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You Gotta Ask

On being seen, the difficulty of noticing, and asking for it.

Hi! This week I've got a great track for you. It's Clark - Harpsichord E.C.S.T., a truly stunning, dramatic track.

So! Two weeks ago I became a Software Engineering Manager at a fancy new job at a fancy new company. Besides experiencing some of the worst imposter syndrome I've had in years (and wishing I were taller, for some reason), I've been engaging fully with reading management and software development methodology texts, one of which is the O'Reilly book Learning Agile.

In a passage about fractured perspectives when gathering requirements for software projects, I was struck by the eloquence of this image:

This morning I woke up thinking about being seen. In my most infantile moments (of which there are many), I find myself wishing that there were someone who possessed both the insight to see into my very self, the type of person that I am, and the inclination to reach out, hold me, communicate with me, and tell me that they see me. (Let's be real: it's a she, and then we make perfect, flawless, definitely-possible love.)

The thing is, such a person might exist. However, they're probably off somewhere else, living their life and maybe wishing that someone was seeing them that way, too. In the meantime, we're stuck with the people we're surrounded by, who will just have to do.

My contemplation, as it moved to the shower, was that to even be seen by someone for who you truly are is a rarity in today's day and age, let alone the subsequent communication and unattainable sexual expectations that you might hope follow. The age we live in simply does not allow the slowness that contemplation required for witnessing to anyone who does not doggedly and purposefully pursue it. So much flies at us all the time that to slow down and notice someone who is only halfheartedly hoping to be noticed or pretending not to care or need about need and care is simply an unreasonable ask.

If there's one thing relationships have taught me is that even in the close proximity of someone who is supposed to see and understand you better than most (according to whom, though?), it's possible to use the exact same words and mean things that are loaded with orthogonal values, intentions, and understanding. If we think about the diversity of astrological placements (or OCEAN model scores, or MBTI types, or just all the different types of people you know), the chances of finding someone who perfectly, immediately, intuitively grasps the hidden meaning and polarity of the things we are saying (or not saying) is extremely unlikely. Add to this the fact that attention spans and listening skills are at an all time low, that we are trained to be unconsciously self-conscious, self-concerned, and self-ish, and we have a difficulty.

This is not a good time to leave things unsaid, which can be challenging for those of us who tend to keep things hidden or perhaps, tragically, think that they are being as obvious as they can be. I've been thinking of asking my friends: am I hard to read? Of course, what I mean by this question (and note here that I think of asking it, not actually asking it), is: do you think that people can see me? Is my spirit and nature evident from the way I present myself? Does my mask match my face? Does my light match the shadow it presumes to cast?

While I believe pursuing the alignment of our outer self to our inner self may be a noble goal, the questions have a flawed presumption. It's far more likely that as a rule, it is hard to be seen because it is hard to see beyond ourselves and our thoughts, our needs--those ghosts which accompany us every moment of our lives. Only a few very special people will ever instantly see us for who we are in totality (if such a thing is even possible), and maybe that still doesn't make for such great companionship. Instead, these realities demand that we ask for ourselves what we want and what we need. They also demand that we figure out what exactly we want from other people, which I'm not even sure I know what I want half the time (besides complete and total spiritual and sexual ecstasy, of course).

It's not enough to expect to know what you want and give it to you. If you really want it, you gotta ask. (And if you don't know how to ask, you can always start a technology newsletter and suddenly veer left into deeply personal, pseudopsychoanalytical territory.)

I'll leave you with a quote I enjoy from a great book, On Balance, by Adam Phillips:

"It is not unusual for us to feel that life is too much for us. And it is not unusual to feel that we really should be up to it; that there may be too much to cope with — too many demands — but that we should have the wherewithal to deal with it. Faced with the stresses and strains of everyday life it is easy now for people to feel that they are failing; and what they are failing at, one way or another, is managing the ordinary excesses that we are all beset by: too much frustration, too much bad feeling, too little love, too little success, and so on. One of the things people most frequently say in psychoanalysis is, 'Perhaps I am overreacting, but . . .'; and one of the commonest complaints today is about feeling too much or feeling too little. I want to suggest that we are simply too much for ourselves, but that this too-muchness is telling us something important… My proposition is that it is impossible to overreact. That when we call our reactions overreactions what we mean is just that they are stronger than we would like them to be. In other words, we sometimes call ourselves and other people excessive as a way of invalidating or tempering the truths we tell ourselves or that other people tell us. It is impossible to overreact."

(Also, here's a really cool, well-designed interacticle about the surveillance program in China. I recommend checking it out on your phone.)