On Purpose?


I was asked–in the course of a conversation so there was some context because this would be weird to come from the blue–if I liked learning stuff about myself. I had to think about this for a little bit. Do I enjoy mining the depths of my psyche? Did I savor unlocking truths about Doc? I rolled this thought back and forth through my brain, considering what it means. Then I was like, “No.”

Seriously, there are so many things to learn that are not me, and I spend plenty of time with me. All of the time. Like ALL of my time. I can’t get away from me. And if I am using my learning time on myself, how will I ever figure out how the blockchain works?

The questioner, unlike my shallow self, really enjoys self exploration, finds it fascinating, revels in the time to attain knowledge of their substance. For them, there is value in the activity itself and in the insight gained.

And I’m like, “Why?”

Why would I struggle through the probing and, sometimes, pain of reflection? Because it’s good for me? I eat vegetables–even learned to like spinach and brussels sprouts. I walk past the closest subway stop to the next one to get more steps in. I cut back on booze. I got a flu shot. I do plenty good for me stuff.

Don’t roll your eyes. I’m learning how to cook fish. I’m learning about how video games are rewiring the brains of especially young men. I’m learning about institutional racism. I’m learning how to get rid of the damn raccoon that’s trying to move in without paying rent or signing a lease. I’m learning how to change my wiper blades. I’m learning which bus can get me to work when the Red Line closes down next month. I’m learning  the limits of political decorum and gridlock. I’m learning about the Outkast catalog.

So, ambient learning about me? I don’t think so.

I don’t like to do things just to do them. I don’t get jazzed about process as much as I do results. So, all of the self-learning that I do is about outcomes. Understanding my role in an argument with The Spouse so my apology is meaningful. Being the boss who helps staff succeed. Figuring out how I contribute to the pool of general negativity so I can combat it. Mastering my triggers and maximizing my strengths to be a better Doc.

I don’t want to know about myself. I need to know about myself.

In search of my mother’s garden, I found my own. ~Alice Walker


Who Tells Your Story

Preface to the new edition of a history of the US written by former Princeton and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. He was a bigot, too.

I was driving back from the Italian specialty store. They have fabulous capicola and even more fabulosa salami. I bought a bottle of wine for dinner. Oddly I selected Spanish, not Italian.

I had one more stop to make before home. The “you’re almost out of gas you idiot” indicator appeared as I pulled into the parking spot at my earlier destination where I bought a bag of dog food. The Shell station was next.

As I was pulling out of the parking space, I flipped the radio station from the droning trance music. Who knew they played trance on commercial radio? I settled on the left side of the dial. I was sucked in by an intoxicating southern timbre.

A man was talking about historical preservation and public reckoning, but his story was about an old building that was being preserved. The preservation was wrong. You see, the preservationists had confused the front of the house with the back of the house. And, more importantly, they omitted any context for the structure. This was discovered and then reconciled by research that consisted of talking with the people who had actually lived there.

The historian learned that the story about the house that the museum was sharing–the history–was not just incomplete. It told a story different from the truth of the people who were there.

The history hewed to a narrative that supported the dominant culture. It supported the idea that the people who lived there were broken and weak. But the truth was that the people who lived there were strong, with tight families and decent means.

Dr. King said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” So the history that we are told makes the people in our heads. It informs not only how we see the people in the past, but how we see their descendants.

It’s important (at least I think it is) to not only seek and share multiple perspectives, but also–and this is from the historian on the radio–to allow ourselves to be surprised. Surprised by what we find, what we learn and to let it challenge what we have believed and what we thought was truth.

Striving to understand people, to accept that their truths may be different, and even that their truth (or my truth, for that matter) might actually be the truth can help align what history makes us with who we actually are.

Wow. That’s a lot of thinking between the salami store and the gas station. If this symposium snippet on c-span was any indication, the new National Museum of African American History and Culture will be a place with a surfeit of surprise. I am open to it. You?