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I’m not a Christian but I do have a fondness for some of the parables I heard as a child. They nudge us out of complacency with their simple statements of natural truth.

The parable of the sower has particular relevance for gifted adults because it highlights the vital – as in genuinely life-maintaining – importance of our environment.

A picture of a messy room offering no spiritual sustenance

"Then you ask why I don't live here? Honey, how come you don't move?" Bob Dylan "On the road again"

Gifted individuals have a great capacity for the state of what I call “easy survival” but we can find it very hard to thrive in a way that gives us a complete sense of fulfillment.

We typically blame ourselves for this. However, it is not necessarily due to our shortcomings as humans but may simply arise from the lack of resources around us.

Here’s the parable, via Wikipedia:

“Behold, there went out a sower to sow:

And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up.

And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.

And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.

And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some a hundred.

And he said unto them, He that has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Isn’t that beautiful? “And some fell upon good ground, and did yield fruit . . . ”

Yielding your own precious fruit

Compared to us, a seed is a relatively simple life form. It may have a spirit but its resources for life fulfillment are basically limited by the skill of the sower.

Gifted tenor Luciano Pavarotti is a perfect example of how anatomy is destiny.

Anatomy is destiny

We, however, are a different kettle of fish. We have all kinds of resources so that even if our sowers were less than mediocre, we have some capacity for improving the soil we landed on and also for moving to “good ground”.

This capacity is not absolute. We are constrained by the facts of our birth – Freud’s declaration that “Anatomy is destiny” is a valid rule of thumb – and determining what constitutes “good ground” is a massive challenge in itself.


The challenge of finding the right environment is hugely complicated by our existence as biopsychospiritual entities. It means that a diet of phosphates, sun and water are hopelessly inadequate to our needs. To thrive, we must have access to at least three categories of ‘nutrient’ within our surroundings: physical, intellectual and emotional sustenance.

We could add a spiritual dimension to that. However, it seems to me that our connection to the universe is with us wherever we go so it’s not significant for this discussion of a more material ‘ground’.

In addition to needing three categories of nutrient we also, compared to the rest of the animal kingdom, place massive demands on our nutritional resources.

Again, the more gifted we are, the more demand we place on the available nutrients. Just as gifted athletes require more than average food, training facilities, time and sponsorship to thrive, so those gifted in other ways make their own special demands on their surroundings.

Virtually there

The complexity of the world wide web may offer gifted adults opportunity or may ensnare them in complacency.

A worldwide web of enrichment or deception?

A major question lies open for me, having to do with the Internet and access to the world wide web. It can make an otherwise empty life seem tolerable and offers many rewarding paths lined with the kinds of ‘berries’ that gifted adults seek and feed off on their explorations.

I am concerned, though, that it may be a chimera: that its branches may hold false fruit in that they pacify our immediate restlessness without our being forced into action. It’s another variation on the old ‘golden handcuffs’ syndrome of working for a company whose reward system is just enough to keep you from leaving to discover something better.

Feed on . . .

I shall be taking a closer look at different aspects of gifted nutrition in future posts. I hope this one may have started you thinking and would love to hear your own ideas about what nourishes you and what looks good but ultimately tastes of cardboard.

Referring to the parable, who or what are your “fowls of the air”, your stony ground, your thorns or your good ground . . . ? Let us know.

When I suggest to female friends or clients that they might be gifted they squirm, they get angry, they laugh it away. “Gifted? Moi? I don’t think so!”

"Each day I see my giftedness more clearly reflected before me."

"Each day I see my giftedness more clearly reflected before me."

In itself this is not too much of a surprise. Many clients react to the realization of their giftedness in the same way I did: initial relief, often accompanied by tears, is followed by a dismissive shake of the head and a state of defiant skepticism.

However, for most clients, initial rejection dissolves in the face of reality as their life events and responses consistently mirror the criteria for giftedness so aptly identified by other writers.

For others, however, acceptance seems impossible. “Don’t call me gifted!” they cry, as if threatened by the label.

And it seems to be the women who resist harder than the men.

Real women aren’t gifted

I find it hard to write: “I am a gifted man.” It feels like an invitation to be scorned and dismissed. “Real men aren’t gifted,” says the distorted logic inside me, “so if I’m gifted I’m not a real man”.

In the same way, it seems, gifted women are not real women.

How come? Presumably it’s because “gifted” is a label that, unlike “helpful” or “neighborly”, is perceived in a negative way.

So who might object to a gifted woman? Here is a list of possible culprits:

"Don't cry darling. You can be just like mommy now."

"Don't cry darling. You can forget those nasty books and be just like mommy now."

