I originally posted this on February 24, 2007. For reasons not worth explaining, I had occasion to reread it this evening. It still speaks very much to my condition, and since I had not posted anything else today, I thought it was worth sharing again. You will decide whether I was right.
No, this is not a GBCW posting, let’s be clear about that. And the title is not directed specifically at dailykos, although this site is included in its intent. So if you reading this because you want to see how I am going to flame the site or the people here, or justify my taking my ball and going home, you can stop reading right now.
Similarly if what you expect is that I will now offer claims of moral or intellectual or spiritual superiority, and that my purpose is to offer that as a justification for those actions and words that seem to annoy others, you, too, are likely to be disappointed.
I guess the only way you will PERHAPS understand the title is if you decide to keep reading. And I offer no guarantees.
I was perhaps 12 years old when I first began to realize that I really didn’t "fit" anyplace. In the intervening almost 5 decades I have at time tried to overcome that, to reshape myself into the expectations of others, or of the situations in which I found myself, or to which I aspired to affiliate. Those attempts inevitably ended in ignominious failure. And my foolish attempts were probably more damaging or disappointing to others than they were to me. After all, when I would pick up the pieces of my latest crash and burn, I will still be in a place that was not alien to me.
I have never really been "at home." Even more than 20 years of marriage and more than 32 years together, I am not even really "at home" in my relationship with Leaves on the Current. It is a testament to her largeness of heart that she puts up with me, and stays steadfast in her love for me. TOTH, or perhaps even a deep bow of gratitude in her direction.
There have been a few places where I felt, at least for a while, comfortable. Summers at what was then called National Music Camp in Interlochen were a place of solace - I was not weird in loving music and sports, and I learned to canoe and cook. But recently I had dinner with someone who had been my cabin mate for 4 years in the 1950’s and he was miserable and I never noticed it. Had I been fully comfortable I might have been more aware of the feelings of those around me.
Probably the places in which I felt the most at home, albeit temporarily, were two monasteries. I spent the summer of 1974 in an Episcopalian Benedictine monastery near Kalamazoo, and found some connection with essential parts of my self that had long been hidden, or unavailable, to me. And yet, it did not take much to reconnect me with something else. Perhaps it was the one time I was there that I watched tv. I was invited into the monks common room and we watched the opening statements of the House Judiciary Committee and I encountered the powerful persona of Barbara Jordan.
The other was Simona Petra, an establishment hundreds of years old on Mount Athos in N. Greece. The building is not that old, having suffered multiple fires over the centuries. But for some reason the Abbot and the other monks welcomed me at a time when I was very fragile, and over the better part of a decade it was my home away from home, although I was only there for three times, each a somewhat extended stay.
Perhaps because I have lacked rootedness I have been able to understand some things more alien from my upbringing than might otherwise have been the case. I have wandered through different religions, different professions, far too many relationships, different cities, often many residences within one city. Although I am actually fairly shy (something often misunderstood as either rudeness or arrogance), this has exposed me to a far broader selection of people and situations that might have been the case had I lived a less convoluted life.
When I was younger, writing was very painful for me. I doubted the validity of my own feelings or perceptions, and hence would try to express in a voice that was not my own, couching my expressions in imitation of those I admired in others, or if not admired, of which perhaps I was jealous because of the recognition they received. I would procrastinate with any writing assignment, partly in fear that I would have nothing to say, partly in hope that something or someone might inspire and enough lightening would strike that I could survive one more assignment.
Many of the relationships on which I embarked, intimate and social, would not survive my insecurity, the fear that I would be discovered as the fraud I believed myself to be.
I suspect that things did not begin to change until I began to realize that not belonging was like many things in life, something that had two sides, not both of which were negative. If I did not run ferociously in an attempt to become an official part of the life of another person or of an organization or social circle, I would sometimes be of greater value, both to others and to myself. I am not a graceful or skillful enough writer to fully explain this. Because I was in but yet not of such situations, I would often be able to shed light in a new way, to offer a perspective that was different, and hence one that while potentially an irritant might also be the grain of sand that cause the one irritated to begin forming a pearl.
I first took the Myers Briggs Type Indicator while working in a local government data processing and technology department. It quickly became clear how much of an unfit I was. Of the 38 people who took it, there were only 5 of us who were extraverts. There were only four who were intuitives rather than sensates. In fact, fully 28 of the people in the department were introverted,sensate, thinking, judgers. Me? The exact opposite - the only extraverted, intuitive, feeling perceptor in the department. I REALLY didn’t belong. And yet because i was so different I was often able to help others with problems they couldn’t resolve, because I offered such a different "handle" on things. Keep this in mind, for it is a point to which I will shortly return.
