Monday, November 24, 1997

Pigeon Psychology

"We banged the drum slowly and played the fife lowly, you know the song in my heart. In the turning of twilight, in the shadows of moonlight, you can show me a new place to start."

This week we got the answer to the question, "At what age does one become a mean old man?" It's 33. I was eating dinner at La Corvina with a couple of friends. The only other patrons in the restaurant were a man and his two children. One of the two children, a boy around four or five finished his meal and asked his father if he could play with son of the owner of the restaurant. The two boys proceeded to first play a game of Simon Says and then a game of tag where they tore all around the small restaurant. This was annoying in itself but when they began to screech at the top of their lungs, I finally had had enough. "Boys, can you please keep it down?" I gently asked. With a damper placed upon their frivolity, the boys gave me the old skunk eye the rest of the evening.


Actually the incident played out under the influence of a story I had heard a few days earlier in my Seven Habits of Effective People training course. The instructor told a story of a man who after a long day at work wearily climbed upon an empty New York subway car. At the next stop a mother and her four young sons hopped upon the car. The boys were unruly from the start, running up and down the subway, shouting and jumping upon the seats. The man looked at the woman who just sat staring at the floor in front of her. He was incredulous at her inattention to the undisciplined boys. When one of the boys bumped into him, his blood began to boil and he walked over to the woman. "Excuse me ma'am, but could you please keep your sons under control?" She looked up at him and for the first time he noticed tears in her eyes. "I'm sorry," she said. "We were just at the hospital and their father passed away and they are having a hard time knowing how to handle that." The moral of the story was how we often let our emotions dictate how we will respond to a situation while only knowing the tip of what the other person's feelings are based upon.


Which brings to mind another revelation from the past week. A week ago Friday I attended a training session learning how to better facilitate meetings. After the session the consultant who facilitated the training, a woman who knew me from other sessions, asked my boss if there was something going on in my life. Apparently she sensed a detachment, a distraction on my part in the way I participated in the training. Her guess was it had to do with some relationship issues in my life. When my boss told me this, I wondered if the inscrutable label that had been placed on me many times in the past few years has been inaccurate. Was I really wearing my emotions on my sleeve? Or was I hiding what was going on inside way too effectively? I left the training session feeling that my own participation was better than usual especially compared to many of the recent meetings I attended when I'd be the first to admit my enthusiasm and attention had been a bit lacking. So I was a bit surprised that someone else felt otherwise. As I have done in the past I have focused my energy on my work in order to keep my mind off other areas of my life. I shared this story with my friend and asked her how she felt I had been acting the past few weeks. She told me she thought I was in much better spirits than a couple of months ago and she thought I had definitely been moving forward. She told me she admired the way I was able to put things behind me. Of course the accurate picture of where I am at, either between the person who didn't know me so well and the person who knows me better than anyone probably falls somewhere in the middle. Strangers always see you differently than your closest of friends.

Next I attended a happy hour with some former co-workers from my days at the Department of Trade and Economic Development. I learned that my legacy there, the database I named DYLAN (data you're looking at now) is not being utilized much anymore. And all the procedures I put in place, all the things I was greatly rewarded for fixing a messed up contract processing system, have been reworked where things are back to the way they were before I did any of my work. How quickly they forget.

The week as disjointed as it all seemed actually began to reveal some common patterns that in the end actually made sense in their nonsense. There were many lessons to be learned and perhaps even a few sunk in. A person isn't thoughtful just because he thinks a lot. The need to explain is at least as deep as the need for an explanation. Just when your faith in fate wavers along comes someone who gives you one of the biggest compliments of your life, that she enjoys talking to you because when she does she always learns something. Just when you begin to wonder what you have left and how much you want to share along comes someone who you hope there's more to share. And just when you don't want to have to think, you have to think more than ever.

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