  • Mother. Not only is her daughter a younger and prettier version of herself, but if she’s gifted she’s special in other ways too. Any mother-daughter competitiveness will swing into action around this one.
  • Father. The man who says: “I want her to have the best education available.” is the same one who later says: “I’m your father and I don’t have to listen to your darn fool ideas.”
  • Female friends. Women in groups can be brutal in discouraging difference. The need for affiliation has quenched many a woman’s acknowledgment of her giftedness. It doesn’t do to break ranks with the sisterhood.
  • Male friends and would-be mates. Heterosexual women still seem to be largely convinced that they need a man to complete them as human beings. The male of the species is not renowned for his embrace of female superiority – other than sometimes in fantasy – so the man-needing woman keeps her enhanced sensibilities and giftedness firmly under wraps.
  • Everybody else. Gifted people can be pretty high maintenance. We constantly (and often unconsciously) challenge the prevailing comfortable mood. We are emotionally intense. We are highly sensitive – to physical phenomena as well as human ones.

Given such a comprehensive list of potential offendees, why wouldn’t a girl prefer a J-Lo butt to being gifted?

Maybe the reasons start here:

An imbalance of power

Giftedness is power.

One of the most intriguing statistics in “A Woman’s Nation,” a recently released survey by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress, is this: 69% of women think men resent women who have more power than they do. Only 49% of men agree.

Don't let the distorted visions of frightened inner males deter you from manifesting your power.

Don't recognize yourself? The distorted visions of frightened inner males are not the truth about you.

My personal hunch – based on decades of observing people in the corporate workplace as well as my work as therapist and coach – is that the women are probably right and the men have a hard time admitting it.

To the small boy inside every man, a powerful woman carries the threatening demeanor of a posing body-builder. It’s true that not every man is dominated by his inner small boy. However, a good many are and, in the turmoil of inner male voices, the small boy always makes his contribution.

Forbes magazine recently asked a few from its list of the 100 Most Influential Women in the World for their personal reflections on power. Here are some of their responses [together with some examples of threatened inner-male reactions]:

  • “Power is the ability to create change in the world” – Tensie Whelan, Executive Director, Rainforest Alliance [Oh my God! Napoleonic ambition! Worldwide change! And rainforests are only good for turning into superyachts anyway!]

  • Power is not being tied to any person or any thing. “If a deal or a relationship does not make sense, I can walk.” – Lynn Tilton, CEO, Patriarch Partners [She can walk?! Leave me? I know – I’ll get her pregnant and economically dependent  and then she won’t be going anywhere!]
  • “Power is one’s ability to inspire positive change…to impact the global village.” – Tina Sharkey, Chairman [sic] and Global President, BabyCenter [Complete male-terror. New-age globalization combined with baby expertise.]
  • Power is confronting “the demons that prevent us as human beings from living up to our full potential.” – Cheryl Dorsey, MD, President, Echoing Green [Demons? The only demon is a woman who can be an MD as well as a President AND be running a social entrepreneurship investment company. (And that’s only the start. Check her out.)]
  • Power is having “the ability to change the world in powerful ways through collaborative and collective efforts.” – Linda Avey, Co-Founder and Co-President, 23and ME  [There it is again. Changing the world – and in that touchy-feely socialist way rather than just by stamping your boot on it.]

Once my inner little Christopher gets over his fears, what I find most interesting about these women’s words is that they express their interest in power in abstractions and process-oriented statements.

Of course, they are speaking for publication and would probably hide a truth such as: “What I really like about power is rubbing my mother’s/father’s/teacher’s face in their own BS!”. But on the whole I suspect that what they say is true.

Women, after all, are the process-driven gender. Males read the “Tao te Ching” to learn about power. The Tao tells them to adopt the way of the female.

Women have more power than ever before.

In  “A Women’s Nation” Mary Ann Mason reports that women receive:

  • 52 percent of high school diplomas,
  • 62 percent of associate’s degrees,
  • 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees and
  • 50 percent of doctoral degrees and professional degrees.
  • Women are running more than 10 million businesses with combined annual sales of $1.1 trillion.
  • Women are responsible for making 80% of consumer buying decisions.

80 percent! So much for the idea of the all-decisive patriarch.

But three problems persist.

  • First, I’m committing the sin of confusing giftedness with eminence. I’m doing this quite deliberately up to this point because I believe the world can benefit hugely from women being able to see that they can attain eminence. And that this eminence does not have to come by adopting the male way.
  • Second, women have babies.
  • Third, women have parents.
Hi there giftd one! Meet your father . . . mother . . . child . . .

Hi there gifted one! Meet your grandmother . . . father . . . mother . . . child . . .

A major elephant in the gifted woman’s living room is that nearly 86% of women agree that women today still bear the primary responsibility for caring for their sick and elderly parents.

In addition, 85% of women believe that where both partners have jobs, it is the woman who takes on more responsibility for the home and family.

I do not believe that this should be so, and not just from the perspective of injustice. The widespread acceptance of this caring ‘responsibility’ too often results in resentful parents and correspondingly resentful children, or resentful carers and tortured elders.

