Curiosity > Conclusions

My older sister said something about my pragmatism the other day.  Any time someone calls me pragmatic, I start blushing and getting giddy.  Call me pretty and I roll my eyes.  Call me pragmatic and the cockles of my heart are liable to burst into flame, they get so warm. 

I had to look it up, by the way.  A idiomatic statement probably referring to the way mollusks open up in the warming-up part of getting cooked.  Cheerful. 

Digression aside, I’ve been running into this curiosity vs. judgement dichotomy a lot recently.  Every time it comes up, I have to side with curiosity as being the more helpful, pragmatic approach. 

A work example.  My current boss is in my top three favorite bosses ever.  She’s smart, she’s strategic, and she’s canny.  My favorite kind of lady.  We have an intern.  A smart kid from Chicago with a broad mid-western accent and no experience with office politics.  Somehow I thought high school should be the only introduction you need to this game, but it seems that I was wrong.  So Boss Lady asks Intern to do a powerpoint presentation on a process mapping project.  Intern has owned the project from beginning to end, so Intern has a great deal of enthusiasm for the project.  Boss Lady as well.  But Intern decided that doing a PowerPoint was stupid.  Technically, it’s kind of a step backwards in presenting the information – the Intern does have a point. 

However, instead of bringing curiosity to the table and interrogating the reasons why this request might be made, Intern decided that it fit into the Crazy Boss Lady narrative that is running around the office, piled that onto the “this is stupid” reaction, and the resulting presentation 100% reflects exactly what she thinks of it.  Intern came to a conclusion before she invested any curiosity in the situation. 

Well, what do we know?  This is a conservative organization full of people that have technology phobias.  It’s only in the past five years that they’ve gotten on board with PowerPoint as a tool for communication.  So if you bring them a project in a format that is technically intimidating, might it be true that you’re already setting them up to be resistant to the idea you’re trying to sell them on?  Maybe they’ll be more receptive to the idea if they don’t also have to brave a new interface to get to the idea…  Maybe if they buy the idea first, then the technology to implement the idea won’t be such a hard sell.

For context, I don’t know the first thing about the project.  I don’t know what Boss Lady’s intentions were.  I don’t know who it has to be sold to, or what these people have to do with it once they buy.  The situation is an example, not the point.  The point is that a conclusion with out curiosity sets you up for an epic fail.

It works interpersonally.  It’s just easier on the people you care about if you can approach them with curiosity instead of conclusions.  A friend, post argument with their significant other, doesn’t need you to jump in and tell them what a schmuck the guy is and how you always knew that he wasn’t good enough for her, and you’re glad he showed his true colors, and, and, and.  Not helpful.  Try curiosity.  How does this fight fit in with how you relate in general?  What’s going on that might have compounded this issue?  

I guess there’s something deeper here, and it starts with your assumptions.  It’s easier to be curious if you assume that people have reasons for what they do.  That there’s context, stuff that you don’t know about, inciting events that you weren’t there for, perspectives that you haven’t considered.  If you assume your information is complete and infallible, then curiosity isn’t required.

So if you’re there and your knowledge is complete and your conclusions are defensible and absolute, I suggest faking it.  If for no other reason than pragmatism.  You still have to get along with the people you care about.  If you appreciate being approached with gentle curiosity vs. absolute conclusions, then handing it out isn’t a bad place to start.  Also, they’ll think better of you if you aren’t stomping on their stories with your conclusions. 

Finally, this curiosity > conclusions construct might be most helpful when applied to your relationship with yourself.  Instead of condemning yourself for failures, flaws, and foibles real and percieved, what if you sat with them and asked questions?   Where did you come from?  What purpose are you serving?  Where did I see you before?  How are you protecting me?  How did you get here? 

In a book called Working on Yourself Doesn’t Work, the authors describe pain management achieved, not by running away or screaming or condeming the pain, but by sitting still and asking it questions.  How big is it?  What color is it?  What shape is it?  And by working through the questions a major burn went from excruciating to manageable.   

Asking the questions and allowing the answers may not be as fast of a process as immediately jumping to a conclusion.  But the results are better for sure. 

