Archive | Emotional/Psychological RSS feed for this section

What we see… (Part I)

14 Oct


Imagine that you live in a house with a window that looks out on the view above. I suspect, whether you would prefer oceans or mountains or woods or city scape, most of you would think this view is a pretty good one. Beautiful, in fact. As you look at it, what do you notice? The mountains in the background? The pond? The trees and expanse of green? The sunset glow? How might it make you feel to be sitting in your own house looking out at that view? Would you enjoy and take comfort from such a view?

Now let us consider some of the aspects of that landscape that might not be apparent from this window. Might there be deadly-disease-carrying mosquitoes around the pond? Ticks in the grass? Poisonous mushrooms growing under those trees? Hornets nests? Snakes? Wolves or coyotes or bears that could attack if you went out, or gobble up one of your pets? Maybe a fast-moving storm with lightning that would start a wildfire in the woods? Are any of these things likely to come immediately to mind on looking out this window?

 

If you were to say yes, those are exactly the sorts of thoughts such a view would engender, I might advise you to start looking for a good therapist. It’s true that any of those things might be in the world outside that window, in fact some of them almost certainly are, but to perceive mostly threats in a view of such calm and beauty would suggest an unhealthy level of paranoia.

Now think about the other kinds of windows in our world:  television, email, Face Book and Twitter feeds, cell phones, or even, here or there a newspaper. And think about the view they show us of the world just outside, or maybe beyond (or even very, very far beyond) our immediate surroundings. There is so much focus on the threats, whether there is anything we can do about them or not, that it’s difficult to see anything else. Statistics show levels of anxiety and depression skyrocketing in many or most of what are called “the developed” countries. If every time you looked at the scene above you could see only images of ticks and predators and wildfires, why wouldn’t you be anxious and depressed?

Some years ago I gave a talk about “Good News” at NAGC. Back then it was possible, with some persistent searching, to find compilations of positive stories from around the world, in spite of the “if it bleeds it leads” pattern of news programming. One major network in the United States (I believe it was ABC then) had newly decided to end each half hour national news program with one short positive story. Others now have taken up that policy. Most of these short positive stories actually take fewer minutes from the allotted broadcast time than a single commercial break, while before that final story, almost every other segment tells of catastrophe, violence, political struggle, warfare, medical threat, injustice, accident, mass shooting, storms, earthquakes, or other horrors. And now “the news” provided by our media, isn’t only half an hour in the evening; it’s 24/7 and very difficult to avoid.

Parents who attempt to limit their children’s exposure to this kind of news coverage are fighting a losing battle once the kids start school or get their own phones. And the brighter kids are the earlier they begin to take an interest in what goes on outside their own homes or neighborhoods. It isn’t that this is an entirely new phenomenon. When our older boys were kids, one of them came into the living room one night when we happened to be watching an old war movie. He started to tell us something and then said, “Never mind, I can tell you after the news is over.” During his whole lifetime the evening news had devoted much of its air time to the war in Vietnam.

But now it is next to impossible to escape being deluged with the worst of human experience, no matter where it is happening in the world. I remember when parents were advised to tell their children, when there was shocking news from the other side of the world, “Don’t worry, it isn’t happening here.” And I pointed out to parents then that gifted kids know that much of this isn’t happening here, but it isn’t themselves and their own families they are worried about. They worry about kids wherever they may be threatened, even on the other side of the world. And they worry about the apparent depravity of the human species, especially when that is very nearly all they “see” out the technological windows on the world.

And of course, now, they hear about every school shooting and instead of the “duck and cover” nonsense method my generation was given in school to protect ourselves from a nuclear bomb, they are given “active shooter” drills from kindergarten on. In addition, along with Greta Thunberg, they worry about the fate of the planet they are going to inherit. “Will there still be a world for me to grow up in?” many of them are asking. And it can be especially scary when they see that much of our culture goes on as if none of this were happening.

If “what you see is what you get,” we need to consider not just what we see, but how we look. It is possible to focus more attention on what is going right. We can begin the effort to see beauty and caring and the willingness to help.

