The Elevator Test

I grew up in poverty, chaos, and profound violence.

I spent so much of my childhood convinced I wouldn’t actually survive it, it still often surprises me that I did. More than surviving, I’ve even built a love-filled adult life with a gentle partner and kids who know what I experienced without, blessedly, “knowing” it as I did.

Why put quotation marks around “knowing”? The answer is often clearer, in my experience, to people who’ve already endured life-shattering violence than those who have not, yet:

There are different ways of knowing.

In security expert Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear, he writes at length about the power of intuition to enhance safety. Far from being silly and spun from misguided fancy, “when it comes to danger, intuition is always right in at least two important ways:

  1. It is always in response to something.
  2. It always has your best interest at heart.”

Unfortunately, for people without close personal exposure to violence, these words can seem abstract. Trivial. That intuition could provide meaningful data that thought-filled analysis alone cannot often runs counter to their personal experience of the world.

Not having seen the beast up close even once, let alone spent years in its presence, they misunderstand where it lives, how it moves, and what it looks like. Continue reading “The Elevator Test”

Empathy, hijacked

Until two weeks ago, I misunderstood psychopathy.

I believed that all psychopaths were serial killers, and vice versa. I also believed that their numbers were infinitesimally small.

They were, in other words, not worth much consideration, for the chance they’d impact my life personally was negligible.

My path to learning otherwise began with a simple question: What’s it called when someone treats you not as a human, but a need-meeting device? I figured there had to be a word for it, but I didn’t know what that word was.

Fortunately, I happened across a book that answered the question in a single, succinct sentence. In The Entitlement Cure: Finding Success at Work and in Relationships in a Shortcut World, Dr. John Townsend writes, “When one person treats another as a need-meeting object or as a dispenser of a desired commodity, that is objectification.”

There was my word: objectification.

I was surprised. Seeing this definition, it was immediately clear I’d misunderstood objectification as strictly sex-related. That misunderstanding had barred me from identifying prior experiences with objectification for what they were.

Armed with the word, I began searching for information on people especially prone to objectifying others. What would these people look like? What other kinds of behaviors might appear together with a propensity to objectify?

I found a few articles on “social predation.” In these articles, I found affirmation that objectification as a routine behavior doesn’t often travel alone.

The people who routinely exhibited this suite of behaviors were “social predators.” Having never found that term before, then, I looked up “social predation.” How had I never heard of it? The answer quickly became clear: when traveling together, this suite of behaviors is more commonly referred to as “sociopathy” or “psychopathy.”

I needed more information than I could glean from a couple of articles. I needed a framework. In short, I needed a book.

I first read Martha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door, in which the author uses the words “sociopathy” and “psychopathy” interchangeably.

As I read, I found myself both intrigued and horrified. Continue reading “Empathy, hijacked”

Words to save lives

A book once helped me, quite possibly, save a life dear to me.

Someone I love had suddenly gone almost completely off the grid. She’d done so soon after meeting a new man.

I hadn’t met her new fella. She barely spoke of him on the now-rare occasion we did talk. I didn’t need to meet him or talk to her about him to be alarmed, especially when she told me she’d moved a long way from home to be with him.

I didn’t need to know him to be concerned. The changes in her behavior told me a lot about his role in her life.

My childhood was practically defined by extensive violence and predation, so that I implicitly recognized its symptoms. I didn’t once need to see violence in action to know something was very wrong.

Unfortunately, implicit knowledge is hard to share. This kind of knowledge, which is intuited instead of learned from books and seminars, is hard to voice in words. It’s a knowing that happens in the body, not the intentionally focused brain, and can thus live in a place where words seldom reach. Continue reading “Words to save lives”

The possibility in a word

When my now-husband, Anthony, first told me he’d majored in American Studies, I was tickled. I couldn’t fathom such a choice, which seemed so … indulgent.

