The single most notable piece of the Charleston skyline is the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. The two diamond shape towers soar into the sky above the Cooper River, its cables raining down from them in a pale web you can see for miles. It is absolutely stunning, but its beauty is in more than its construction, more than the spectacular view of the water, the peninsula and the islands. All throughout the day, the bridge plays host to an extraordinary variety of characters traversing the bridge's pedestrian path. Mothers power walking strollers, friends catching up, runners with focus that could cut the massive cables and bicyclists whose focus puts those runners to shame. Today the bridge also played host to Mike Mosel and I. As my friend, Sara Albiach, would point out, this bridge makes an excellent place for a connection.
I first met Mike when I worked in financial services. We had a meeting, recommended by a mutual friend, and we talked about business things. You all know those meetings, they come and go so quickly, almost before we know what has happened with them. The same meetings that led me to this place, to this project, and so it only seemed right to meet Mike outside of that context as we walked and talked the 5 miles of this magnificent bridge.
Mike is a fan of Crossfit, he does it 4-5 times a week, a father, an entrepreneur, a golfer and an all around cheerful guy. He is also remarkably insightful. Our ascent up the bridge was spent talking about the story so far, what have I learned, how have I changed and other questions. Mike has seen me in a previous life, so this is a different person in many ways. As we talked, the conversation evolved into a discussion about the narratives we carry into conversations.
When we are talking to people, we so often carry narratives in with us. The person across from us suddenly gets identified by their occupation, their political views, their organization, their appearance, and all of our assorted judgements that go along with it. Not only that narrative, but we also have narratives about what we want to say to them and how we want out interaction to go. Then they speak, they share their thoughts and their stories with us and we build even more narratives about the words coming out of their mouths. We end up looking across the way at a whole series of judgements and preconceptions without ever knowing the person across the way. Simply put, we aren't present.
Mike continued this train of thought as we crested the top of the bridge (where we paused for this picture), talking about how we all truly need to learn to let go of our narratives while also being aware of narratives across the way from us. Mike points out that his two kids have no idea what is going on in his head at any given point in time, and he in turn doens't know what is in their heads either.
We talk about a person we both know, but have different perceptions of, very different perceptions. The concept of our "personas," the faces we wear when doing business, comes up. Sometimes we all sit behind those masks for so long, travelling with them on at all times, that people can't see us. You are behind a shell and we have no idea of what's inside. Worse, we never see any way to tell what is inside, who you really are. Or as Mike so marvelously put it;
"What kind of M&M are you?"
We see you, we know you are red. Are you a peanut M&M? Plain? As more and more types of these delightful little candies are produced, how are we to even begin to guess what lies inside? Fall is approaching, so maybe you are pumpkin spice. (In these times it feels like a safe guess.) Beyond knowing what type you are, isn't that returning to our problem with narratives?
Mike asked me for takeaways from this project as we walked, about what I would look like at Day 101, and I have been mulling over this since we finished our walk. With all of this talk about narratives, about our preconceived notions and agendas when we meet people, I am left wondering how we filter the signal of a person's heart from the noise. So I spent some time thinking about how I am being present, about how important that is, and wondering if I actually gave Mike the most important lessons I have learned. THat's the funny thing about lessons, they are our own, no matter how generic they seem. In the end, the most important lesson for me, the thing that keeps me present, my eyes and heart open is simple.
Two truths; we all have baggage, and we are all beautiful.
Favorite DInosaur: Stegosaurus
Why: When he was a kid, learning about dinosaurs in books, this was the one that stuck with him.