“25 things about me” collage; thanks to Pete McGregor for #25; all other photos except #8, #10, #16 by the author
On Saturday I mentioned the ’25 Things About Me’ meme, and suggested there probably aren’t 25 things about me of any significance that I haven’t already disclosed at some point in this blog’s 2,332 posts. It occurred to me, though, that there may well be 25 things that I’m not, that a lot of readers think I probably am, or hope I will be, or expect that I should be.
It has taken me a long time to really know myself, and in the process I’ve discovered some things that I know I’m not, and will probably never be. We can all be open to change, but sometimes it is a voyage that not only isn’t completed, but that runs aground before it has barely begun. So while I confess to no pride (and no little embarrassment) at some of these admissions, I know myself well enough that I can say with some confidence that they are, beyond mere excuses, integrally not who I am.
Dave’s 25 Personal Non-Qualities:
- Mature: I have spent much of my life under either the stupor of depression or the stupor of blissful complacency. As a result I have never really grown up, and remain childlike in many ways: I am easily distracted. I tire easily. I am self-preoccupied. I am recklessly impulsive (“Oh, nice doggy, let me pet him; Oh, nice flower, let me pick it”). I lose interest quickly. In a child all of this is tolerable. In an adult it is dangerous, potentially hurtful, and annoying.
- Sensitive: This is a word with two very different meanings: (a) Alert and sensitive to others’ feelings, and (b) Easily upset. It is usually good to be the former, often not so good to be the latter. I am, for the most part, neither, though I’m trying to be the former.
- Emotionally Intelligent or Emotionally Articulate: Emotional intelligence goes beyond being alert to and sensitive to others’ feelings. It is the ability to use that sensitivity to sense, understand and respond to others’ emotions in helpful ways, and to articulate feelings clearly and powerfully. I’m incompetent at this, despite years of trying and frustrating practice.
- Attentive (or a Good Listener): I think we live in a world of distraction, and epidemic attention disorder, and in that respect I am about average, which is not good. I don’t remember faces, or names, or places, or what people said, or what happened. I am convinced this is largely because I don’t pay attention, except in rare moments when I am alone, in natural places. I don’t think I’m incapable of paying attention when people are around; I just don’t think to do it.
- Demonstrative or Affectionate: As a consequence of my lack of maturity (personal non-quality #1 above), I tend to get wildly enthusiastic about people and ideas and information and works of art initially, and gush about them, and then kind of retreat (= O.F. draw back) and become very English about these things. I start to love and appreciate these people and things without showing it, which is understandably infuriating.
- Caring for Humanity: I seem to have been, for most of my life, misanthropic, and nothing seems to improve it. I don’t know if it’s because I expect people to be smarter and know better than they do, or because our species is, after all, precipitating the next great extinction of life on this planet. I do enthusiastically (but undemonstratively: personal non-quality #5 above) love people who are exceptionally intelligent, imaginative, emotionally strong, emotionally sensitive (in sense (a) rather than sense (b) of personal non-quality #2 above) and who are articulate in one way or another (doesn’t have to be emotionally or even verbally). It’s just all the rest of humanity I don’t care much for. I genuinely prefer the company of wild creatures to that of most humans.
- Well-Coordinated Physically: I have taken lessons from experts three time to learn to dance, and likewise to learn to swim; I can do neither. I can’t touch-type. I have taken a combined twelve years of music lessons and cannot play an instrument (though I can and do compose music). My instructors get exasperated. “You’re not trying, you’re not paying attention, you’re not practicing”, they lament. Well, they’re wrong. I’m doing my best to do all three, but to no avail.
- An Activist: I mean this in the narrow sense of someone who doesn’t just advocate change, but actually physically moves to implement it. My role is to imagine possibilities and write about it. All artists, in the broad sense of provoking understanding and appreciation and action in others, are activists. But in the narrow sense we’re not. I don’t believe in trying to change huge, dysfunctional, resistant systems (you can get hurt, you’ll generally accomplish nothing, and in the long run they’ll collapse anyway, so as Bucky says, we should instead invent a new way that renders the old system obsolete). And I don’t believe in trying to change people’s minds either (as Daniel Quinn says, it’s a waste of time until they’re ready, at which time they’ll change themselves). I hate fights and confrontation, even in a good cause.
- A Quick Study: I often have to write things down five times before I really internalize them. Some of the wisdom in my Save the World Reading List is still giving me Aha! moments, five years after I read it. It just seems to take forever to sink in. This simple realization took three years:
I am, after all, just the space through which stuff passes, a part of the unfathomably complex dance of all-life-on-Earth, learning to improvise which of that passing-through stuff to touch, and which to just let go. “Ah, I know how I can make this better, or clearer, or more interesting, or more useful, or more innovative, or more fun — there!” Just being the space, and touching the right stuff in just the right way as it passes through.