Why study history when we live in the present? Why study culture when the world simply is the way it is? Far better, I thought, to dedicate time and energy to building skills critical to navigating now.

A few years ago, my husband introduced me to Neil Postman. As I read book after Postman book, I began to see some of the many ways the present is a byproduct of processes in the past. The future, in turn, will be a byproduct of processes in motion now.

Different processes, different product.

I began to grasp why two of my siblings are historians, and why my husband would be interested in American Studies.

In one particular conversation, my husband explained that he’d majored in American Studies to find words for his experiences as a Black man in America.

I was incredulous. He already had words. Why did he need a program of study to give him words, available en masse in dictionaries and thesauri everywhere?!

Recently I’ve been eating humble pie here, too.

In mid-June, someone I trust suggested I watch Brené Brown’s Netflix special. I did so, and my mind was blown. The world Brown described was so different than the world I was used to seeing. 

I liked her vision of the world better than my own; there was so much possibility in hers! I watched others of her videos. Having watched those I could find, I then bought and read each of her books, enjoying them in visual and audio formats.

It took me a little while to pinpoint what I found in Brown that I didn’t find elsewhere.

After I’d pinpointed it, I couldn’t help but laugh: Continue reading “The possibility in a word”

The knowledge of worth

“Knowledge is only rumor until it lives in the bones.”

When I began writing my last post, I intended to write about muscle memory. About 1,500 words in, I realized I’d gone a totally different direction. I split that lengthy draft into two posts and shared instead about the place where Voldemort meets software licenses.

In that post, I wrote about how:

A few years ago, I began putting key licensing costs and terms into a simple worksheet. Rather than emailing these and calling my job done unless folks emailed back with questions, I’d set up time to review live, explain what the review was for, and walk folks through the worksheet–notably, the places in licensing agreements where Voldemort tends to live.

At first, I created licensing worksheets as a communication device. I needed something easier for stakeholders to digest than huge blocks of contract excerpts, which make many people sleepy, some anxious, and others downright agitated. (“I’m a good person! I shouldn’t have to spend my time looking at this stuff! Gah!”)

Something funny started happening after I’d been using those worksheets for a while. I started creating them even when I wasn’t trying to explain anything to anyone else. The work itself changed my relationship to the contracts I reviewed; rather than being lifeless statements of fact that lived in my head, they were living things for which I was developing internal roadmaps.

Continue reading “The knowledge of worth”

Where Voldemort meets software licenses

My software licensing job is actually a communications job. 

What now? How can that be? Licensing is not the same thing as communicating!

It’s like this: I don’t deploy software myself. I work with people who deploy software. For them to deploy software correctly, they must know what “correctly” looks like.

For that to happen, I must effectively communicate both what “right” looks like and what can happen if not-“right” is done. The consequences can be pretty gnarly, about which I’ll say more in a future post.

To bring this closer to home for most people, I’ll draw on the world of Harry Potter. I think it’s safe to say billions of people in the world are more familiar with all things Potter than they are with any single thing software licensing (and the many possible catastrophes related).

If my job is to protect you from Voldemort and I can’t be with you at all times, I must let you know important facts about Voldemort. Given this objective, which facts are the important facts? Those fact’s that’ll best equip you to keep you away from direct encounter with Voldemort: Continue reading “Where Voldemort meets software licenses”

Far from alone

I’ve been stalked for a year and a half.

It’s not something I talk–or write–much about anymore. I’m not interested in having my life defined by what others do to me. Much more important to that definition is the choices I make; as I learn and grow by the day, these are getting sounder..

Why write anything about it, then?

If you’ve read my last few posts, you probably suspect it has something to do with Brené Brown,

If you’re thusly suspicious, you’re right. 

I just finished rereading Brown’s first book, Women & Shame. In this book, Brown emphasizes how critical genuine connection is to overcoming shame. Only by speaking shame can women escape it, and, powerfully, help other women learn to escape it. Continue reading “Far from alone”