Perhaps because I felt i didn’t belong, it became more important to me to be of service. This was not always constructive - too often I would take on too much. It is something of a trap for shy people, as a way of having a connection with others with which one’s shyness does not immediately interfere. It had the positive benefit of leading me in the direction of teaching, first within the confines of my previous principal occupation in computers, teaching users, customers, other employees, then gradually doing professional teaching, teaching in religious schools, and finally moving to public school teaching in my late 40’s. I would surmise that one reason that by then teaching seemed more natural to me, even as I did not really belong in any school or department, is that I had learned to listen, if not with my ears with my heart and my eyes. That’s right, with my eyes. Listening is absorbing. In my younger days I had spent hours in bars watching people interact. I began to understand things about human interactions, even if I could not fully articulate what I understood -- remember, in MBTI terms I am an intuitive and a perceptor. To me teaching was less a transmission of facts than it was an empowering of capability - of thought, of writing, of perceiving, of belief in oneself, an internal valuation not dependent upon the opinions of others. Call it intrinsic worth. And because I knew I really didn’t belong, I became less concerned with how others might perceive how i approached my teaching and how my students reacted - was what i was doing something that was reaching them? If not, then it was up to me to change, and because I didn’t belong even to the teaching profession I did not feel any compulsion about turning on a dime to find a connection with a student that made a difference for her.
I am not fond of meta, at least as it is applied here. But as a teacher I am concerned that my students be capable of metacognition, so that they can take ownership of their own learning, and not be dependent upon me. There is a regular occurrence that my students come to both love and hate. A student will get an interesting thought and ask a very interesting and often quite worthwhile question, not specifically on the assigned topic but one well worth exploring. My response is always the same. I will see if any other student can answer the question, and if not: "that’s an interesting question. Why don’t you look it up and report back to the class?" I do not penalize if the student does not do so, and I give a little extra credit if s/he does. What I hope I am communicating is that the students should not be dependent upon me for ‘truth." My task is to probe, provoke, challenge, annoy, so that they can take ownership of learning, and create their own understanding of truth.
It is now time to return to the question of offering different perspectives. That is the "meta" of this diary for this site. One of the beauties is the wealth of experiences and wide range of perceptions that people bring. One could get a wonderful education in a variety of subject because of what people are willing to post, either in stories or in the discussion threads. But because it is also a political site, one where the stated goal of the proprietor (electing Democrats) is sometimes in conflict with many of the participants (who want to promote progressives, for example). there are inevitable conflicts. And here is where I think the meta is applicable. All of us are prone to strong emotional reactions on certain points. And while passion for that in which we believe is certainly good, when we are too passionate we sometimes become both blind and deaf. And if all we seek is partisan advantage, we may carry that into the minutiae of exchanges on or across discussion threads, and some people will feel frustrated, angry, or even unwelcome. I have read a fair number of such postings in the past few days.
In our diversity is our strength. No, I did not create that expression, but it is a worthy one, very applicable to the political process. Politics is the art of the possible. Sometimes it takes a great deal of skill to get to 50% + 1 in order to achieve legislation and "move the ball downfield." Other times the costs of achieving that are simply too great, and one has to be willing to accept a defeat, however temporary or longer it may be, and try again to build a workable coalition. If we cannot do that among ourselves, we will have little chance of persuading a sufficient number who are not dedicated to the same set of issues as we are, even when they agree on the one issue to which we currently devote ourselves.
I don’t belong. Sometimes that means i have little contribute to a discussion. On other occasions it means that because i don’t belong i will not understand the discussion. On some occasions I will be enlightened by a discussion because it is new to me, it opens my eyes in a way they have never previously been opened.
And on a very few occasions, what i have to say may be of the same benefit to you, or someone else, who considers that you do belong in a way i don’t, precisely because I don’t, precisely because i think differently, or have had a different set of experiences, or am of a different race, gender, orientation, age, religion, geographic region, or even political persuasion.
The meta challenge is this - how does each of us act to ensure that when the one who is different, who perhaps is irritating or annoying, who does not belong, speaks the words that would benefit us, that we will hear? How can we ensure that we are capable of listening, even if it be an uncomfortable truth?
In my teaching one thing I do that often frustrates my students is that i present them with questions, and then tell them I don’t know the answer, that they are going to have to find that answer for themselves. I cannot answer the question, the challenge, I raised in the paragraph immediately preceding this one. All I can do is remind us of the cogency. I am not the first to raise it. Perhaps this time the way i raise it may speak to someone who could not hear it from someone else. That is no tribute to me, but may merely mean that we have found a common point of connection. And I suggest that is as important a goal of the political process, this finding of common points of connection, as is winning elections and making policies. It may even be a prerequisite for political success.
So that’s my diary for the day. I suspect it will be read by a few, commented upon by fewer still. No matter. As one who does not belong, I offer what I can as best as I see fit.
Oh, and one more thing: I’m not going away, so if you really don’t like me posting like this, you might want to try to find a way to make that clear. Of course, what I really mean is, tough nougie. didn’t you just read what i wrote - I’m NOT going away. Precisely because I don’t belong.