Instead of focusing on how much school violence there has been, we could, for instance, use the resources of the internet to estimate how many schools there are in this country and consider how many kids, therefore, have not faced gun violence in their schools. It doesn’t diminish the tragedy of what has happened, of course, or the need for positive change—it just helps change our perspective. We’re told it is foolish to say “It can’t happen here,” but it’s also foolish to allow every child to set out for school expecting that at any moment it may happen here,

Both parents and schools can make a constant, serious, and determined effort to find and report to our kids (and show them how to go looking for) stories of the massive efforts on the part of real humans to counteract the threats that exist in the world. Focus whenever and wherever possible on the other aspects of the view through our windows. There are organizations formed to work on most of the problems we face. As Mr. Rogers’s mother told him, watch the helpers. For every story of catastrophe there are more stories (though not always as easy to find) of individuals, organizations, often massive nationwide efforts to help. Encourage kids to find ways they, too, can get involved.

Studies were done back during the Cold War when the threat of a Russian nuclear first strike made the possibility of nuclear winter and human extinction seemed very, very real, that showed children whose parents had themselves become involved in organizations working for peace were less likely to be afraid than children whose parents only watched the news and talked about it. Any actual action, no matter how small, gave their children a sense of hope and possibility. Often, now, it is kids who are pushing the adults to do something! We need to encourage that and join them when we can.

How we choose to look has a great deal to do with what we see, of course. It is not denial to change our focus to find the best in humanity, and more often than not turn off the news that focuses on the worst.

Part II of this post will come soon…

P.S. New addition: Here is one of the “good news” sources: https://www.findhorn.org/programmes/an-introduction-to-project-drawdown/

 

On Competition

6 Aug

I’m writing about this subject because recently I was given a piece of (unasked-for) advice from a very wise person. I was told that I should give up competition.”

The advice shocked me. I don’t think of myself as particularly competitive. But the advice was given so powerfully that I had to at least consider it. Yes, I try to do my best at what I do, I thought, but I’m not really particularly

When I got just that far in my mind, it came to me with genuine surprise that I’ve been competitive for as long as I can remember. My siblings were older, but I not only wanted to do everything they did, I wanted to do it better. At school I didn’t just want to get good grades as demanded by my parents. I wanted to be first in my class. As an adult I’ve defended competitiveness as a good, even necessary motivator of real effort even though in some cases, when I thought I might not be able to win I would just refuse to participate at all. Sometimes, especially among friends, I was competitive only in my head, so they wouldn’t suspect. All right, yes. Guilty as charged.

We live in a culture that supports, encourages, even demands competition. Schools give grades, create honor rolls, name valedictorians. There are spelling bees and math contests and History Day competitions. To say nothing of sports. I’ve been just as caught up in the pattern as anyone.

A few years back a family member managed to get me hooked on “America’s Got Talent,” and it stuck. I now record every episode (so as to fast-forward, because I hate commercials). As I write this post, the 2019 show is in the “Judge Cuts” part, where each week 18 acts have to be winnowed down to 7. Eleven acts get eliminated by the judges out of sight of the cameras. The remaining 7 go on to the “live show” at the end where they compete with each other for votes from the viewing audience.

This show is ALL about competition! Only one act can win, can be awarded a million dollars and a “headline show in Las Vegas.” First it is the judges who decide, but in the end, after the live show, it’s a matter of who gets the most votes from the viewing public.

Our world is full of such things—one person wins the major tennis matches, one team wins the World Cup or the World Series, or the Super Bowl. One jockey—on one horse—wins the Kentucky Derby. One person in each category wins an Academy Award, one children’s writer the Newbery. They’re seen for the moment at least, as “the best” in their field or sport. There may be runners up, the winners of the lesser version of the award—Olympic silver or bronze medal, Newbery Honor [this is the one I got]. But among truly competitive types, runner up can be felt like a kind of failure. [Just to let you know, I had that feeling only briefly!] But in America’s Got Talent there is no runner up.

And here’s the very big catch in the show’s structure. There is no way the various acts should be competing with each other at all, because who could possibly say whether a magician, a singer, a dancer, a “danger” act, a choir or group of adorable kids from an impoverished country who have managed to come together for an amazing act of some kind, is the best act of the season. The competition is between the proverbial apples and oranges.

One could say that no matter how engaging, the show is actually a competitive farce. Many of the competitors are completely brilliant at what they do, and they’ve worked very, very hard to be the best they can be. The back-story of each act is told in some cases to get the viewing audience emotionally involved with a particular person or act, because it’s a popularity contest. One reason the show is so enticing is that there is almost no way to predict which act will prove most popular, or for what reason. One of them will certainly get the enormous ‘award,’ but everyone else no matter how talented, how hard-working, how determined, and how accomplished will be a “loser,” (except, of course, for the publicity value of having been on the show.)

