“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” — Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
When I was young, I entered many story telling contests. In third grade I won one of them based on my story of a wise owl. Owls were my mom’s favorite animals at the time. She rotated through favoring penguins, kangaroos, monkeys and owls. If she were alive today, her Facebook page (which I would probably be actively managing for her) would be full of animal postings. I digress. I do that a lot. But see, I am a story teller by nature and digression is in my DNA and I allow myself such a luxury when writing. When speaking, I hate hearing (sitting through) digressions. Go figure. Back to the owl, or rather the story.
I won that story telling contest and I was as happy as can be. My prize was the Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities. It was my prized possession for many years thereafter. I eventually lost it when I lost all my other material possessions. Yet, the story stayed with me forever more.
My life has always been the tale of two cities. It was that story that I used for my graduate school personal statement. I did a cognitive psychology twist on it as my mind has always been of that bent. See, Let me explain. When I went away to boarding school I lives two lives: the gentrified elitist boarding school girl life and the deeply poor South Bronx girl. I had two lives to live. My mind followed suit.
In order to survive, I needed a flexible mind as a well as a beautiful mind. Mind you, for my old neighborhood I was labelled extremely gifted. In the boarding school I was smart just like every other person there. Except that I was not privileged enough to have money for private tutoring or for paying fellow students to keep me up all night on studying benders. I was the one paid to keep other students up so that they would not get less than an A on any assignment or test.
As it was, I learned to be of two minds and perspectives. I learned about the power of gray and the allure of nuance.
I used that power throughout my schooling and travels. Then I entered the workforce. My first job I couldn’t see gray. I had forgotten that skill set. Although, you cannot have blamed me for that. Those people were true absolute morons. There was no gray to that. The irony is that they felt they were the intellectual elites of the world. They repeatedly stated so out loud in team meetings. Eek. I left and got my PhD in psychology. I studied stigma. Not in the way everyone else was doing it at the time, though. I didn’t assume that just because you were of a particular “category” that you felt stigmatized. Imagine that! Nuance.
I then went into the non-profit world where a lot of discourse is framed in Black and White. There is a right and there is a wrong. There is evil and there is the greater good. I did not quite fit in. I could not forgo my upbringing where nuance and gray reigned supreme. That angle I brought to meetings laughingly disturbed many individuals. There was a point where several letters of complaint were written about me stating that they “just did not get me and didn’t know where I was coming from.” I tried to always bring my thinking cap to meetings and challenged others to do so as well. I was not and still am not prepared to accept things just as they are or are supposed to be because of the popular script.
I have been attacked as not being one of the people. I have been attacked for daring to ask for a fair share. I have been attacked for not going along with the rest of the group. There was a time when 20 people got onto a call to gang up against me to try to persuade me to go along with their idea that we should all forgo our individual identities to become one identity. Mind you, it was the ringleader’s group that they were trying push us all to take on as our collective identity. It made no sense to me. I held out despite repeated pressure, countless nasty email chains and badgering face-to-face discussions. eventually that ringleader ended up sending em a “thank you” note for having integrity and for still being able to work productively with the group for the larger goal.
Just because I see gray and nuance does not mean I lose perspective integrity. It helps me maintain perspective and integrity. Life is multifaceted. People are multifaceted. I cannot be boiled down to just one thing, idea or perspective. One thing most people have noted about me is that I am fair. I listened to all sides and try to be mindful of coming to solutions that reach the larger goal while acknowledging the differing sides.
So, please those of you out there that don’t get it leave the letter writing behind. I won’t change to a single-minded perspective no matter how much you just don’t get it.