Duh! And when someone tells me something, shows me something, shows me how to do something, it’s as if suddenly my brain and senses lose all faculty, and they have to show/tell me again and again, and still I don’t seem to get it, remember it, be able to embrace it and use it.
- Realistic and Practical: I’m an idealist. I seem incapable of giving up on ideals in order to acknowledge and work towards something that can practically be realized. If it doesn’t work like it should ideally, I am somehow able to convince myself that there is something wrong with the design, or the designer, or the implementation, or the implementation team. “It shouldn’t work that way. It should be able to work this way,” I shout, even when it clearly doesn’t.
- Reasonable About Human Vices: Cruelty, dishonesty, manipulation, unfairness, greed, arrogance, negativity, closed-mindedness: I just lose it when I face people or situations that manifest these “qualities”. I become irrational. You don’t want to be near me.
- Good at Details: Perhaps this is an offshoot of personal non-quality #1 above. At 30,000 feet I’m your guy. Once we get on the ground I get lost easily, and start falling all over stuff.
- Good at Follow-Through: I love to start stuff, but once we get to the implementation, the measurement, the tweaking, the continuous improvement stuff, better put someone else in charge.
- A Good Conversationalist: Even though I appreciate good conversational skill enormously, I remain incompetent at it, and often “converse” better in IM than on the phone or face-to-face, despite my slow four-finger typing. I just write better than I speak. Part of it is personal non-quality #4 above. But part of it is just oral inarticulateness: I seem to be unable to put together spoken words coherently extemporaneously.
- Patient, Persistent or Perseverent: Also perhaps an offshoot of personal non-qualities #1, #8 and #10 above. I give up too easily. I hate to work hard, or confront problems directly, and when I have to, I get discouraged easily, worn out, convinced it’s not worth the trouble. “It shouldn’t have to be this hard.”
- Self-Sufficient: Possibly a consequence of personal non-qualities #7 and #12 above. I am not dependent on others, but I lack survival skills.
- Humble or Modest: I love myself, and think highly of myself. No apologies for this. No low self-esteem here. This list was actually pretty hard for me to come up with :-).
- Optimistic: Einstein observed that the more he, and those he knew, learned about the world, the more pessimistic they tended to become. My awareness of how much suffering we’re willing to tolerate in this world is enough to keep me from ever being an optimist. I remain, however, cheerfully pessimistic (that is not an oxymoron). I found the thorougly pessimistic Straw Dogs a confirming and uplifting book, and I love Ambrose Bierce’s priceless definition of man:
An animal so lost in rapturous contemplation of what he thinks he is as to overlook what he indubitably ought to be. His chief occupation is extermination of other animals and his own species, which, however, multiplies with such insistent rapidity as to infest the whole habitable earth, and Canada.
- Good at Letting Go: Possessions mean little to me, but ideas and beliefs are hard for me to give up. And I often try to control situations and relationships, when I should just let them develop, emerge, be what they are meant to be.
- Hard-Working: I work in fits and starts. I work hard for awhile and then I need a break, to do something else, or do nothing. And when I face adversity, I tend to lose heart, and energy. This is probably a consequence of personal non-quality #1, and of my metabolism, which is that of a sprinter, not a marathoner.
- Good at Commitments: I’m not willing to fight for anything. I avoid debates and arguments. I’m polyamory. Seems like a contradiction of personal non-quality #19, I know.
- Adventurous or Courageous: I tend to believe we appear courageous when we have no choice but to do something risky. Perhaps it’s the fact I’ve always had choices that has made me risk-averse. I’m not complacent, just cowardly. I usually need a push (but see personal non-quality #24 below).
- A Leader: I don’t consider this a bad quality, though many do. A lot of people want to be told or shown what to do, and I don’t like doing that. I’m a believer in the wisdom of crowds, in consensus, in non-hierarchical organization, and in self-directed learning (and unschooling). I do the best I can, and try to be a model for others. I try to remove obstacles that prevent others from doing what they do best, or need to do. Other than that, I just suggest ideas, and stay out of the way.
- Good Under Pressure: I handle stress very badly. Push me and I’ll generally push back or walk away. Take me for who am I (and who I am not) or beware… I’ve given up rising to others’ expectations. It was bad for my health.
- Grace-ful: I used to call this “presence” but I now use that word to mean something quite different (i.e. the capacity to be present, fully in the moment). And I don’t mean graceful in the sense of physical carriage, though that’s a manifestation of it. I mean it in the sense of being always ‘together’, measured, calm, considered and considerate, focused and relaxed at the same time. I’m working on personal non-qualities #2(a), 3, 4, 14, 15, 17 and 19 (the others I don’t expect to ever acquire), and I suspect that if I succeed with making these seven qualities part of who I am, I will in the process have acquired a modicum of grace.
If you do get to know me, this list might be useful. If you expect me to be any of these things, you are likely to be disappointed, in which case see personal non-quality #24.
I do, however, have a lot of good qualities. But because of personal non-quality #17, you all know what they are.