How does this relate to the gifted? In recent years a group of educators and theorists who think of themselves as gifted specialists have made the claim that the goal of gifted education should be to create “eminence.” That feels very like suggesting that the goal of anyone supporting or coaching a talent act should be not merely helping the performers develop their talent, but creating the AGT winner. Becoming “eminent” in any given field is in significant ways like winning AGT. It depends on many factors that cannot be guaranteed by excellence alone. Indeed, the effort and determination to be “the best,” can also lead a person down any of a variety of highly questionable paths. One has only to check on the number of retracted scientific journal articles to see the pitfalls of intellectual competition.

What life lessons might be involved in assessing one’s inner level of competitiveness? It can help us see how we feel about ourselves and others, how we choose friends, make critical life choices, how we feel about our accomplishments or lack thereof. And also how we judge—or treat—other people.

It is enormously difficult not to be competitive in our culture. But once we start thinking about it there are great benefits from trying to walk away from competition. It allows us to see ourselves, our friends, family, coworkers and even enemies as individuals who are, like the acts in AGT, unique. When we take competition out of the mix, it can help us stay balanced and begin to see more clearly what each individual may have to offer. Sometimes a “winner” is just that—a person who happened at one particular moment, to win—perhaps but not necessarily, a better, more worthy, or more admirable person. And it can be wonderfully freeing to judge our own intentions and efforts instead of solely our accomplishments.

No matter how old you are, or how young, there has never been another you in the world and there never will be. You are the one and only you, now or ever. So there really is no competition, except with yourself. Once you let go of the idea that someone could beat you at being you, you become free to decide for yourself how best to go about being who you want to be. You will almost certainly disappoint yourself sometimes, as we all do, but you can then choose a way to move on from that. Because nobody else can get there at all!

It comes down to the quotation that I have used for years at the end of nearly every speech I give—a quotation I’ve been seeing in a new light ever since that wise being told me—talking directly to me, specifically—to “give up competition.”

Here’s the quote: You are not accidental. Existence needs you. Without you something will be missing in existence and nobody can replace it.

Our culture doesn’t support that idea very well, but for yourself and for your kids, for all of us, it could be the key to the greatest reward of all—a truly authentic, and meaningful life.

 

Busting the Myth That Matters Most

19 May

                          Doomed?

 

The theme of the New Zealand Blog tour is “Mythbusting.”

Humans are the storytelling species, not just telling stories, but often, then, living by them. Some of these “stories to live by” become enshrined in a culture as Myths, defined as “accounts of gods or superhuman beings involved in extraordinary events or circumstances in a time existing apart from ordinary human experience.” Those myths can be of real value. But when we live by the other kind, defined as “widely held, but false beliefs or ideas,” they can do great damage to ourselves and others.

For nearly 100 years those of us interested in giftedness, and especially education of gifted children, have been doing our best to counter—bust—the sorts of harmful myths that surround giftedness. They are legion: “Early ripe, early rot.” “All children are gifted.” “Gifted children are so smart they don’t need help.” “Gifted kids may start out ahead, but others eventually catch up.” “Giftedness is measured solely by achievement.” “Giftedness is created by schools.” “Giftedness is not innate—it is nothing more than a matter of grit and determination.”

I’ll stop there, though anyone reading this can probably supply plenty of others. Now here’s the thing:  there’s a massive supply of evidence disproving them! We’ve been collecting and pointing to that evidence decade after decade.

And yet the myths persist. Not only do they persist, but education (certainly in the USA and perhaps elsewhere as well) is quite literally going the other direction, using many of those myths to justify backing away from actually meeting the needs of gifted children. For that matter, even a few of those who are considered gifted “experts” have created some myths that serve their own purposes instead of the children.

So I want to offer an idea that is bound to be controversial. The basic principle I wish to point out is that literally the only myth we can successfully “bust” is one that we harbor in ourselves. You may protest that we (especially we who are parents and/or gifted ourselves) have truths, not myths. But our truths, too, are stories, and some of them may not be helping our kids or even ourselves.

I would like to suggest that the single most harmful story we may tell is that for a gifted child to “succeed” in life, to live up to, develop, and fulfill his or her potential, the environment around that child has to change. In that story the world’s myths must be busted and the “right” sort of education must be provided to meet the child’s particular needs. Because, we say, those needs are real, and if not met will result not only in pain and misery, but the loss to the world of that child’s unique gifts.

