Things I'm Noodling On: We Are Not Simple Machines.

Keep It Simple Stupid. It doesn't need to be difficult. It's easy to understand if you just keep it simple. 

Man, that's seductive. Who doesn't want a simple reason for why things happen or who they happen to? Just tell me what I need to know so I can simply move through my life unaffected. No difficulty. No problems. Simple. Sounds good, right? 

Except here's the thing: the K.I.S.S. principle works as it should when it remains within the discipline in which it was created - engineering. On those terms I wholeheartedly agree, when trying to repair a spy plane during war times let's keep the tooling and design as simple as possible so our pilots and crew come back in one piece. Perfectly reasonable. 

But guys, this is not a strategy to take with our lives or other human beings. This is not a sustainable approach to building communities where people want and need to belong. And it is certainly not a strategy for parenting. Raising people to weather challenging times is hard! It's the hardest thing I've done in my life and maybe because I was raised with some simple truths:
  1. You work everyday or you're lazy. 
  2. You are a virgin or you're a slut.
  3. You take care of yourself or you're a pain in the ass. 
  4. You go to church on Sunday or you're not faithful. 
  5. You laugh at others or you're the joke.
  6. You get good grades or you're stupid.
  7. You shut up or you're not grateful.
  8. You're right or you're wrong.
  9. You're good or you're bad.
  10. You love or you hate.
What a bunch of bullshit! This is not reality. The reality is we need to be resilient. We need to be able to think critically about the world around us to grow through the challenges we face and do our best to anticipate actual risks. Then we get to decide whether they are worth trying to overcome or not so we can quickly move on to the next thing. I'm not intentionally discounting random events (weather, illness, accidents) because I know they happen and reset paths all the time. That said, we can only 'control' that if we are living a fear-driven life vs. a values-driven life. I'm talking to values-driven people here, folks! 

It's bullshit to expect (or be taught) that humans are going to sail through 80 years of existence and feel one of three things - happy...or sad or pissed off about not being happy. That expectation is making us feel isolated and alone. 

We feel like we are the only ones who feel ashamed, helpless, or terrified sometimes. We tend to disregard our feelings related of ambition, curiosity and joy so we stay humble. Whatever we are feeling we have the K.I.S.S. mindset telling us 'You Are Making This Too Complicated". 

Bullshit - we are more complex than that and it's perfectly normal to feel however you are feeling whenever you are feeling it. 

Just like me, Kelly Johnson believed simple systems could keep complex people safe. So my hat goes off to the engineer who coined a phrase, Keep It Simple Stupid, for a way to design useful things without unnecessary complexity. Well done! Complex humans were safer because of your brilliance.

I look forward to continuing to do the hard work of challenging myself and community to think about issues such as parenting, schools and governance in a way that supports and enriches vs. isolates and excludes. 


Things I'm Noodling On: We Are All Wired Differently.

During the last month, I've heard the phrase "but we are wired differently" twice while having productive and thoughtful conversations with women.  The first time I heard it I hesitantly nodded and watched how it abruptly ended the conversation. I kept thinking about it because there was something about it that I felt unsettled about. It seemed like an easy out - the perfect way in shut down the discussion when were just 'getting' into it.

When it happened again just a week or so later, my noodling paid off and rather than just agreeing & watching end the chat, I asked more questions and I talked it through with my friend for better understanding and kept the conversation going. The discussion continued and proved meaningful to both of us.

I cannot help thinking that "we are all wired differently" is a form of bullshit. I think it's the kind of bullshit described by Harry Frankfurt in his book On Bullshit then reexamined through the lens of BrenĂ© Brown in Braving The Wilderness.  "Bullshit changes the nature of debate — and calls into question the opportunity for productive discourse." 

The first case: Four women were just chit-chatting, when the small talk changed to a discussion started by someone who has unhappy with their current state of consistent anxiety. She felt her constant need to please and have everyone's approval was something "she wished she could do something about." The conversation continued with some acknowledgments of how unproductive trying please everyone is and a few examples of practices or behaviors others have used to overcome the very same thing. There are lots of suggestion - none were simple fixes and all required her to commit changing something.

Then there was a lull in the conversation. It's the awkward silence that happens when the person, who presented a problem with the hope of changing it, has to acknowledge they don't really want to make a change yet or of that degree to get what they are hoping for. In this case, she kinda shrugged helplessly and quietly waited for the moment to pass, but before it could her mother who couldn't handle the uncomfortable silence, swooped it with, "I can see how those ideas would work for some people, but we are all wired differently. That's just how she is." The rest of the group including me just nodded and accepted that as truth. The conversation moved back to the place that felt less dynamic and productive. But more consistent with the norm - focusing on & fearing things outside of our control. The nature of the conversation changed not on purpose or with real intention, but instead with one phrase that gave someone a free pass on being responsible for their circumstances.

What seemed like a smart, productive and meaningful conversation ended abruptly rather than responsibility being taken. And rather than just acknowledging she wasn't ready to make changes yet or just clarify that she was only venting as opposed to looking for solutions, her mother gave her permission to not even try to change because it might be hard for "someone wired like her." Giving her the false impression that other people don't have to work hard to improve their circumstances. Bullshit - it's total bullshit.

I understand individuals have different strengths and talents. I also acknowledge that some people struggle with mental illness and disorders that require more than sheer will to manage their anxiety - that's not what I'm talking about here. I see this as unwillingness to face our problems and take responsibility for what we do with our pain. I suspect for the most part, we are wired the same - some just take the path of least resistance more often than others. Which means they are victims of their circumstances vs. doing the hard & vulnerable work of finding a new way. And face it women - we are hardwired! We've got the I'm Not Enough soundtrack playing in the background. It's ultimately comes down to how we cope with it that determines how loud it is.

The second case:  Me and a friend talking about our personal journey through life as parents, leaders, etc. At one point, after acknowledging some frustrations in her progress, my friend dropped the bomb that her journey shouldn't require this or that like mine did because "we are wired differently." Although, I didn't expect it, my noodling prepared me to call truth to that bullshit. I did that with more questions and some extra compassion and a few observations.We continued to discuss and reach further rather than giving each other a pass.

We left the conversation feeling tired but on-track, but a bit more wholehearted. Together, we talked through the bullshit. We faced the reality that self-discovery & critical awareness is a long and claustrophobic ride on a clang-banging elevator that stops floor by floor encouraging us to step out where it's quiet and calm. And so many friendly & familiar faces are standing outside as the doors slide open. There they stand trying to please everyone with their small talk & their helpless shrugs.....and honestly, that unproductive peace used to be so damn tempting. But now when the doors open the smell of bullshit is just too overwhelming so we step back together and away we go.

Away we grow.