Stu (you know, my voice to text software) is driving me up the wall so this post may end up with no punctuation. I’m just saying.
And since I can’t write, and since not being able to write is messing with my head in the biggest way, I’m going to tell you a little story and maybe it will have a point and maybe it won’t.
The preface that is not a preface
Actually, I’m feeling the need to preface this story with a bunch of disclaimers and hedging and what Stu would call “Bolsheviks”.*
But I’m not going to. Even though that’s kind of driving me crazy too.
*“Bolsheviks” = “bullshit”. Stu is obsessed with Commies. Also he hates foreigners. Which is total Bolsheviks. Damn you, Stu. You know what I mean.
The beginning of a story
So I’m probably fifteen or sixteen. It’s winter. It’s early in the morning.
I’m bundled up in my gigantic winter coat with its enormous pockets and I’m rummaging in a kitchen cupboard to grab a granola bar or something right before I run out the door.
And if there was any thought at all in my mind it was probably something like “oh crap, I’m going to miss the bus.”
Then a day or two later I stick my hand in my pocket and discover a bottle of vanilla. Like, vanilla extract that you would use in baking something. Cookies. I don’t know.
It was the world’s biggest mystery. I came up with about a thousand theories, each equally ridiculous, before it dawned on me that I’d probably knocked it into my pocket with my elbow or something while poking about in the Cabinet.
Don’t capitalize Cabinet, Stu. This isn’t a damn political treatise.
The middle of the story.
I thought it was pretty hilarious that I ended up with a bottle of vanilla in my coat pocket, so instead of just putting it away, I shared the story with my mother. Having forgotten momentarily that you absolutely never know how she’s going to react to basically anything.
She was not amused. In fact, she accused me of having stolen the vanilla for the purposes of getting drunk on the alcohol content or the fumes or something. And of lying about it.
Since a) that would’ve been crazy, b) it never would’ve occurred to me and c) if I’d wanted to get drunk (which I didn’t, ever) I could have raided their huge, untouched “liquor cabinet”*, I didn’t know what to say and just kind of gaped at her.
*By liquor cabinet I mean random bottles gathering dust after being given to my teetotaling parents as unappreciated gifts, and no, I never did that. I may have been young and stupid, but that wasn’t my particular flavor of young and stupid.
The conclusion of the story.
You want a conclusion? I’ll give you a conclusion.
Actually, I don’t have a conclusion. But speaking of conclusions…
Jumping to them, man. It’ll get you every time.
I could give you an absurdly high number of examples of ways we screw up stuff in our relationships, in our business, or in our interactions with ourselves. But how about just one to start with?
Someone recently left my Kitchen Table program because she felt like she didn’t fit in with all the “nice people” there. She thought she wasn’t nice enough.
If she’d told me that before she left, I could have introduced her to some of the meanest, bitchiest, funniest people I know — people who also happen to be members of the Table.
They’re right there to be jumped to.
The important part.
It’s practically a universal spiritual truth that we know nothing about nothing.
I mean, so many traditions talk about these moments.
The ones where you realize with terrifying clarity that everything you once knew to be true is …. well, you’re not sure, but it’s definitely not than the way you thought it was.
You realize that wisdom is what happens when you acknowledge a lack of knowledge. Like Socrates, you catch a glimpse of just how much you don’t know. And how what you do know is in flux. Because things take many forms.
“As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.”
Socrates knew about assumptions. And questioning them. And how much they suck. That one’s not a direct quote.
Point is, the things we know feel so true and steady and certain at times. When actually many stories can exist simultaneously, yet all be equally false. Or true.
And there is a certain degree of stability in this too.
Things that are hard.
Oh, lots of things.
It’s hard to stop and ask “What did I just observe? How do I feel about what I think just happened? Could I be wrong?”
It’s hard to distinguish between WEAR and TEAR. You remember, right?
WEAR = What Everyone Agrees is Reality
TEAR = The Ego’s Arbitrary Reality
But enough about reality and the different shapes it can take.
Even without knowing what is real and what is not, even without knowing enough to know that not knowing is its own form of truth… it’s the assumptions that get us all tangled up.
If I could give only one piece of advice to someone feeling stuckified (whatever particular shape your own situation takes) it would be this:
Get a second opinion. And then a third one. You know, poke at your assumptions and conclusions and see if they jump. Or if it was just you.
It’s the hardest practice I know of. The one I like the least. But what the hell. Maybe that’s not true either. Poke.