That, in fact, was the myth that drove my own efforts to give my son the very most appropriate education I could find or force or pay for. (That last was tricky, given my husband’s and my professions in the arts.) There were both successes and setbacks along the way, but they didn’t change my quest, until my son took over the direction of his life, and set off on his own.

Please understand that I am not–repeat not–advocating that we who live or work with the gifted do nothing! Those of us who care and hope for change, should and will continue to work for better educational options.

What I am advocating is changing perspective on the story we tell–the “myth” we tell ourselves and directly or indirectly, our gifted kids. It’s a small change but has a huge meaning and impact. Difficult circumstances, inappropriate educational opportunities, unfairness and prejudice are not insurmountable obstacles. In fact, sometimes they can be exactly the opposite, spurring increased effort and unstoppable determination. The gifted human mind is a powerful force.

Throughout history many gifted humans have overcome almost unbelievable challenges and have found ways to use their innate gifts and talents no matter their surroundings and the setbacks or enemies they have encountered. Sometimes they’ve brought the world great and recognizable achievements. In the slide show accompanying one of my talks I have an image of Nelson Mandela looking out the barred window of his prison cell. I captioned it “How do you cage a mind?”

Many of those who, like Mandela, have managed to overcome the forces ranged against them, have “merely” been able to live fulfilled lives, lives that have benefited themselves and those nearest to them. The whole world might not know their names, but how they have lived has made a difference. Some have become genuine heroes, however unsung.

The change of perspective I’m suggesting requires us to examine our own stories to erase any aura of victimhood in them. We need to find for ourselves a way to trust that the story of an unusual, powerful, extraordinary mind is, in fact, the story of a powerful gift, no matter what the rest of the world has to say about it. It is not a gift to flaunt, but to be truly, deeply grateful for. That is a true story we can tell both ourselves and the kids we live and work with—such a mind has the capacity to rise to whatever challenge it faces. And yes, it is also true that it’s highly likely to require some serious grit and determination!

 

On Authenticity

7 Aug

A while back I titled a blog post Deep and Deeper and my last post, Who Are We?, led me to return to the intention that motivated that earlier post. Death (along with individual identity) is certainly a subject that can be described as deep or yet deeper. So deep is the subject of death, in fact, that many, perhaps most people in our culture, do their best to avoid talking or even thinking about it altogether.

Back in 1992, when the five women who began the Columbus Group, gathered at my house in Columbus, Ohio to try to come up with a different definition of giftedness than was currently in vogue (a definition centered on academic achievement) one of the very first examples of the qualitative difference between highly or profoundly gifted children and other children of their age [the difference we would soon name Asynchronous Development], was the case of Jennie–and death. Four year old Jennie was traumatized when her grandfather died. Extrapolating a principle from one subject or event to another, as profoundly gifted children tend to begin doing even as toddlers, she began to worry that her mother or father might die as well. Her mother, doing her best to comfort this very little girl, told her that she didn’t need to worry. They were not going to die, she assured Jennie. “Grandpa died because he was old. I’m not old. Your father isn’t old.” Jennie was not in the least comforted by this story. She watched the news on television, after all. “Other people die,” she said. “Even children die!”

The problems very young children have with asynchronous development is that their minds outdistance their emotional maturity, so the simple cushioning stories that adults often give young children to soften the impact of painful truths don’t work well with them. Not only do such stories not provide the cushioning the children need, the stories’ simple platitudes, so obviously untrue, are likely to be taken as adult dishonesty. Jennie had not long been identified as profoundly gifted, and her mother didn’t yet realize that she needed to deal with such issues as the inevitability of death on a much more adult level with Jennie than she had expected.

The deep and deeper human issues need to be addressed with super bright kids both more honestly and earlier than we might be prepared for. Examples of these issues—our inhumanity to each other and other life forms, our predilection for violence and warfare, our failure to protect the planet that is our only home—the list is long and more and more “in our faces” these days. Which means, of course, that we have to face these issues ourselves on a deep enough level to address them honestly from our own perspective when we talk to these children (or even when they’re within earshot). As Stephen Sondheim reminds us in a song from “Into the Woods,” Children will listen!

Many of us got our first stories about such issues from the religions of our parents or grandparents or our ethnic culture. Or from other kids, or science text books or the “mass media.” Often, as we grow up, whatever we were told from whatever source, begins to feel wrong or untrue. For myself, I long ago rejected the version of reality that was provided by my religious education—some of what was labeled wrong no longer seemed wrong to me, and what was right sometimes had begun to seem distinctly the opposite. Even worse than the loss of religious certainties in some ways, was the realization that what I had learned in school as undisputed fact (history, for instance, or even science) had too often been either purposely distorted to support a kind of cultural propaganda, or just an error that had continued to be taught even after it had been superseded or at least challenged by new information and new theories.

