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 Brené 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. 

1 comment:

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