I’ve written previously about my significant size. What I didn’t mention is that I have always been significantly larger than my average peers. As a very small child, my mother warned me to be gentle with the other boys because I might hurt them. Over Christmas dinner, she told a story about how gentle I was, even letting one of my childhood friends (a distant cousin, possibly; a sociopath, probably) beat me even though I could easily have thrown him across the yard. I asked her if she remembered telling me to be gentle with the other boys when I was young, but she did not.
In addition to be the or one of the biggest kids in my class, I was usually the or one of the smartest as well, both in terms of raw computing power (intelligence) and subjects reviewed (knowledge). No one ever told me to be intellectually gentle with people, but I learned fairly quickly not to flaunt my intellect or even talk about it. Talking about it was bragging, wondering why others didn’t think like I did was arrogant, and I could tell that things I found trivial were frustratingly difficult for others. But I was never told to hold back mentally, so I never had to grapple with the extremity of my differences, at least not until I entered the workforce.
It was while working on a business team that I first encountered how different I am from average, how pervasive the term “average” is (turns out, most people have to be average for that word to have any meaning). Even though I’m able to demonstrate with hard data the truth of this claim, I still feel terribly icky writing about it, but there it is. When I started working on a team with a more analytical bent (as opposed to the more practical service industries), I encountered my first mental “be gentle” directive. Rather than protecting any individual’s feelings, it was the directive not to push the envelope beyond where others could follow, not to create any tools that others could not repair in my absence. It was where I learned to disseminate difficult concepts to multiple learning styles, something I’m still trying to improve.
Last week, I announced to my peers and colleagues that I had accepted a new position in our company, one more focused on analytics. As part of the transition, my current manager asked that I create a list of my current duties and ensure there are training documents that explain how to fulfill those duties. In previous months, this same manager has asked me to stop working on projects that are outside of the scope of my current position, even though those projects need to be done by someone and I was the only one with the drive/capacity/gumption to do it. I set those projects aside, but with protest. I was met again with the mental equivalent of “be gentle” with others. I don’t understand it, because if someone is doing something I can’t, I try to learn how to do it, but as my manager pointed out, these things come easier for me than for others. In a different conversation, she advised me to be patient since I process faster; nothing I haven’t heard or understood before.
I’m not transitioning to the new team because of my current manager, and I have been very clear with her about that. My previous manager, before the current one took over this team, sure, but then my previous manager did not know anything about the work our team did/should have been doing. I need to set that stage before the next paragraph. I like my current manager, I appreciate her vision for this team, and my one regret in moving to the new team is that I won’t get to witness first-hand the changes she is going to implement.
Today, I received my manager’s comments on my end of year evaluation. One of the first comments included the directive that in the coming year, “its (sic) extremely important that you concentrate on only items that are assigned to you and not undertake anything additional unless you have discussed with your leadership team beforehand.” (Should that include if my leadership team doesn’t understand what I’m working on?) Additionally, my manager is concerned with my “ability to interact with other parties in a positive manner. … On more than occasion you have questioned leadership decisions in a challenging way.” (How does one question leadership decisions in a non-challenging way?)
Be gentle with the other boys.
Being gentle physically will prove a net positive throughout my life; although it meant getting my ass kicked as a kid, in adult society, there is no need for physical violence and every need for physical restraint. But being gentle intellectually? Maybe it’s just because I’m finally at the “getting my ass kicked by the smaller kids” stage, but I can’t see the positive there.
Something about seeing that in my yearly review tweaked a nerve. I didn’t and won’t respond to it (unprofessional and unproductive). But when I read that and thought back to the previous conversation about not pushing past where others can follow, I thought about the adage “Work smarter, not harder,” and (perhaps unfairly) thought my manager is asking me to “work harder, because others can’t work smarter.” That is an ungracious thought on my part, and I’m big enough (pun intended) to recognize that, which is why I’m writing about it on my pseudonymous blog. I’m not proud of thinking like that, and I was quick to shut down that line of thought.
But for just a moment, and I cannot recall any other thoughts like this in my life, I wondered why I have to restrain myself while teaching them to rise above. I am very free with my knowledge; this has been cited by previous and current managers. I teach others as much as I can, based on the concept that the world can only get better if we share all that we know. I am hopeful enough to believe in a united humanity which freely shares innovation and resources. But in this moment of personal weakness, I asked why do I have to accommodate them, instead of them adjusting to me.
And I realized, at that point, I sounded like a comic book villain origin story. How many steps are between griping about the intellect of my peers and building a doomsday device that can only be unlocked by solving a complicated riddle? I don’t know, and I won’t find out. I didn’t hurt that sociopath who beat me as a child, though I could have killed him with my bare hands; I won’t allow myself to nurture any thoughts on the path to the mental equivalent.
I’ll be gentle with the other kids, even when it hurts, even when I can’t see what lies on the other side. Because I’ve mentioned two aspects of mental capacity, knowledge and intelligence, but there’s a third, more important one: wisdom. Like faith, hope, and love in St. Paul’s letter, there are three aspects to the minds, knowledge, intellect, and wisdom; and the greatest of these is wisdom.