For myself, various “truths” began to disintegrate when my own personal experiences contradicted them. As a fiction writer, I had always intended to write “realistic fiction,” until the line between imagination and reality or between what could be and what really was could no longer be firmly drawn. There were things I experienced that I didn’t talk about in public because, except when I was talking to children, my audiences didn’t seem to me ready to hear what I would have said.

But when I was speaking to an adult audience dealing with kids at the far right tail of the curve, where unusual experiences become more common, I began to stretch the boundaries a bit. Back in the days of the Hollingworth Conference for the Highly Gifted, I explained in a keynote, for instance, that becoming a Reiki practitioner—I wasn’t yet a Reiki Master, able to teach the method to others—had ended my problem with seasonal allergies. (Reiki is an energy healing modality that originated in Japan.) All these years later, I still don’t have those allergies! One year someone wrote on a conference evaluation form that I was “too far out.” (The next year I titled my keynote “On Being Too Far Out.”)

I had, of course, found those “far out” things well-supported in books written by leading edge scientists, some of whom I knew personally, though the ideas hadn’t yet shown up in school text books. What had once been labeled “New Age” and outside the realm of rationality, began to fill the shelves at book stores even before the internet had made them readily accessible to anyone with an interest. I still find it odd that after nearly 100 years of challenging the certainties of material science and Newtonian physics, quantum physics is apparently still not a standard offering in most high schools.

Between 1992 and today, my thinking about “deep and deeper” has moved from the need to be willing to honestly talk to super gifted kids about the difficult emotional issues of human life, to being willing to honestly address questions of consciousness, reality, values and spirituality (which may or may not include religion) with them. The most important word in that sentence is “honestly.” About these issues there are seldom certainties for us other than personal experience. Being honest with them, of course, means admitting that there is “mystery” involved—as with the orbs (mysterious and sometimes colored “balls of light” often with internal mandala patterns) that show up all over the place in photographs taken both indoors and outside at Camp Yunasa—so in talking to campers about them I make no effort to explain the phenomenon. This tends to drive the campers a little crazy. All I can say is that none of the “standard explanations” involving dust particles, moisture, or the closeness of lens to flash in digital cameras, explain them either. During my “orb slide show” last year kids got out their cameras and began taking photos and sure enough, a few orbs showed up at first, and the more photos they took the more orbs appeared. Photo above taken as two of Yunasa’s Fellows walk back to our bunks after Spirit Journey–August, 2017.

 

I don’t usually write—or talk—to persuade people any more (though I used to, for sure). I write to share my thoughts, and usually some of the reasons I think them—especially when they aren’t mainstream, or not mainstream in the gifted realm. Ernest Holmes, author of Science of Mind, said, “The child-like mind is more receptive to Truth than the over intellectual.” He suggests this, I think, because children tend to be more open to mystery than those of us proud of our very good intellects. We tend to have minds stuffed with facts we’ve learned and beliefs that we think of as true, but Ernest is after something larger (and deeper), something (Truth) that he dares to capitalize without defining. And since one of his principles was always to “stay open at the top,” I’m pretty sure he would have said that Truth for us changes as we and our perceptions change. And change we humans do, if we allow it.

When I started The Deep End Facebook page  back when I was new to social media, I hoped the page would encourage discussions of some of the nonrational capacities and experiences of the highly gifted that are quite common among this population (which those of us with long experience know, even though many parents are hesitant to talk about them, for fear of disbelief or ridicule). As soon as such discussions began on that page, however, some folks who limit their ideas about consciousness to the purely rational, and apparently about science to the purely material, launched attacks that closed those beginning discussions down. It can be psychologically dangerous to talk about nonrational experiences among hyper-rational gifted folk all too poised to attack. So okay, this is a blog instead, and I write it. I get to choose what I write about.

After I posted “Who Are We?” I heard from some folks that they appreciated my honesty. Maybe it’s because I’ve been in this “gifted biz” for a long time, or more likely it’s because I believe what Anita Moorjani (author of Dying to Be Me, a book about her amazing Near Death Experience) says about the need to be one’s essential self. It is that need that led me to share with Yunasa campers last year (my final year with the camp) the “evidence” I have that there is life after death. There, too, I didn’t ask them to share my interpretation of that evidence. They have to make up their own minds, as do we all. But unless we share what is deep and deeper in our own lives and experience, how will openings to new perceptions and awareness come about?