However, it is a massively reinforced social pressure and may not always be denied. So, I suggest that when gifted women have babies they can be gifted mothers. Or if they must be carers, then be gifted carers.

You don’t have to be captains of industry or firebrand politicians. You can pass your unique influence on through your children, your children’s friends and your parents’ social groups.

Embrace your gifted female-ness

The recognition and understanding of the gifted is largely a female-led discipline. This is unusual in the world of psychology and human development that has largely been dominated by males. For every Melanie or Karen there are three Sigmunds, Karls, Carls, Josef’s, BFs and so on.

However, in the specific field of giftedness it is female insight and intellectual rigor that holds sway. Here are just some of the most influential names in the gifted universe:

  • Leta Hollingworth
  • Annemarie Roeper
  • Mary Rocamora
  • Linda Kreger Silverman
  • Mary-Elaine Jacobsen

This is not to detract from some very significant male contributions but is intended to focus female readers on the possibility of creating a new sisterhood, one in which the chaos and difference of giftedness is embraced rather than shunned.

Don’t be eminent, be gifted

Even though I’m stuck in a male-centric view of giftedness which, taken to its full potential, results in some form of eminence, you can do better. Here’s a definition of giftedness that says nothing about achievement:

  • “Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.” The Columbus Group, 1991

As you can see, being gifted does not force you into some branch of the elite. It merely means you’re different.

I’ll conclude with this extract from a paper by Linda Kreger Silverman, founder of The Columbus Group. It explains why it is so important to claim your label even if you want to do it quietly.

"Shall I embrace my giftedness or just drown it?"

"Shall I embrace my giftedness or just drown it?"

“Gifted children and adults see the world differently because of the complexity of their thought processes and their emotional intensity. People often say to them, “Why do you make everything so complicated?” “Why do you take everything so seriously?” “Why is everything so important to you?”

“The gifted are “too” everything: too sensitive, too intense, too driven, too honest, too idealistic, too moral, too perfectionistic, too much for other people! Even if they try their entire lives to fit in, they still feel like misfits.

“The damage we do to gifted children and adults by ignoring this phenomenon is far greater than the damage we do by labeling it. Without the label for their differences, the gifted come up with their own label: “I must be crazy. No one else is upset by this injustice but me.”

So please. Don’t settle for crazy. Don’t be a woman. Be gifted.

Thank you.

Who was I?

This is a recurring question for gifted adults because the intensity of our childhood experiencing has a direct bearing on our adult gifted success. It also offers valuable clues to understanding those things that don’t work so well for us.

In particular, the question: “What fascinated me when I was three years old?” seems of special significance. This is because the passionate preoccupations of three-year olds so often seem to form the foundation of success in a wide range of gifted adults.

The number of gifted and creative artists who recall their passion from their very early years is legion.

"I danced myself out of the womb.  Is it strange to dance so soon?" Marc Bolan. "Cosmic Dancer".

"I danced myself out of the womb.
Is it strange to dance so soon?"
Marc Bolan. "Cosmic Dancer".

At three or less, musicians pick up violins or start hammering on drums; dancers shake their booties; painters discover negative space without realizing there was ever anything else.

As an example, if you enter: “I started drawing when I was three.” as a single statement on Google you will get nearly 150,000 responses from illustrators, artists and so on. Substituting “playing piano” brings up 3,000. “Writing” only gives rise to 9, but includes one of my favorites: “I started writing when I was three years old, but it wasn’t until I was seven that I was first published.”

If you simply enter: “I started when I was three.” you’re greeted with nearly a million dancers, skiers, stamp-collectors, violinists, riders, soccer players etc. And these are only the people who feel compelled to commit their biographies to the Internet.

Pre-occupation to Occupation

Given that three is an age that has great significance for our future, how can we use the lessons to be learned from it?

Unconsciously building a gifted future.

Unconsciously building a gifted future.

Lucky the child whose obvious interests attracted parental support. S/he would all-unconsciously have started on the path to mastery and clarity.

But what about those of us whose creativity didn’t manifest through a musical instrument or box of crayons? We have to look harder to see where we come from.

The effort involved in this considered examination is highly worthwhile. Through it our uniqueness becomes apparent by revealing our own history and balance of preoccupations.

I hope you’ll take the time to uncover your own. As a process it can reinforce some affectionate self-recognition as well as open the doors to greater self-understanding.

As a guide to what I mean, here are some of my early qualities:

  • I was very clumsy at drawing.
  • I read a great deal.
  • I took every opportunity to go exploring on my own.
  • I built complex houses and towns from building blocks.
  • I focused a great deal of attention on my mother’s welfare, not least because we moved every six months or so, sometimes halfway round the globe.

How does that translate into today?

