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eat first, then reply

A work friend IM’d me with a question.

Frantically at work on something else, I asked that she please email me such questions in the future.

The moment I sent the message, I saw some of my many errors. First and foremost, the fact I felt like she was entering my cube and hollering at me for an immediate answer said more about my current state than hers.

This triggered some reflection: Why had I taken an IM as if it were a physical assault? Wait, come to think of it, when was the last time I ate? 

I immediately got up and ate lunch, a couple of hours late. Calm returned within moments.

My takeaway from this is: Next time I get the feeling ALL THE THINGS are wrong because someone sent me a question (how dare they?), I should check my hangry levels before replying. 

Better to eat first, then reply, than vice versa.

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Categories: Communication, Work Tags: , ,

full and messy life

This morning, I’m thinking about a recent conversation with a friend.

In our current world, where companies and governments alike designate “citizens”  mere “consumers,” meaningfully different only in what and how they consume, people are told they are “brands” and to behave in ways that build their brands.

What kind of life is that?

I don’t want to be perfect. I refuse to limit my life to pursuit of brand-building, instead of being fully immersed in something raw, real, messy, and wonder-full. Life.

Why? The way I see it, trying to live someone else’s (whose?!) idea of a perfect, perfectly branded life is a recipe for late-life sorrow at halfway connections with people, little life-changing learning from important mistakes, countless adventures missed.

While I’d usually rather leave aphorisms than take them, I’d boil this pursuit of a full and messy life down thusly:

If you’re always careful,
you’re barely living.

hidden people

“Wait, what?” I asked myself, rereading three words I’d just read. I confirmed they were exactly as I read them: “The West agrees.”

I was flabbergasted. Was this phrase really printed in a newspaper? Even for an editorial, this reflected an astonishing lack of nuance.

Who exactly is “the West”?

The western region of a country? If so, then which country? Which regions? Which neighborhoods? Which associations from those neighborhoods? Which portions of “the West” disagree with this position? Why aren’t they permitted to be enveloped in the blanket term “the West”?

If a collection of countries, which countries, exactly? Which portions of those countries’ populations? Day laborers or politicians, caretakers or corporate executives? If there’s no way of determining democratic consensus, why do some opinion-holders get to be “the West” while others get to be, what? Those not well enough informed? If someone’s determined there’s “the West” and “those not well enough informed to be ‘the West,'” who is that? Why do they get to make that decision? Who agrees with them? Who disagrees?

English nouns like “[the] West” aggregate things in ways that narrow listeners’ field of focus. The aggregation conceals important information: Specific people and the specific actions they take. Read more…

grocery store sages

In April, I wrote about coming to understand people as processes, not fixed states. My reflections were inspired, in part, by former NYU professor Neil Postman, my favorite teacher yet on the art of perspectiving.

His lessons have been especially helpful at the grocery store the last few months. At the heavier end of my weight scale, I’ve gotten a lot of commentary about what’s in my basket. “Oh, that’s a lot of chips!” someone will exclaim. “Do you know where the greens are?” another will ask.

The first couple of times I got comments like these, I laughed aloud. I didn’t really get where these comments were coming from, but thought it was so funny that strangers thought I’d value their ill informed assessments.

The third or fourth time, I still chuckled quietly, but I was curious. What was going on, that 150-pound me got no grocery cart comments, ever, but that 200-pound me averages one a week?

Thanks to Neil Postman, the answer became clear virtually as soon as I began asking the question. These grocery store commenters were making snap judgments based on limited data. They were looking at me and seeing not a process but a fixed state; instead of seeing this moment as one frame of a very lengthy movie, they saw the moment and confused it for the movie.

After I figured this out, I kept laughing. How absurd, for these folks to think they know a person based on a frame’s data, and then to stage a mini-intervention!

Things that can be seen in a single grocery store visit: the shopper’s current weight; top layer of contents of cart

Things that cannot be seen in a single grocery store visit (non-comprehensive list): the shopper’s weight for the rest of their lifetime; the eighteen pounds of greens below the chips; grief; stress; childhood trauma that has enduring impacts into adulthood; the 30-60 minutes someone walks/does yoga/bounces on a trampoline daily; the 2-3 cups of greens eaten with virtually every meal, most of which are Paleo; the non-Paleo beer consumed for months to take the edge off pain; the 2.5 hours spent in traffic daily moving to and away from a desk job; etc.

Apart from offering me a chance to laugh, these grocery store sages have given me another gift. They’ve reminded me to remain aware of my own human propensity to confuse a frame for the entire film.

Neil Postman wrote, “You cannot avoid making judgments, but you can become more conscious of the way you make them.” I’m definitely not catching all my judgments, but I’m getting better by the day.

This was especially clear about two weeks ago, when I sat reading in a coffee shop. One particular sentence in the book I was reading, Kelly Brogan’s A Mind of Your Own, practically jumped off the page at me.

For a few months now, I’ve been looking at someone I love and assuming–with some bemusement–certain inspirations for certain behaviors. Brogan’s sentence revealed a whole different set of possible explanations, whapping me on the head with a reminder how little of that personal film I can see. From 1,000 frames, I’ve been filling in the millions I cannot see. I have not been doing so with nuance, instead using broad strokes.

As the pounds slide off me now, having set aside the beer and added meditation+, I’m sure I still have weeks to months of grocery store sage commentary ahead. I’ll keep laughing, naturally; that comes easily.

I’ll also aim to use their words as a reminder. I’m making judgments, too, and the grocery store sages’ words can be my ongoing call to not confuse my own limited perception with reality.

seeds

sometimes
people give me
seeds of wisdom
that make no sense
to me
(yet).

i (try to)
tend them
while seeking
the right place
to plant them
so they
grow
well.

usually i hold
each seed
for months,
even years,
before i know
where (and
how) to
plant
it.

last wednesday,
someone handed me
a seed, and i thought,
“huh. i think i know
what to do
with this.”

(spoiler:
nope!)

then, on friday,
only two days
later,

i found
exactly
where to
plant
that
seed,
and i was
grateful.

without that seed,
i might have
breathed fire
instead of planting
what may
someday
become
a flower

sometimes,
maybe, i ought
consider not
breathing fire,
instead
setting aside
space in my garden
until i’ve found
just the right
seed for
planting
there

roots

A work friend asked
me about something

“Hmm,” I said,
“I’m not sure
about that”
(though I
NOW
know a lot
about relatively
related things)

This must have
sounded funny to her,
because she said,
“That’s … interesting”

I paused and said,
“Okay, so it’s like this:
I was told many things
when I started this position,
but only learned them
in the shallowest way,
because I didn’t have
context to understand
fully

“The best way I’ve figured
to explain it is like this:
understanding grows
deep, like roots;
near the beginning,
the roots are so shallow
the slightest breeze can
upend the solid plant

“As I grow in
knowledge and
understanding, my
roots grow deeper,
BUT …

“Some
roots
remain
shallow;
the water
hasn’t reached
them
yet”

As deep
as some roots
grow, I still have
many roots
left
to
water

(before no
question
will ever
upend me)

Categories: Communication, Learning Tags: , ,

missed

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