For me, it is easier to talk about death these days now that I am totally convinced by my own experiences and some astonishing evidence that it is illusion—transformation not ending. But I don’t try to convince people. I believe that honesty and authenticity have real and lasting value, no matter how others respond. (Also, I’m old enough not to care so much what people think of me as I used to.) But I must also add here that while taking the fear of death out of the picture is astonishingly liberating, it does not save us from the grief of such loss. Believe me, I know.

TolanMemorial 16

Tolan Memorial 2013

Who Are We?

2 Aug

Tomorrow is the one week anniversary of a sudden and unexpected death that has rocked the gifted community and has brought a deluge of memorial messages that the writers surely hope will assuage their own shock and grief, and comfort both Jim Webb’s family and all those who have benefited over the last 37 years from the work that he (and SENG) did to bring attention to the needs of gifted children and families. In addition, of course, there is the plethora of books that he published in the field, from the first days of Ohio Psychological Publishing (initial publisher—1982—of Guiding the Gifted Child) to the era of Great Potential Press.

As I have read those messages, I have been aware that the Jim Webb those writers describe is not the Jim Webb I met in 1981, nor the Jim Webb I knew during the approximately 20 years thereafter during which he and I and Elizabeth (Betty) Meckstroth discussed and sometimes attempted to write a second edition of Guiding. We never managed it because it turned out that she and I, by then both members of the Columbus Group, no longer were in agreement with what he wanted to say about giftedness. (When I was doing the writing part of Guiding, I found in his notes the statement that a gifted child was a child first and “gifted only secondarily.” so I called him up and explained that Betty and I did not agree with that statement. He acquiesced. The book’s theme became pretty much the opposite—giftedness, certainly extreme giftedness, is inborn.) Because our Guiding contract did not allow Jim to engage someone else to write the revision, the three of us finally gave up on revising it. After that his and my interactions dwindled to social events at various conferences, so I didn’t know him at all well in recent years.

But because I am among those in the gifted community who knew him “almost from the start,” I have been contacted to share for publication my thoughts about him and my feelings about his passing. I decided to write here instead. Of course, I was as shocked as anyone that he should leave the world so suddenly and so “young.” He was only 3 years older than I, so we are of the same “cohort” as it were. Too young, in other words! And I’m as aware as anyone of the enormous impact his work—his speaking and publishing, and the work of SENG—have had on the world’s understanding that the complex population of gifted kids, adults, elders and educators is of vital importance to humanity. I did post a couple of comments on the FB pages of others.

But the requests for comments, and the reading of what others have been posting in social media, got me to asking “who are we?”– we individual humans. The profile photo on my own personal Facebook page is not one anyone except my family would recognize as me—I was a blond, pigtailed child of eight at the time it was taken. Who I was then was an “annoying” kid (according to some of my teachers—and maybe my parents, and probably my older siblings). There was no such thing as a gifted, much less a highly gifted kid in my world at the time.

Back in the 70’s when Jane Piirto did her study of successful women writers, of which I was one by her study’s standards, as I was in the Directory of American Poets, and worked in the Poets in the Schools program, I actually claimed (because I believed) that I had “loved school.” I got good grades, after all. (psst: it’s called repression.)

It wasn’t until the conference in Nebraska to honor Leta Hollingworth (in 1989, seven years after the publication of Guiding!), when I heard Leta’s poem “The Lone Pine” in a documentary, that I confronted the very new truth that I had been a highly gifted child who loathed and despised school except for a very occasional teacher. (I think there were 5 or 6 between Kindergarten and college.) I could add that my teachers did not like me either, to put it sometimes mildly. I literally cried the whole second leg (Chicago to Albany) of my flight home from Nebraska and then wrote obsessively for six hours afterwards, uncovering a veritable dump truck load of painful memories. So it’s a tricky question.  Who was I before and after that conference?

I wrote a great deal about parenting gifted kids before I ever knew I had been one—though my husband’s extreme giftedness had been unmasked when our son was identified. My mother-in-law explained the shocking truth that the one year of elementary school he remembered—when he got to ride a trolley to a special school (a school he thought was for “difficult” kids) was actually a pilot program for the highly gifted. I remember all too well his horror that he hadn’t accomplished more as an adult—he was “only” a theatre director with a Ph.D. after all. Who was he before and after?