  • I still read a great deal. And, as reading is practice for writing, I write a great deal.
  • I’m very independent, an explorer in thought and in location.
  • I have always worked with complex systems demanding deconstruction, re-architecture and re-construction. This applies to my work in computing, in writing, and of course in the ongoing task of understanding and re-framing human nature.
  • My “taking care of mom” shows itself in dozens of ways, from a tendency to be over-solicitous in personal relationships to volunteering my time on committees. Many a professional or non-profit organization has reason to be grateful to my mother!
  • I’m still very clumsy at drawing.

Your mind is an iceberg

If your present life is more or less in accord with your three-year old preoccupations then you’re probably reasonably happy.

Out of sight but in the mind. What's concealed can slow you to a crawl.

Out of sight but in the mind. What's concealed can slow you to a crawl.

However, if you’re finding it hard to follow through on your early enthusiasms, it could be due to your unconscious mind. Like the lower part of an iceberg, this is the hidden power that dominates your actions.

Brain research has made it clear that it is the unconscious, not the conscious, that rules our decision-making and thus our lives. (Check out Jonah Lehrer’s book: “How We Decide” for confirmation of this.)

Experts of all kinds have contributed their estimates as to when the development of our unconscious mind is ‘finished’.  Such estimates typically fall in an age range between two and seven.

So where does that leave us?

Where does that leave us? Perhaps shockingly, it leaves us being managed by the assumptions and beliefs of – let’s average it – a five-year old. With our mind like an iceberg, our consciousness is the ten percent above water while the real weight and power lies massively beneath the surface.

This explains so much of what we find challenging. Our conscious mind says: “Let’s go to New York and look at some art,” but our unconscious wants to go surfing. With nine tenths of us pulling one way we are bound to end up in some compromise situation.

In this case, rather than New York it might be a trip to Malibu. There you can spend the days at Surfrider Beach while taking side trips to the Getty Museum.

That kind of compromise might seem harmless enough but supposing your conscious mind is saying: “I need to save for a rainy day,” while your unconscious is saying: “There’s no point saving. Someone will just steal it from you.”?

The inevitable – yes, inevitable – consequence is that you will effect a compromise between these two positions. And it’s unlikely that it will meet all your conscious self’s need to save. So you will fret . . . and fret . . . and fret.

I want to correct any impression that I assume that the childhood unconscious tends to be irresponsible. It often isn’t. There are plenty of people who consciously think: “I ought to have more fun,” while their five-year old unconscious is nudging them to keep working “just in case.”

What to do about it

When our early preoccupations work for us, life is grand. But what happens when they don’t?

Gifted and creative individuals are highly sensitive.  We feel conflict intensely and will take great steps to try to resolve it. The sense of going where we don’t want to – under the control of something hidden –  is thus very painful and discouraging for us.

It’s never going to be easy, but the key to tolerating such apparent conflict and inability to achieve our objectives is first of all to make our five-year old selves real. Picture yourself back in that tiny body, mentally recreate a room in which you spent a lot of time, and allow these questions to pass across your mind:

  • Who were you then? How did you experience yourself?
  • Where were you? What events and family dynamics were determining your life?
  • Where did you go to be yourself and what would you do there?
  • What were the actions of your parents/caretakers showing you about their belief systems?
  • Did they all send the same message? Were  you able to reconcile any conflicting messages and if so, how?
you can call for reinforcements when you know what you need to overcome.

You can call for reinforcements when you know what you need to overcome.

The more clearly you are able to re-experience yourself at that time, the more understandable your current conflicts will become.  And, much more importantly, the more you’ll be able to work with them rather against them.

This is because by revealing your most counter-productive beliefs to yourself you discover where your conscious will needs reinforcement.

You can use this information to help you find the appropriate assistance to tug you in your preferred direction. This assistance might come in the form of a person, a book, or some other form of external energy. You’ll recognize it when you need it.

And now . . .

I’d love to hear how your fascinations as a three-year old reveal themselves today.  Just add your comments below and tell us your story.


As I prepared to write this post I offered up to Google the search term: “silencing the outer critic”.

Google responded with a question: “Did you mean: silencing the inner critic?”

This shows how pervasive is the influence of the pop-psych world. So I intend to redress the balance by talking about the original type of critic and the one that isn’t susceptible to meditational extinction: the external one.

No-one’s immune from the carping critic

We are all exposed to criticism from outside, but none more so than those gifted and creative people who reveal their spirit in the public arena.

I'm sorry about those ships but I was in despair over all these split ends.

"I'm sorry about those ships but I was in despair over all these split ends."

Each time they expose their work or their performances they run the risk of notices like these from carping critics:

  • “Ms Camberwell’s ‘Helen of Troy’ couldn’t float a rubber ducky in a tub let alone launch a thousand ships into battle. “;  or:
  • “Josh’s vast canvas, ‘Death Valley Invitation’ is astonishing evidence of his inability to use his eyes and wield a paintbrush at the same time.”

