Years and years ago, when Gary and I were designing our commitment ceremony and I was just getting to know the Unitarians at my Congregation, I handed my new friend Anne an invitation.
Me: I know we hardly know each other and we've only met a couple of times, but we are going to be best friends. And when we are best friends, you will want to have come to my wedding.
Me: See? It bodes well that you do not find me creepy.
I can be overly enthusiastic about people sometimes. I will meet people and develop oddly intense friend crushes. I don't do small talk well.
Me (two weeks ago): I can't wait to meet your new boyfriend.
Shawn Who Always Makes Good Decisions: When you do, try to ask him two socially appropriate questions before you ask anything weird.
Me: Got it. How was your trip, and what are you looking forward to at the conference. And then how was your childhood and tell me your story of coming out of the closet. That'll work.
Shawn: (Pauses while trying to formulate his response tactfully).
Me: You should learn to make that noise that Marge Simpson makes sometimes after Homer talks.
It is not my fault that I don't like small talk. And that I love people so much.
Me: (a week ago) I am so excited to be going to GA. I'm going to meet so-and-so… I LOVE so-and-so.
Gary: You've never met her. You use that word kind of easily.
Me: But she wrote the blah blah sermon and the yada yada manual. (I am being deliberately vague because of that stuff about how you shouldn't profess love to people on the internet even though GA is done now and I totally did meet her and talked with her for, like, twenty minutes).
Gary: If you've never met someone, I don't know that you can say that you love them.
Me: I can so. Like I love spaghetti.
Gary: You need more words.
(People don't usually tell me I need more words).
Thing is, this is how I learn. Some people learn by reading, and some learn by listening, and I learn by humans. I used to think it was a great weakness that I have so much trouble reading. Lately I've learned to just accept this as neither good or bad. Just different. Yes, the knowledge learned by hearing about the Cambridge Platform and then turning it into a rap to the tune of Ice Ice Baby is not as, er, historical as reading it directly... but there are also ways in which peoplearning gives you unique perspective.
Like when we used to go on those wine tasting trips, and everyone wanted to go in my car because they feel that when they are drinking, I will be a better driver than they will. I am not sure about that part, but I happily went along with it because I want to make people happy, and nobody is particularly happy being a passenger while I am driving unless they've had a lot of alcohol.
And so I would go to all these wineries and I would hear the stories, and pick the lavender, and notice the sunshine. And when we tried the wine, I would listen to the descriptions and watch the faces, and over time I got a sense of who was going to like what… because I had no sense of taste to distract me, I "learned" the wine in a whole different way… through the eyes of others.
We train Ministers with this idea that we should end up as these self sufficient, self differentiated, fully baked islands of 17 competencies… I'm not sure this is the best way to view it. After all, a recent study cited by the UUMA (UU minister people) showed that the best predictor of the success of a Ministry wasn't training, personal temperament, or situation… but was being connected with a small group of colleagues in ongoing and deep relationship.
What would it look like if there was a list of "17 connections"? What if we thought that to be a good minister (as in professional, or just as in person) you needed to have certain relationships in your life?
Someone who embodies hope and brings you back to it when you lose faith… Someone who is good at the exact opposite things from what you are good at… Someone who is not afraid, when you are way off base, to love you back into recognizing your errors… Someone who never recognizes any of your errors or weaknesses, but just adores and cheers you on… Someone who is always full of ideas that inspire and challenge you…
What if our society brought the same intensity of purpose to finding these relationships as we bring to finding people to sleep with/marry/write awful poems about?
Telling Gary everything I learned at GA, I was struck by how often I was describing people. Guy Who Is an Adult Embodiment of Sesame Street… filled with music and a kind attention and this oddly wise soft strength. Rock-Star-Dissertation woman, who embodies diving into an idea with attention and academic ferocity while maintaining a kind of groundedness that makes reading her work like listening to a story (and who routinely responded to compliments with a blank stunned look that was awesomely hilariously humble). Drum guy who leads like an earthworm, scuttling about underneath things making sure that everything is fertile and healthy and digested and ready for Good Things to spring out of the ground with enthusiasm and abandon. Parasite story woman, who felt like a tree with very deep roots… and who in every conversation spoke with a kind of intense warmth and full honesty that you rarely see paired so tightly in one person. Spiritual archeologist guy who sees reverence everywhere and is chronically confused and inconvenienced by chit-chat. Mother of Meadville, who has this soft and kind exterior and then layers of wicked hilariousness and iron determination... like mothers everywhere. Social Justice woman who infused even the simplest stories with a sense of joyous fireworks exploding – even her hands flowered with barely contained passion as she spoke. Also, the literal fireworks punctuating that conversation may have been a factor.
I will not get to know all of these people. For one thing, not everyone is amenable to "I have something to learn from you. Let's form a deep friendship. Come stay at my house." (Although I have to say, a surprising number of people have no problem at all with my approach… I think the people who are page turners for me also tend to not be easily frightened by enthusiasm).
There is an immense frustration to coming home with pockets filled with seedlings and not having enough space in my life for all the planting I want to do. Social Media is not enough for this.
Maybe that's why we so often substitute wise books for wise people. I don't think it always works.
“This discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learner’s souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is not an aid to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.”
That was Socrates. Talking about the alphabet. I agree with him. Sure there were great advantages to substituting learning-by-book for learning-from-people. But we lost something, too.
Oh, Socrates. You ain't seen (Facebook) nothin' yet.
P.S. That dissertation, which is found here, is a read-at-your-own-risk kind of thing. Because a) it will change your ideas about Unitarian Universalism (in a good way, in my opinion), and b) it can be hard on your family life. At one point, I forgot to pick up the kids because I got engrossed in wanting to find out what happened next. Another time, I was all "I can't, right now, I'm reading a dissertation" and Gary gave me that look like "do you have a brain tumour?".
Gary: You don't usually read dissertations for fun.
Me: That's because there aren't enough fun dissertations.
Seriously. Reads like a story.