I interacted with Jim regularly for years. When SENG conferences began I spoke at them. But when a friend of mine who headed a national organization that had financially supported one of them took me to dinner at the conference and asked me about stories he had heard from other speakers about Jim lowering contracted speaker fees at the last minute with a threat to take them off the schedule if they didn’t sign the new contract, I told him that it hadn’t bothered me because I had just corrected the amount on the contract to the amount I’d been promised, initialed it, and signed. He asked me further questions, and I answered truthfully with whatever facts I knew. The organization never again supported SENG and I was never again asked to speak at Jim’s conferences.

I was born in 1942 and grew up in a world where most women stayed at home and few professions were open even to bright and accomplished women. And I spent some time (5 years) in higher education, where my male office mate, with precisely the same credentials as mine, made one fifth more than I in salary. I wasn’t happy about it, but it was “the way things were.” There was a huge power imbalance in our world, we knew it, and we pretty much put up with it. When Jim promoted Guiding as his book, Betty and I used to call each other “Et” and “Al,” which was the most common representation (when we got any) of our participation. Once I even saw myself listed as the author only of the “Open Letter” chapter, https://welcometothedeepend.com/an-open-letter-updated/ which I had copyrighted in my name so that I could use it elsewhere, as above and in Out of Sync https://www.rfwp.com/book/out-of-sync-essays-on-giftedness. But I long ago forgave him. The book gave me my work with the gifted, for which I am enduringly grateful.

In this era of “#Me, too” I’ve sometimes been bothered when men who have had long and successful careers, sometimes doing important work for the common good, can essentially lose everything when it is revealed that they previously used their power in ways that are now recognized as inappropriate, sometimes decades ago, at a time when the whole culture turned a blind eye to their behavior. Except for actual crimes (and even some crimes have statutes of limitation) I wonder, in spite of those who want to insist on truth, whether it is just or fair to judge a person for “who they were then,” when it is at least possible and maybe probable that they are not that person any more. I know, the culture needs to truly change, but still…

In the many comments I have read about Jim’s kindness, his caring, his deep friendships and unstinting emotional support, I recognize that these people, many of them friends and colleagues, knew a more recent and very different person than I ever did. I honor their experiences because it is very, very easy for me to remember myself treating other people when I was younger in a way that would pretty much horrify me now. I would not wish to be thought of as that person today! In a world where caring and kindness, inclusion, deep listening, and efforts to understand those who disagree with us or have less power than we do are getting vanishingly rare, and desperately needed, I remind myself that we never, genuinely never, fully know someone, perhaps even ourselves, the only one whose mind we inhabit. So today I mourn the Jim Webb those people are mourning.

And having survived some terrible losses myself, I send deep and heartfelt condolences to Janet and his family!

 

Celebrate Giftedness; Consider Success

18 May

New Zealand is choosing to celebrate giftedness in its annual Gifted Awareness Blog Tour, with the theme “Catalysts of Success.” So let me first celebrate celebration—remember this song? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GwjfUFyY6M

Unusual intelligence can feel like more of a burden than a gift, but it’s all in how we choose to see it. We who are gifted and we who care for and work with gifted kids, have a very great deal to be grateful for and it is really important for our own well-being to remember that. The song in the above link says “celebrate good times,” and what many people don’t realize is how very important it is to first notice, and then celebrate the good times. If we focus always on what is not working and our ferocious (and admittedly sometimes unsuccessful) efforts to get those things “fixed,” we can get into the habit of seeing only negatives—only bad times—and ignoring or taking for granted the good ones. It is hugely important to recognize and remember that giftedness itself provides us with vast and out-of-the-ordinary internal resources. Celebration is a truly important positive attitude. And a positive attitude not only leads to success, but can become itself the very definition of success.

So that brings me to the theme:  “catalysts of success.” The first essential for me here is to define success. There are plenty of people who define it in terms of achievement, usually achievement in terms of money, power and fame. I would never suggest that money, power and fame are not worth having, but I do suggest that they are not the definition of success. When I began writing (and publishing) novels and they did not immediately shoot to the top of the best seller lists, did not get lucrative movie deals, in fact did not make me a living that could even measure up to the salary of a first year teacher almost anywhere in the states, it would never have occurred to me to consider the fact that I was able to write them (writing was, after all, what I had wanted to do since childhood) as success. More than that, publishers were willing to publish them, and children and young adults were reading them and writing letters to tell me so. However tricky it was to raise a family on the modest income provided by two adult human beings “doing art” in the U.S., my husband and I were both doing what we loved most to do. When I look back on those times, I wish I had understood then how important gratitude and celebration were. And how grateful we both should have been, no matter the difficulties, that we were “gifted” with the ability and the opportunity to do what we loved, what fed our souls.