There is a popular idea that there is some truth embedded in every negative criticism. I don’t believe this is true because we can’t be constructive and destructive simultaneously.

Even if you believe it to be true, I’d suggest that any embedded value is not worth the expenditure of intellectual and emotional energy necessary to uncover it. If it’s valuable it’s probably already been obtained more easily elsewhere.

Self-protection must come first

It is essential for all of us that delicate creations are fostered rather than crushed. It is therefore imperative that creatively gifted individuals find ways to silence the outer critic.

One way, adopted by Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts, Madonna, Hayao Miyazaki and Joseph Rafael among many others, is simply not to read ‘reviews’.

Another, for those whose ‘friends’ make sure they see the worst, or whose own awful curiosity compels them to seek out the insulting words, is to understand the nature of the critics and thus to dilute the impact of their insults. To do that, start by looking at the critic him or herself.

Look to the source

What kind of people are compelled to be nasty in public? Ones whose inner critics (ho ho) are nasty to them.

The carping critic says: "You'd be hateful too if you saw yourself like this."

The carping critic says: "You'd be hateful too if you saw yourself like this."

Far too much of “critical review” is nothing more than personal opinion wrapped in rationality. As such, it reveals more about the reviewer than the reviewed so that the more vitriolic it is, the more self-hating we know the reviewer to be.

And why would we listen to the opinions of a self-hating person? That would be like taking a lick of a lollipop we found on the ground.

A constructive critic or advisor will draw your attention to aspects of your performance – in life, in work, whatever – and will show you how you can modify your actions so as to achieve more of whatever it is you’re pursuing.

The emphasis here is on your role, your desired path and your outcome. Your work is not used as a platform from which to project the brilliance of the observer. At no time does an empowering mentor condemn you as a person, as in: “You’re lazy, stupid, derivative, ugly, etc”. It’s just not useful.

How do we know it’s toxic?

Not all poisonous criticism is clearly highlighted as such.  To help you spot the hidden underminers there is one key rule:

  • Any criticism is negative unless it incorporates some form of objective measure to support its expressed opinion.

And all negative criticism possesses one or more of these qualities:

  • It is projection. The critic is seeing in ‘you’ a negative quality s/he is denying in him or herself.
  • It is personally restricted. The context in which the critic’s opinion is being expressed is a context entirely limited by his or her own understanding. If s/he doesn’t understand what you’re trying to achieve s/he has no right to critique it.
  • It is coercive. We cannot express an opinion without either supporting or rejecting a path of ideas or actions. A toxic critic will inevitably seek to suppress that which makes him or her uncomfortable or which in some way seems not to be in their own best interest. e.g. If they have a big investment in the world being flat they’re not about to support your contention that it is in fact a sphere.

So if your manifest thought or feeling threatens the destructive critic’s worldview, omniscience, gender beliefs, self-image or whatever, s/he will be compelled to denounce you.

Please don’t take it in

It’s tempting, when the outer critic strikes a chord with our own fears, to add their words to our own feast of self-denigration. To help you not to do that I’m going to offer up a gross analogy:

A constructive critic keeps his toxic waste under wraps.

A constructive critic keeps his toxic waste under wraps.

When you walk toward a piece of dog-poop on the sidewalk you don’t contemplate dissecting it to find the undigested proteins within. So why would you do the same with some self-hating person’s projected toxins?

Leave the poisonous detritus where it belongs: in the sewer.

And go out and create fearlessly and joyfully.

To Dynamic Living™ subscribers and others who’ve sought information from me: welcome to “The Gifted Way”.

“The Gifted Way” covers the same kinds of topics as “Dynamic Living”, but in a more spontaneous and light-hearted way. I suppose it’s actually more dynamic.

Too stuck to change, so with sorrow I say: "Goodbye, not-so-Dynamic Living™"

Too stuck to change, so with sorrow I say: "Goodbye, not-so-Dynamic Living™"

Many of you discovered that the effort of creating a new ezine each month eventually proved too demanding a task for this sole practitioner.

I’ve now adopted a more sustainable format – the blog – and tested it for a couple of months to be sure I can maintain it. I don’t want to let you down again.

I hope you’ll take a look at it, scan some of the posts from months past, and decide to stay with it. I’m also adding the archive of “Dynamic Living” articles.

What to do next

If you wish to continue to receive notifications of new posts to “The Gifted Way” you need do nothing. They will come to you automatically.

If you wish to stop your notifications, click on the “Get email alerts” link at the top of this page, enter the email address you’re ‘alerted’ under, and click on “Unsubscribe”. That applies if you have a duplicate email address, too.

If you wish to change your email alert address I regret to say that you’ll have to first unsubscribe and then resubscribe with your new email address. Clumsy but effective. Go to the same “Get email alerts” link at the top of the page.