Q & A

Wouldn’t it be nice to find the grand unified theory to everything?  The one answer that pulls everything together and, once it’s discovered, changes everything that follows?  It’s the same fantasy we have about moving or traveling: this one thing is going to change, and everything will be different after that.  As a middle-schooler, I was convinced that if I just went away for the summer and came back skinny, everything would be different.  I’d go spend the summer with an aunt, but I’d take myself along for the trip.  I never came home skinny: it isn’t like they keep a supply of motivation to take up running and it can only be found in Michigan…  And it isn’t like there is something in the air in Michigan that makes you suddenly lose your taste for ice cream.

I digress.  

In some ways, any small change means that everything after will be different, but not in the way that you think, and never as fast as you think.  Because whatever changes in knowledge or circumstance, you still carry yourself with you.  Your habits, your body, your history, your fears. 

More important than the grand unified answer is how you choose to live with the questions.   The questions you can be sure of.  They don’t change with circumstance or location.  You’re always stuck with wondering how to be the best person you can be, how to achieve balance, how to best serve a purpose.  The answers?  They change with time, perspective, location…  the answers are unreliable.  It’s the questions you can count on.

So can you create a peacable co-existance with your questions?  Personally, I recommend approaching them with curiosity rather than judgement, but that’s just me.

Wasn’t Expecting That…

I have to say…  I have fantastic taste in the people I love. 

Even I wasn’t expecting that to come out of my mouth, not today for sure. 

But I’m going to stand behind it.  So there are a lot of flaws, collectively.  I mean, a lot of stuff that I wouldn’t throw a parade over, more tears than I would choose if given an option, things that I could legitimately slap a mofo over.  But I’m interested in point of origin for the outcomes.  Tears shed as a result of behavior rooted in malice or cowardace or laziness, well those are a different kind of tear. 

Categorically, the people I love do dumb shit.  But the dumb shit they do is categorically rooted in how badly they want to get it right.  If I end up crying over someone wanting really badly to do the right thing and getting really lost in how to pull that off…  well, okay.

Just Sayin’

Being enough, exactly as you are, to be loved without reservation, isn’t the goal or the end game: it is the platform.  The starting point.  Balanced greatness – not greatness of the manic, unsustainable variety – starts with acceptance.  What follows becomes a choice, not a compulsion.  It allows you to move toward your purpose with deliberation and joy, not terror and fear. 

It makes a difference, if you’ll let it.

Love Immortal

There is a pervasive antipathy to turning everything into pathology in my world.  Sometimes the names are important.  Sometimes they turn into opinions and definitions that must be judged by their effect.  Sometimes people are just confused.  Sometimes, they just need some breathing room to figure things out.  That doesn’t make them bad people.   And refusing to interpret things in that way doesn’t make me broken.

On one hand, I’m incredibly lucky to have people in my life that are protective and defensive and ready to go to war on my behalf.  On the other hand, would it be so hard to just let whatever I’m managing have some breathing room, and me with it?  Time to let the thing evolve, to let my own reaction evolve?  I mean, the extra excuse to come up with reasons why the people I love are worth loving isn’t a bad exercise.  I can be grateful for that.

I’d just like to reaffirm, for anyone who is curious, that I’m not actually broken.  Patience, curiosity, kindness, these aren’t traits associated with weakness, they are traits associated with strength.

Before I sound too much like I’m singing my own praises, let’s just get this out of the way: whatever I have of a muscular, compassionate kind of love is Neal living on in me.  Pushing myself beyond the patterns I witnessed as a child, the model of a relationship where the only way a girl could feel loved was by driving everyone around her to the point of crisis – it must be true love if he’s on his knees begging – that’s all Neal’s influence.  Neal is my awareness of ego.  Neal is my faith in the divine fire.  To abandon the effort to love better, whatever kind of love we’re talking about, would be another death.  Losing him once was bad enough.  I’m not willing to lose whatever of him that lives on in me.

James Franco and the Scot

Let’s just start with James Franco …  I hope there aren’t other 17-year-old girls out there who have received the same treatment and handled it with less …  Scot.

Now, am I allowed to laugh?  Because our little Scot ate Franco for breakfast and then complained about missing her tatty scones.

