by Stefanie Whitney
I am one of them.
And, the list goes on...
I’m only getting started, but for the sake of time and my increasing anxiety, I will stop for now.
If this list is all you know about me, then you have likely formed judgments, perhaps even drawn conclusions that all point to: I am or I am not “your kind of people”. Yet, I hope curiosity will encourage you to learn more.
As one of “them”, I have also found myself hustling to find my “us.”
In so many ways and to so many people, I am one of “them.”
And for the longest time, I have hustled to show the “us’s” that I’m one of the good “them’s.”
I am hustling to be one of the good ones.
Focusing on the hustle.
Martha Beck believes that “Integrity is the cure for unhappiness.” I’m currently reading The Way of Integrity by Beck, and she explores the concept of hustling. Brene Brown deserves credit as the first to help me reflect on my own hustle, and Beck manages to take my self-reflection to another level.
“Humans create elaborate cultures because we are intensely social beings, dependent on the goodwill of others from the moment we’re born. We also have an enormous capacity to absorb and replicate the behavior of people around us. From childhood, often without even noticing it, we learn exactly how to win approval and belonging in our particular cultural context…. In this rush to conform, we often end up overruling our genuine feelings–even intense ones…to please our cultures. The extent to which people will defy nature to serve culture can be truly horrifying.”
Literal and figurative battle lines are drawn because of people serving a culture–and, as Beck uncovers, often battle lines built not on our integrity but on our desire to fit in, to belong.
This quest to belong can be as catastrophic as a world war or as seemingly innocuous as cheering for your favorite hockey team. Seemingly is appropriate here because I cannot be the only one who has observed cheering turn into leering, then smearing, and finally–something much more sinister.
So–about our personal hustles. My personal understanding of both Brown’s and Beck’s explanations of the “hustle” is to do whatever it takes to be accepted into a culture of people, often at the expense of our own internal nature, or value systems. The definition is easy to accept. However, the extent to which we can get lost in the hustle is much harder to actualize, which is why Beck’s request of readers at the end of chapter two “admit–just to yourself–that some of your actions are designed to impress or fit in with other people” shriveled up my soul like a raisin.
"Us" vs. "Them": a living history
As a former member of the “not a math person” team, I feel a bit proud of my observation that division seems to be the most popular of the mathematical operations (I also feel flummoxed, sometimes defeated, and always overwhelmed by this reality). I’m not sure if test scores or climate surveys quantify this, but observational data suggests we have been and continue to be really good at division in this profession, in this state, in this country, in this world.
Continue ad nauseam.
Choosing to be an outsider
I know I am most motivated by curiosity and compassion for humans, animals, and the occasional inanimate object. Because of curiosity and compassion, I believe that crossing over to hang with “thems”, while initially unsettling, almost always ends in a feeling of warmth in my insides and a smile that is hard to wipe from my face.
There are rare moments when this type of rendezvous doesn’t result in blossoming warmth and shared smiles. Upon reflection, I realize in many of these failed moments that I was/am hustling–trying to cajole, convince, fit in, or defend myself–often through evasive jokes, ducking and weaving, and the occasional speed talking. I leave these conversations frustrated, short of breath, and filled with the sinking dread that my position as a “them” has been solidified.
In the spirit of selective attention, I’m struck by just how often even those with the best of intentions manage to divide us. Take this recent quote by Adam Grant:
“In cultures of arrogance, people get rewarded for expressing certainty and conviction. The most confident speaker claims the most status. In cultures of humility, people are applauded for admitting ignorance and asking questions. The most complex thinker earns the most respect.”
My initial reaction: “Yeah. See? It is them, not us.”
But I have been an active member of both cultures. I know where I feel most myself and how I show up among folk who inspire me rather than how I show up when inclined to bring my hustle. I prefer a culture of humility, but I need to frequently pause and consider how I am contributing and upholding this culture rather than perpetuating a culture where hustle and arrogance are the play calls.
Grant brings up an example that does not have to be about division. If I accept my role in the situation and choose to avoid deflection and blame, then I understand he is talking about being human—choosing arrogance or humility. We have choices. Timshel.
And while both of these things can be simultaneously true, what is more important is that I stop trying to convince anyone else of this reality and simply know my own truth.
Going forward, I am reminded that at the first sign of battle lines being drawn an opportunity exists to calmly step over the divide and ask questions. Listen and seek to understand. Fight the instinct to grab my ruler and Sharpie (it’s taking everything in me to not make a hurricane path reference here).
When we are in places where lines of division are being drawn, rather than choosing sides, I strive to be an outsider who starts asking more questions. (In this regard: I have been known, on rare occasions, to weaponize questions--sorry Socrates—so I find it helpful to check my tone of voice and know my authentic intent of asking before boldly striving for that outsider status.)
“Us vs. Them” only exists if we let it. We are the perpetrators of division and discord. We can either pick up the golden apple, pull out a sharp knife, and argue over who gets rewarded, or we can peel the superficial skin off to reveal the parts underneath where common ground exists. (Too much? Did that allusion get out of hand? Probably. Some will like it; some won’t. Oops, I did it again. Gah. Free Britney. Opportunities for division are everywhere.)
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