This is fantastic advice … but … well, it’s totally counter to what we are taught by current Western culture. Go fast. Respond more quickly than your neighbor. If you wait and contemplate, you’ll be left behind.
Don’t misunderstand me, I agree with you. But it’s a hard all unto itself, because this is an unlearning that has to happen; not just stuckness to be destuckified. (speaking for myself anyway).
A really good sort of counter-cultural teaching. You’re gonna make hippies of all of us yet! 🙂
christys last blog post..Communication Strategy – Personal Edition
I read once of the concept of stillness having two interpretations.
One, the more common western idea, being that of a person almost asleep. Still through a disconnection from the world around. Still in a way that makes it hard to accomplish anything.
Two, if I recall correctly an Eastern idea, being that of the sprinter in position just before the beginning of the race. Waiting for the starter pistol to go off. The sprinter is still, but completely aware and ready to move when the time is right.
I like that second one. Kinda complements the delaying assessment idea, yeah?
Justins last blog post..On the Taking of Naps
Oh hey! We have the same mother!
Mean & bitchy here! (Not sure about the funny part. I’ll leave that for others to decide.) And at the Table!
I identified someone rather quickly who seems to have similar sensibilities when it comes to taking the ‘hard line’ versus the ‘softer way’. And so I just…you know….said, “Hi! I’m mean and bitchy too!” 😉
I do admit I try to temper it quite often around here and at the Table. (Mostly because, you know, that’s not what Havi’s about and I really like Havi……)
Jumping to conclusions is especially easy on the internet, yeah?
Blogging about HR/training topics, I once got a very very very long email from a woman all about how she hated HR, how unfairly she was treated by HR, and so on. The email didn’t even have anything to do with anything I’d recently written. My first response? Was to assume she was one of those ‘problem employees’ who naturally hates HR because they’re the ones who have to bring her in and tell her to do her job.
But then I realized I didn’t know her story. And maybe she had a hideous HR department. Maybe she had a actual problem going on at work and HR wasn’t helping. Coulda been a lot of things.
So I tried actually responding gently. (Despite the fact that I’d still suspect the ‘problem employee’ issue. ha) We read things with our own ‘stuff’ in our heads and sometimes it hits us wrong, right?
Delaying assessments. Definitely something I could work on.
(By the way, I also find that a lot of times when I’m jumping to conclusions — it’s because I somehow think it’s all about me — when it isn’t. But that’s for another day.) 😉
All the best!
Deb Owens last blog post..free beer! (a.k.a. hey all you music lovers! support the arts!)
Mmmm,I sense a communication post coming on.
Where I get stuck is that there’s so much to unravel — that all assumptions are flawed — that I can spend way too much time in the unraveling rather than in the remembering that stuff just isn’t the way I think it is.
But whatever, less philosophizing. I’m sure my mother’s interpretation made perfect sense to her so in that sense it’s also true, if that makes any sense.
@Deb: right, the “thinking it’s all about me” thing. That’s got to be the hardest. *sigh*
@Robynn: that’s hilarious. I mean, oh no! But it still made me laugh.
@Justin: I am in love with your napping post. Napping! Also sprinting… I like that.
@Christy: interesting. I think that’s a good point. And I’ll try not to excessively hippify you or anything… I know Selma will smack me around if I get out of line!
Maybe we need to have a place at the table for The Bitchy Dark Side! Although I would probably be one of those people who just hangs out there and doesn’t go anywhere else. I know that people think I’m nice …… and what I can say to that is……HA!
I mean it’s not that I’m not kind and compassionate….. I am. But boy is that far from the whole story. And I love those snarky, bitchy parts cause they are just SO MUCH FUN! Nothing makes me laugh harder than an extremely clever, dark and nasty observation about this insanely crazy human life that we are trying to muddle through. Anyway…. don’t get me started.
And yes making assumptions and jumping to conclusions is one of my brains favorite pastimes and it’s a constant, constant, CONSTANT practice to question and make space around those knee jerk responses and to continually reign them in.
I have learned over my long and creaky life to never, ever,ever believe the first or even the second thing and often ANYTHING that I think about a given situation. Which saves me a tremendous amount of embarrassment later on. I mean, if I was always acting from my initial conclusions I would be spending my whole life APOLOGIZING for being such a jerk.
So slowing the whole thing down and continuing to poke at my assessments saves me a TREMENDOUS amount of wear and tear. And it allows me to maintain the fiction that I am such a nice person!