Interactive communication

I’d like to acknowledge the fact that this path of adopting an interactive blog format was first suggested to me several years ago by Toronto-based creativity coach (and much else beside) Carol McBride.

I looked into the idea but I couldn’t see how to go about it. The technology was too challenging, making it difficult to create a visually-appealing blog.

Also, my decades of working in many forms of the printed word had left me with an internalized communications structure that didn’t transpose easily into the less formal blog structure. And I wasn’t dynamic enough to adapt.

Three things have happened since then:

  • The technology has radically improved, making the whole process much simpler to implement.
  • Casting bread on the waters for the gathering ugly ducklings

    Casting bread on the waters for the gathering ugly ducklings

    I’ve learnt to let go and trust the universe rather than feeling I had to produce something of a certain length, in a certain way, at a certain time so as to please those critical creatures that on some level I thought “my readers” to be.

  • Like Ecclesiastes, I’ve discovered that casting our bread on the waters really does work. Honorable efforts elicit honorable responses. And “my readers” are actually “my collaborators” in our efforts to improve our lives for ourselves and others.

I hope you’ll enjoy the new format and that you’ll pass the word around. To tell your friends about it, click on the: “Tell Your Friends” link [duh!] at the top of every page and send them a link.

And please feel free to comment on the posts. It makes the process more interactive and increases the value for everyone.

I have a friend, a warm and delightful person, to whom I can turn for advice, insight and a felt sense of indefinable uplift. His intuitive power and intelligence are self-evident. As he talks with me in easy conversation I feel safe and confident in his ability to take a balanced and compassionate view.

Until I say the wrong thing. Then the door to his empathy slams shut, his wisdom is replaced by harsh judgment and I’m somehow left feeling as though I’d been cynically tricking him into thinking I liked him.

Such occurrences are not unusual in the world of the gifted. Often our societal presentation seems like a very thin veneer, just waiting for some circumstance to crack it and expose the defensive vehemence within.

Seventy going on seven

Seven and seventeen - but which one's which?

Seven and seventeen - but which one's which?

In many individuals, the contrast between the ‘old soul’ wisdom and the near-infantile wounded beast is often so great that – in therapeutic circles at least – it gives rise to all sorts of pathologizing. “He’s borderline” is a common cry; or: “Ambivalent attachment disorder” or some other interpretation.

In society at large, there’s a different form of judgment: “S/he’s old enough to know better!”

Truly, this is the “Seventy going on Seven.” syndrome: the daily occurrence of ‘ordinary aberrational behavior’. It won’t get you hospitalized or locked up, but it might leave your friends and colleagues a bit more wary of you than they were before.

Of course, it’s always more pleasant to find this behavior in others because that means we don’t have to look for it in ourselves. But it’s almost certainly there.

It’s not just ‘them’

That’s because psychological maturity does not follow the easy metrics of physiological and intellectual development. There are no psycho-birthdays at which you’re guaranteed to be emotionally a year older. There are no psycho-academic exams whose results will prove your growing mastery of interpersonal relations, say, or grief management.

<It's not fair!  I'm only two!

It's not fair! I'm only two!

However, a form of development does take place which I shall call emotional/behavioral (E/B) development.

E/B development has been studied under many different labels: moral development, ego development, personality development and emotional intelligence just to name a few. The work of those researching it makes one thing very clear: our E/B development is erratic and inconsistent.

Every researcher has come up with a developmental model consisting of a number of stages. And they all agree on these two facts:

  • We don’t develop chronologically step by step; and
  • Our development is not made manifest uniformly across all situations.

In other words, our E/B age – and thus the basis for our response to any situation – is dictated by the context in which the situation arises.

So, if I’m asked my opinion over a beer in the pub, I’ll sit back, relax, and give it to you from the peak of my E/B understanding. If I’m asked for the same opinion in an exam room with a limited time to respond and my life’s career hanging on the answer, I’ll regress to an earlier level of E/B development and try to give ‘them’ the answer they want me to.

This highlights a natural law of great significance: Under stress we regress.

Under stress we regress

How far do we regress? It depends on the stress level, but we can return to the earliest stage of development.

We can and do revert to complete infancy. Sobbing while in the foetal position is not uncommon even among adults so apparently ‘together’ that their judgments are revered by the public at large.

Ambiguous message: Regressive? Aggressive? or just Expensive?

Ambiguous message: Regressive? Aggressive? or just Expensive?

Some forms of regression are less obvious. These include reaching for the booze, the cigarettes or other drugs, or heading for the stores. Those must-have shoes at that darling boutique are just another indication that something’s wrong.

Unless, of course, your livelihood depends on them.

What to do?

Like most things, it’s easier to see regression occurring in others than it is in oneself. So start there. When the person you’re talking to becomes fiery or adopts an inappropriately childish tone, don’t just react negatively. Recognize that they’re under stress and ask yourself (and perhaps them) what that stress might be.