See, the Scottish are a rare breed.  I’m going to be throwing out a lot of stuff that could be taken as stereotypical, but then there’s a 2005 report that found Scotland to be the most violent country in the developed world.  There’s also the fact that I lived there for a while, so I’m not just pulling this out of my backside.  With the caveat that not *every* Scot is going to match up with this description, let’s go through some of the things it might be safe to assume.

Scot’s come equipped with a fantastic bullshit detector.  I don’t know why, but they’re (we’re?  I’m at least 1/4 Scot, though trying to tell a pub full of native Scottish people that you’re Scottish in a broad American accent is likely to get you laughed at) a skeptical bunch of people.  Independent, canny, and generally wary, it doesn’t surprise me that a Scottish teenager was unimpressed with the starshine James Franco tried to blow up her arse.

They tend to be a hard (and hardy) bunch, those Scots.  Maybe it is the long winters with low light.  Maybe it is the hard-scrabble history, pocked as it is with resistance, repression, poverty, and hardship.  The cultural parenting habits of your average Scot aren’t exactly tender or codling.  Everything is fair game to be made fun of, everything is open for teasing, and if you’re bored, the Scots have some of the best insults in the whole world.  The internal life is just as fragile and vulnerable as it is anywhere else, but an impenetrable outer shell is a necessity.  They’re puffer fish always blown up to their defensive size.

The stories don’t talk about where she’s from, but if the girl in question was from the middle or working class, our intrepid Mr. Franco was at even more of a disadvantage.  Scotland isn’t an easy place, and no one is tougher than the young women who come up in the working class.  Most young women most places have learned to be careful, with 1 in 4 of us having some kind of horrible experience in her past – rape, molestation, domestic abuse - Scotland is no different and, due to economic pressures unique to the country, might have it a little worse.  Your average working class, and to some degree, middle class girl, is just going to be tougher.

I was there from 1999 – 2000, working with families in crisis.  Our families came from the council flats around Stirling and Glasgow and they endured.  Above all else, they kept going through unimaginably difficult circumstances.

Maybe this girl is a sheltered middle class kid from Edinburgh.  She’s still going to have been exposed to a culture that is heavily influenced by the death of the shipbuilding trade and its economic aftermath.  Unless she was super isolated in some upper class enclave…  And given the fact that she took on James Franco and bested him…  Well, I don’t know who she is or where she came from, but she won.

All I can say is if there’s a fight and one of the participants is from Scotland, all I’m saying is betting on the Scot isn’t a bad plan.

London Book Fair

Sometimes, conceding defeat is the only option.  In this case, I’ve given up on the idea that I can do what needs to be done for the book on my own.  I’ve gotten some help in the publicity department.  As a result of this concession, I’ve had to write a new bio for myself.  The Camellia Resistance is also at the London Book Fair this week, which is what she really wanted me to write about.  Instead, I’m blathering about the bio.  Nothing is more awkward than trying to make a pretty routine life of commuting and bureaucracy into something exciting enough to warrant 350 words.  Couldn’t I just tell you why Morrigan is my favorite woman ever?  She shows up in the last 1/3 of the book and she’s amazing.  Don’t ask me how I found her, she’s certainly too good to have come from me.

Anyway, I was trying to write the bio, and what wanted to come out was this whole thing about talent and drive and how there’s no possible explanation for why anyone would want to take on writing.  In act one it is just you and a blank page and you’ve got to create something real from absolutely nothing.  For all the writing advice books in the world, there is no how-to manual.  Some days every word hurts.  It’s like trying to build a life-sized structurally sound castle out of match sticks.  Then you get to the second act, where you tear the whole thing down and re-configure it.  Normal people call this re-writing, or editing.  You go through trying to find holes, plugging them, finding out that the hole is much bigger than you thought, and rebuilding whole sections in order to fix it.  Finally, in act three, you send this poor creature that can’t help the flaws it was born with out in to the big bad world to face an audience of people who don’t have to love it like you do.  And it goes out there all on its own to either stand or fall.  It’s past your control now, you can only watch helplessly from the sidelines.

Seriously, only a crazy person would do this.  I’d like to think I’m not crazy, which begs the question…  Why?

I don’t have a good answer.

None of this actually ended up in the bio, incidentally.