Thanks for another great post! Hope you had a fabulous birthday weekend!
chris zydels last blog post..CATASTROPHES R ( NO LONGER) US
This is fantastic advice. I tend to initially assume that everything I feel and believe is a Universal Truth and that my assessment of a situation is the way Any Normal Person would assess it. I am routinely surprised when I bounce something off someone I respect and learn that they have a completely different take on the same situation. Sometimes I think they’re wrong, but a lot of times I realize I was. Or that, at the very least, there’s more than one possible answer.
Laurie | Your Ill-fitting Overcoats last blog post..New Life Motto
Hippification: v. The result of reading too much Havi and not enough Selma (or ittybiz, your choice … of course since Naomi is claiming to be the same person as Mark Silver, I’m thinking Selma is a better bet).
Since I’m from Vermont, I think I’m automatically pretty much already hippified. It’s in the water. But I still don’t like the smell of patchouli … it’s how I maintain my street cred.
christys last blog post..Communication Strategy – Personal Edition
Delay assessment – rule 1 for self-acceptance as well.
James | Dancing Geeks last blog post..Today I spent 6 hours philosophising
Love how you wove all this together. Was wondering where you were headed with the whole vanilla debacle 😀
carmas last blog post..Not Me! Monday
I can’t stand how sometimes my instincts are dead right and sometimes completly wrong! I like to think I give everyone a fair chance, but I know I can be judgemental. Am certainly trying to slow down and halt this rush. I worked in a retail shop where a customer would come in and verbally assault me about a special order I knew the owner had screwed up. After several traumatic incidents with her, I became unprofessional and yelled back. She was hurt! Then we did something monumental, we were honest with each other about our situations. I told her about my careless boss who made promises he couldn’t keep that we had to clean up after and guess what? She’d recently lost her mom, had painful leg surgery and always stopped in at the shop after visiting her dying dad. Everyone has a story. I have to remember to Wait and Listen. Thanks for this reminder.
Liz Smiths last blog post..Sisters We Three Consignment Shop
There’s a hard line to walk – you want to be around people that are like you and will support you, but you also don’t want to be a carbon copy. But too different and you won’t have any common ground.
[It sounds like she was motivated by fear more than anything…fear that she wasn’t ‘enough’ or ‘good enough’ somehow.]
Hayden Tompkinss last blog post..How to Fly
Love the WEAR and TEAR analogy, hadn’t heard that one before and then realized that combined with the following one you definitely have the recipe for disaster (with a hint of vanilla or not):
FEAR – False Evidence Appearing Real
Thought I just put my two cents in, oh and by the way I LOVE VANILLA! poke, poke…
I have a particularly dangerous practice of gatherine information before making an assessment.
It starts with jumping in and trying something, usually The Simplest Thing That Could Possibly Work, but it’s often upsetting to the normal people around me. “Hey! Let’s try this shortcut!” It probably won’t work, but it might, and if it doesn’t at least we learned what shortcuts not to take.
So for me it’s watch a little, assess a little, try something, watch more, assess more, try something else, watch, assess, try…
Scares the hell out of normal people because yes, it means I do act without knowing what I’m doing.
@Extra Crispy Mark: I adore you.
@Maarten: poke poke poke indeed! I love FEAR — False Evidence Appearing Real. That is so genius.
@Hayden: yeah, it’s a weird middle ground that I haven’t really figured out yet.
@Liz: wow. What a great example. I can feel the truth of that situation, even though I wasn’t there. It reminds me of all the times when I was at the bar working, aware that I was taking everybody’s crap and that the whole exchange was somehow flawed.
@everybody else! I can’t talk to Stu anymore without throwing a fit so I’ll stop here but will just say that I am so loving and appreciating all of your insights and thoughts and stories. It makes everything better. So so so much better.
My inner-teen says “that’s what you get for trusting mothers”.Am also having a memory when I thought smelling like vanilla was the best and tried using Vanilla extract behind my ears. Cannot remember outcome, but since that practice didn’t last long it must not have been a big success.
If I had found the bottle in MY pocket, I would have made up a story about divine beings sending me messages. Those are my favorite conclusions to jump to, but lately after hearing Caroline Myss speak last week, it makes me feel naive. But I think a little naive can go a long way…
hope you are on the mend. If not it’s ok to throw an occasional fit.
Lisa Claudia Briggss last blog post..Getting Beyond A Binge
Your mom here sounds exactly like mine. I’d tell her something that happened that was funny, and suddenly it’d turn into a wierd accusation about huffing vanilla. 🙂