Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Celebrating Your Diversity

Originally posted on February 26, 2013

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself! I am great! I contain multitudes!” wrote the American poet, Walt Whitman, in the mid-19th century (in a poem, “Song of Myself”). This blog post is a re-affirmation of the glory and necessity of individuality. The notion that we have to bring it all together in some consistent whatever is misleading. The way we bring it all together is that as Shakespeare said, “…one man plays many parts…” (In his “all the world’s a stage” speech given through one of his characters in As You Like It, Act 2, scene 7). A life lived can enjoy a moderate degree of diversity as we spend some time at work, some time at home, some time in the garage at our workbench, some time with our pets—very different roles come forth. In my life I have roles where I write, edit, try to be coherent, rational, or at least easily followed. In other roles I’m more dreamy, poetic, mythic, fantasy-filled, child-like. Some roles make presentations or write papers, some roles do dishes.

Yes, one of the challenges of life is to promote some integration rather than fragmentation, but this can be relative rather than either-or. Integration is not an absolute goal. You’re in no way a failure if you don’t wrap up all the loose ends. Indeed, some of those loose ends are what make you so special. It may be fun in some ways if and when you find that aspect A also mixes with role B when you do C—but it’s an aesthetic discovery, not a measure of yourself as effective. Indeed, discovering that you can fully accept some of your less talented facets without having to measure them as “not as good as” some others is yet another kind of integration!

I’m pretty good at a few roles and enjoy stretching and pushing myself in, say, my writing. But again, I accept myself as okay in a number of roles in which I don’t make much effort to improve my skills further. It’s good enough. Then there are many roles I play in which, truth be told, I’m really mediocre—about as good and bad as most folks. That word, “mediocre,” implied a real fault when I was growing up, but it turns out that it’s no big deal if I am. Hey, also, there are a fair number of roles where I’m inferior! Some of them I simply avoid and don’t bother with. Others I can’t avoid so I pay someone else to do them—or there are a few roles I’m not good at and Allee enjoys doing them and does them well. Other roles I do okay—like dishes—she hates. So we complement each other. The crazy message from my schooling is that I had to excel in all ways or I’d not get a good report card.

It’s crazy because I don’t care about and won’t ever use (or hardly) a good many subjects and yet I will use some others. I’ve discovered to my chagrin that one doesn’t have to be very well-rounded. I’m pretty well-rounded, as I look at my peers, but “good enough” is an operative theme in my world.

Keeping Up with What’s Up

A parallel theme in our changing world was an older belief of mine, sort of implicit, that I could keep up with what’s coming down, science and news-wise.  That was more vivid among the educated class, and there were even books (more comedy, but not entirely) about what can seem smart to say at parties. Looking back, that was so 1970s. Acceleration of (it seems) ‘most everything continued and today there’s no way to be “au courant,” cutting edge. There are now way too many edges!

The spring gave forth a trickle which became a stream, a creek, a pond or lake, a big ol’ river, a waterfall, a delta, a flood, a tsunami (tidal wave). Between a lake and a big river one begins to drown. The metaphor simply refers to the continual acceleration, broadening, and complexity of everything in the culture. The proper way to cope is to let go of the dream of being a generalist (unless one keeps that as a casual and highly imperfect role), and to be good at whatever is your focus—or good enough. In a globally-connected world, chances are high that there are lots of folks better than you at your specialty.

I cope by mixing how good I am at what I do with finding a relative ecological niche—not many people are talking about what I focus on.  So that gives me a bit more courage.

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