Now for the definition of “catalyst”:  An agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action. We all know that things are not ideal for gifted kids in the educational world no matter what country or continent we represent, so since change is inevitable, we can be certain that “significant change” in a positive direction is always to be desired. Whether you are one of the gifted population, a teacher, a parent, an administrator—any or all of the above—I could suggest a whole list of catalysts you can cultivate to help provoke and/or speed significant change. Effort, determination, purpose, intentions, goals, preparation, willingness, persistence. I am sure you can add a few more of your own. But for me (some of you may remember an article of mine called “In Praise of Pollyanna,” which can be found in my book “Out of Sync”: https://www.rfwp.com/book/out-of-sync-essays-on-giftedness ) Pollyanna’s focus on looking for things that made her glad is worth adopting. The single most important catalyst is gratitude. Well—that and celebration!

 

Deep and Deeper

13 Apr

“All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. This we know: Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself.”–Chief Seattle

“When we try to pick out something by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”–John Muir

It has been an absurdly long time since I wrote something for this blog. But today it’s time. Last month I did a workshop for the Caroline D. Bradley Scholarship program’s annual seminar, sponsored by IEA, the Institute for Educational Advancement. The theme of this year’s seminar was “Intersections” and my workshop was titled “From Indra’s Net to the Internet: Intersections, Reality and Consciousness.”

To prepare for the seminar it was suggested that the attendees watch this TED Talk about “multipotentialites”:

https://www.ted.com/talks/emilie_wapnick_why_some_of_us_don_t_have_one_true_callingIf you don’t have time to watch the talk (though I highly recommend it), let me explain that Wapnick uses the term multipotentialite to describe a person who can’t relate to the idea of finding “one true calling.” If they commit to a job or a subject matter, as soon as they have learned or mastered it they need to move on to something else; there are always lots of other paths (interests) pulling them to explore. Many of “our kids” will recognize themselves in this talk.

Watching it, I realized that I am an “elder multipotentialite.” My 6th grade teacher told my mother that I would never amount to anything because I was interested in “too many things.” Miss Shreve deeply believed in the saying “Jack of all trades, master of none.” She was not, you may be sure, one of my favorite teachers! I am lucky, though. I’ve managed to have the best of both worlds. I do have one true calling, but it is writing, a calling so broad and varied that there is no limit to my ability to follow it for a lifetime and yet avoid boredom.

Most of you who read this blog came to it because you share, for your own reasons, my personal passion for serving the needs of super bright kids and adults. This blog and much of the rest of my nonfiction, along with much of my public speaking, has been about extraordinary intelligence, and what I’ve written and talked about on this subject is best known in the gifted community.

But many of you also know some of my fiction for kids and young adults. Certainly Welcome to the Ark and Flight of the Raven, along with my much earlier novel A Time to Fly Free, are specifically related to highly gifted individuals, but I write other kinds of children’s books as well. And my plays, most of them written in collaboration with Katherine Paterson—author, among many other award-winning novels, of Bridge to Terabithia—are meant to appeal to a broad audience of kids.

Most recently my interests and my life experience (some of which I’ve written about here) have led (or pushed) me in a new direction, the first book from that path being my book Change Your Story, Change Your Life. Some of you may have found it through my websites http://www.stephanietolan.com or www.storyhealer.com.

I expect more nonfiction writing will come from the spiritual perspective that the losses in my life forced me to discover and that the current chaos in the world we all share continues to test and expand.

The theme and title of this blog refer to the metaphorical “deep end” environment that mermaids (unable to survive long on dry land) need to survive longterm. But since I created the blog, the term has taken on a new meaning for me—has become, if you will, even deeper. I will not lose interest in the subject that led me to begin it (how could one get bored in the realm of the gifted mind—as broad a territory as writing itself?) but the new depths that interest me may not appeal to everyone. The title of my CDB workshop refers to both the mystical image of Indra’s net and the material world reality of the internet, two very different ways of perceiving intersections, the connectedness of all things. What I will be doing here in future is exploring both kinds of “deep.”

And meanwhile I’ve begun the intense work of writing the third book of the “Ark Trilogy,” Within the Dark. Because, of course, fiction is a fundamental part of my “one true calling.”