Remember that there is no correlation between physical and emotional maturity, nor between intellectual and emotional maturity. Also, that the person who is wise in one environment may be a scared child in another. Not because of some defect but because that’s the way nature made us.

Finally, our tendency to regress is eased by consistent attention to self-examination. Not by harsh self-condemnation but by open-minded curiosity. The question: “I wonder what made me respond like that?” is a growth-step; while: “What the devil did I do that for?” will keep you firmly in whatever stage you’re currently held.

I’ve added three more article ‘reprints’ to the Dynamic Living archive.

Don't be fooled by first glances. What might look furious can be the path to glorious harmony.

Don't be fooled by first glances. What might look furious can be the path to glorious harmony.

One of them has already been published as a post but the other two are new. They are:

You’ll find the new articles by clicking here or on the “Dynamic Living Archive” tag at the head of the page.

I hope they’ll resonate with the unique tone of your own inner music.

A true story. Sam and Dave (that’s the only untruth because they’re not their real names) went to the same English private school. They had very similar, very high IQs. They were both recognized by their teachers as having outstanding potential.

Sam went on to Cambridge University, became President of the Union, a Conservative MP and eventually a minister in Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet. Dave rejected academia and left school totally confused, without a clue what to do for a living. It took several decades of experiment before he found his feet.

Conformist or creative?

How come two boys with such similar intellectual resources and training grounds could end up so differently?

Part of the answer lies with their families but another part lies with their natures.

Sam was deeply conformist. He saw that his path to success lay in accepting the status quo and working within it. He rejoiced in his vision and embraced it with gusto.

Dave challenged everything. He saw the inconsistencies, the illogical choices and outright hypocrisy that prevailed on the conformist path. He could not see a way forward that also possessed integrity.

This was not a matter of conscious choice. Sam could no more challenge the existing rule than Dave could avoid questioning it. Sam would fight to support the dominant authority. Dave could only support that which made intellectual sense.

In the terms of giftedness, Sam is a gifted conformist while Dave is a gifted creative.

Comfort and joy?

If you are gifted, your chances of achieving a life of comfort and ease are greatly enhanced if you are conformist.  This study shows why:

In the 1960s, E. Paul Torrance, head of the Bureau of Educational Research at the University of Minnesota, began studying creativity. His focus was on school children but his discoveries will be recognized by many gifted adults who’ve experienced being ‘selected out’ throughout their lives.

A gifted creative justifies the gifted way

A gifted creative justifies the gifted way

Teachers, he discovered, do not like creative children. They prefer the child of high intelligence and low creativity. This child is not a rebel and completes school assignments with dispatch and perfection.

Creative children, on the other hand, “seem to be playing around when they should be working at assigned tasks. They engage in manipulative and/or exploratory activities, many of which are discouraged or even forbidden.

“They enjoy learning, and this looks to the teacher like play rather than work. They are intuitive and imaginative: enjoy fantasy; see unusual uses in ordinary objects; are flexible, inventive, original, perceptive and sensitive to problems. They have vital energy.”

Torrance found that 70 percent of the children who rated high in creativity would not be selected to be members of a special class for intellectually gifted children even if their test scores warranted it. They annoy teachers who see them as not serious or dependable.

Could do better if . . .

These children are the perennial recipients of the: “Could do better ” award. They are the ones who make discipline hard, not from malice but from brightness. They are the ones whose witty answers to prosaic questions make the class laugh and drive their teachers to distraction.

If you’re like me you’re already warming to the idea of these bright kids. However, Torrance was a pragmatist and wrote: “It is evident that many of them [creative children] bring upon themselves many of their woes. Obviously, one task of education is to aid such children to become less obnoxious without sacrificing their creativity.”

It strikes me that this response was well-meaning but a bit half-hearted.  I would rather suggest that the gifted creative adult allow him or herself to be “obnoxious” (to use Torrance’s word, which I wouldn’t) but be ready to accept the inevitable isolation and hostility that goes with it.

Creative autodidact

Very few schools are up to the task of teaching according to their students’ needs rather than the teachers’. This is partly because of lack of resources but also due to lack of will.  (Educationalists have done some great work on differentiating individual learning approaches but they seem to overlook their own discoveries when it comes to lesson planning.)

However, once you’re away from the learn-test-forget environment of formal education you can put your good-humored creativity and passion for the truth to good service as a creative autodidact. After all, as the great creative genius Albert Einstein said: “ The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education”.

Not bad, just buttoned up

It’s obvious that my leaning is toward the creatively gifted.  Otherwise I’d be a retired senior civil servant living in a grace and favor home in the UK’s Windsor Great Park.

