefits and see what ignites our imagination and any potential desire for change.
In putting this together, however, one single issue of consideration has increasingly dominated the counter-argument in my mind – standardisation is not necessarily always a good thing.
Paying people every four weeks (and thereby creating ‘the thirteenth month’), or having a ‘six weeks on, two weeks off’ cycle of terms and holidays that represents the modern experience rather than the historic combination of farming and lunar calendars, and creating school days that allow teenagers to sleep in or, even better, to conduct their co-curricular commitments before lessons commence, when there is light and energy to be had, may all seem like elegant solutions to non-existent problems. A key consideration, though, is that the very things that make it potentially so elegant – uniformity and regulation – are the greatest factor in making it all quite ugly.
Life would be immeasurably poorer if everything were so consistent that the beauty born of everyday quirks and idiosyncrasies was lost. Where would be the achievement in scaling Everest if all mountains were the same height, scale and difficulty? If every student’s ability and work ethic led them to the same academic outcome, what would be the value of an A* (or grade 9)? If all experiences felt and looked the same, how would we choose what we like to do, where we like to go and who we like to be with?
True value lies in the very essence of things being irregular, not always ‘just right’; in fact, sometimes things that are simply ‘wrong’ can still add up to being a good experience and something to learn from, so long as one has the will and ability to recover from it.
The irregularity, absolute inconsistency and yet self-evident beauty of the snowflake is a simple analogy to draw on and yet we can take it further. To protect the snowflake we sometimes try to catch it and in doing so we act as a catalyst to its disappearance. Even if we let it fall it may melt immediately, compact to snow or even harden to ice – but it will, eventually, still melt. By its very nature it is a temporary structure from which something else will evolve.
Since around 2010 young people have been increasingly referred to as the ‘snowflake generation’ partly because of their tendency to be vulnerable to anything which doesn’t fall neatly into their frame of reference but also because we as adults over-emphasise their often self-evident unique qualities. As such we are potentially in danger of trying too hard to offer an overly consistent and protective experience to our children. Each snowflake is unique but so should the experience be. If we try to gently catch, protect and identify every snowflake we simply cause it to melt all the more quickly rather than allowing it to fall gracefully. If we genuinely want to encourage grit and resilience in young people then we must allow these irregular structures to be challenged by the winds of the environment and to melt, compact or harden as either fate or the temperature allows.
There should be an acceptance that being open to and challenged by differing views and opinions, and being exposed to a variety of experiences, is a positive thing, fraught with occasional pitfalls. It’s true that not all people are as good as we’d like them to be but it is better to realise this and act accordingly than to pretend they do not exist. Instead, one must challenge when and where possible and allow room for genuine diversity of opinion. Agreeing to disagree can be positive and expressing a view is a good, even necessary, start to a healthy debate.
Snowflakes don’t entirely disappear when they are challenged by the world around them. They re-enter the atmosphere in a newly developed, sometimes more substantial, form. We will always have fond and happy memories of the innate beauty of each and every different snowflake that we watched fall.