Not really blind gifted, just buttoned up

Not really blind, just gifted but buttoned up

However, I do feel a lot of compassion for the gifted conformists. Their commitment to the status quo means that they cannot contribute to change but in my experience they often feel quite conflicted about their position.

Their intellects, often developed to a high level of rigor by their profession, cannot easily overlook the defects in the systems they support and thrive within. This means they are forced to live by phrases such as: “That’s just human nature.” to explain their co-existing with the venality of many of their peers.

And, of course, they externalize their inherent need for natural justice by establishing the mechanisms of judgment at various levels: by examination, by professional body, by law, etc.

In this way, they find a comfortable place of limbo, hanging between a radical commitment to ‘truth’ and a pragmatic acceptance of societal imperfection. Interestingly, they are often more radical in their extra-curricula activities, supporting contemporary arts, liberal governments and even causes such as organic farming and the greening of the nation. Thus they find balance.

In my time of youthful innocence  I assumed that every thinking person was a natural-born radical but had had it trained out of them. I no longer think this is true of all. However,  many gifted conformists do turn in later life to develop those aspects of their inner lives which they had carefully put aside “for the sake of their careers.”

It is never too late to draw riches from the mine of the soul. Never too late to open the doors to the gifted creative within. You just have to give yourself permission.

This is my second post to announce the addition of article ‘reprints’ from Dynamic Living. This time there are only three, but all three are pretty meaty.

A triumph of collaboration: pork tenderloin with chocolate beef cream broth.

A triumph of collaboration: pork tenderloin with chocolate beef cream broth.

That means that once again these are much longer than typical posts and cover these topics:

  • Prorexia: a cure for a jaded appetite for life.
  • How to maintain your autonomy in a collaborative partnership.
  • How effective a collaborator are you?

The articles on collaboration have a link to a PDF containing the test forms described in “How effective a collaborator are you?”. You can download the PDF and copy it as many times as you like, using it to test your friends, family and work colleagues.

You’ll find the new articles by clicking here or on the “Dynamic Living Archive” tag at the head of the page.

I hope you find them tasty and easily digestible.

“Know then thyself, presume not God to scan
The proper study of mankind is man.”

Those words by Alexander Pope were published in 1734. They are part of a poem whose psychological and philosophical content anticipates contemporary ideas of human nature so comprehensively that in some ways it seems extraordinary that we haven’t made greater progress.

However, despite the joy it’s possible to take in his genius, I’m not here to eulogize Mr Pope. Instead, I want to expand the notion that: “The  proper study of mankind is man”, into: “Every (wo)man’s purpose on earth is to gather information about being human.”

And nothing more.

No less human than you or me?

No less human than you or me?

In this model of life we are flesh-and-blood discovery vehicles. Similar to the Mars Spirit explorer vehicle but infinitely more-sophisticated. Like the mechanical explorer we are dropped into strange territory and proceed to move around gathering information.

And, still like the explorer, we pass our information on. Through example, word, action and technology we communicate with other humans and contribute to the collective knowledge pool.

To what end?

Good question. But who knows? We could ask the ants, who do the same sorts of things that we do (but with pheronomes instead of the Internet) and at 130 million years have been around a lot longer. But I don’t think they can know, either.

It sounds a bit bland, but the answer’s probably: “Survival of the species”, or: “Because that’s what we do”.

In some ways it seems sad that we can never know what the universe intended us for or even if there was an intention. On the other hand, it is tremendously liberating. It means we can feel free to do whatever we want.

So even if we are just fulfilling our universal purpose of – say – destroying the ecology of this planet, we can at least have some sense of autonomy as we go about it.

OK, Chris, but – er – so what?

What’s the practical application of this kind of musing? It enables a shift in an internal state from helpless fretting inadequacy to a knowledge and acceptance of our total value.

"If I focus my aim intently, I'll score a bulls-eye with my pen." A. Pope

"If I focus my aim intently, I'll score a bulls-eye with my pen." A. Pope

It means we can do whatever we are doing whole-heartedly. We don’t have to be constantly second-guessing ourselves in a futile endeavor to “do the right thing”.

After all,  if we don’t know what we’re here for we can have no idea what is ultimately useful to do or know. Everything we learn is passed on to the rest of humanity and all knowledge is of equal value as far as the species is concerned. Just ask Wikipedia.

This is of particular significance to ourselves because, of course, the community of gifted and creative individuals is in the vanguard of data collection. It also leads in the development of ways of expressing and communicating that data.

Let A. Pope have the last word

Finally, if the idea that we’re just a vast army of data sensors is true, then Pope was correct when he wrote in the same poem:

“Whate’er the passion — knowledge, fame or pelf —
Not one will change his neighbour with himself. ”

. . . because it wouldn’t be in the interests of the species to have everyone seeing the same thing and reacting to it in the same way.

I’ll try to remember that the next time I try to “encourage” my child, mother, teacher, or client to “behave properly.”

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