The Opposing Argument

mona lisa with a catI realized early in life that I was born with the gift of a destructive a eye. When I look at a piece of writing, a relationship, a painting, I have a natural talent for seeing what’s wrong, what’s weak, what’s not quite right. My brain just goes this way, and it’s a good skill to have from a survival standpoint.

The person who can sense what’s off, what’s missing, what’s not ringing true is a person who’ll be half-way out the door or up a convenient tree when trouble erupts. And yet, an instant’s reflection will reveal the burden such an outlook creates: Sometimes, nothing’s wrong, nothing’s amiss. Sometimes, three books aren’t better or worse than each other, they’re merely different varieties of “all good.”

treeOther times, I’ll miss the entire lovely forest for the one slightly ailing tree. For a lawyer to be able to trash an opponent’s arguments is all in a day’s courtroom work. For a writer to polish a rough draft takes the same approach. But who wants to live in a world where all that’s noticed is what’s wrong or in need of repair?

I need to balance my critical eye with joy in creativity for its own sake. I’m at a Celtic festival this weekend, and at first I thought it was the crowds making me want to go hide, but then I realized I’m also reacting to the sheer abundance of creativity. Four stages are going pretty much all the time–and every musician I’ve heard here is very good if not spectacular.

celtic11Tent after tent showcases the work of skilled craftsmen and artists, and they’ve all put years into learning how best to create the wares they’re selling. Athletes are competing, dancers, pipe bands… All around me are polished, lovely, and impressive creations of skill and beauty. I have to let go of my “Yeah, but…” or my, “If only…,” let go of the part of me that want’s to pounce on flaws, or I’ll be the bad fairy at my own party.

I think this is pretty common–for a strength to have within it the potential for not a complementary weakness, but an even greater weakness. To be gobbled up by a saber-toothed tiger (or opposing counsel) is no fun, but neither is life spent up a tree, afraid the tiger will climb up after me.

Paisley_Pipe_Band_2011Do you have a natural, reliable, go-to strength that sometimes gets in your way? A weakness that deserves some appreciation? How does it fit with the rest of your family, and whatย  would life look like if you put that skill aside for a day?

To one commenter, I’ll give a $25 American Express gift card.

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53 comments on “The Opposing Argument

  1. I’m an editor. I tend to see plot holes/issues. In life, I can see pitfalls that COULD happen…sometimes you have to let them HAPPEN so your children can learn. Of course, I’ll point out the BIG things that I see approaching, but sometimes I can only give a gentle nudge when I know they have a college deadline…and they are just watching TV!

    Love your books, as always…

    • Whoever wrote Ecclesiastes forgot the part about, “A time to instruct, and a time let life take on that challenge while you do the cheerleading…” My parents shifted roles when I was in my early twenties, right when I needed them to shift. Magic.

  2. I stand up for myself. Too often my way is either offensive or abrasive. So I ask my better half to stand up in my place. His subtle way of expressing the situation or delivering the message is the best way to handle it. Course it took half of our married life (47 years) to discover his strength over my strength. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • There’s truth to the notion that opposites attract–a warrior and a peacemaker are a stronger team than either one alone, particularly if they can cooperate.

      If they can’t cooperate? If they mistrust each other, and compete….? That long first half of the marriage is what sorting that out if often for.

  3. As a planner, I can strongly advise people on ways to manage their money, but they don’t necessarily listen to me. One client had the bulk oh his wealth in one stock. Common wisdom suggests diversification. I could not get him to see the wisdom of selling some of his position and capturing gains. Then the debacle of 2007/2008 happened and he rode that stock down the slope from $55 a share down to @$5 a share and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. I did not KNOW this would happen to that stock, but experience had shown the wisdom of not putting all your eggs in one basket. Client admitted I was right after the fact, but I still wanted to say I told you so!

    • And the zillion dollar question: CAN HE HEAR YOU NOW? I find with divorce mediations, I can often point out to the couple: “This, right here, is why you can’t be married any more. Fix this, whether you get divorced or not, because you’ll still have to co-parent.”

      But do they listen????

  4. I am a lot like you. I tend to focus on what is wrong most of the time. I do enjoy go out and doing things, but at the same time I enjoy nothing more than being alone with a good book. I have passed my habit of focusing on the wrong to my children, but to me that is okay because we can’t all be the happy, cheery person that only sees the good.

    • I see my tendency to focus on the broken places as a symptom of two things. First, I really do want to help, and fix things, and relieve people of uproductive suffering (including myself) and that’s OK. But second, I want to be safe, and beyond a certain point, that’s ridiculous. We’re all going to die, but many us won’t have lived very much first.

      Always the balance.

  5. I’m very good at working alone, and hard. But in group situations, that’s usually not a good thing. And it can enable others to be slackers because I’m doing it all. It’s hard for me to find a good balance in the charity I joined a couple of years ago.

    • Some of my toughest jobs were with volunteer organizations. People had good motives–mostly–but they also had unmet needs they expected the organization to appease. “See how wonderful I am for donating my time,” or, “I deserve to run this show (despite lacking management skills), because my nest is empty and I KNOW I have a lot to offer…”

      If you’re focused on the mission, it is hard not to cut through the BS and just do the job yourself. Really hard, which is why I don’t manage horse shows any more.

  6. Hmmm….Boy Grace, you ask some interesting questions. I’m not normally that introspective. But I’d like a chance at that gift card, so I’ll give it a shot (smile).

    I guess one thing about myself that I’ve always thought of as an asset is my ability to use my imagination. I don’t mean in a creative way, I mean as a means of escapism when things are unpleasant. It has served me well over the years, but there have been times when I have found it too comfortable to withdraw within myself when I should have reached out to others more.

    I’m in the middle of reading THE LAIRD right now and I think it’s the best of this series.

    Also, I love the picture of the Mona Lisa holding the kitty cat. It’s the first time I’ve ever found that painting the least bit interesting (smile).

    • Glad you’re enjoying The Laird–I simply got lucky with that series, but I’m ready for What A Lady Needs to lighten things up next month.

      My imagination was a plague on my house as long as I was little, afraid of the dark, and beset by chronic anxiety. I was six years old when I had my first panic attack, and that’s to some extent an imagination-driven ailment. Now I use the imagination for HEA’s, and I like that ever so much better!

      • My imagination can go to dark places too. When I was 10 years old I had an imaginary earache that was every bit as painful as the “real” one I had a month before. My parents were getting a divorce at the time and I guess I liked all of the attention I got.

        But when the doctor said that there was nothing there, the pain stopped immediately. It really shook me up. It showed me just how powerful a thing imagination is.

  7. I have what my Dad called “people sense “. I have the ability to read people. I am on target 95% of the time. This skill has been helpful to me in my career and friendships. I know who to stay away from at work. I have long term friendships. I think this skill helps me navigate through new and tricky situations and mediate them.

    This skill has many drawbacks. I worked as a waitress when I was in college. I learned a lot about people how to treat others and how others treated you. My daughter had a serious boyfriend in high school. I didn’t care for him from day one. Just didn’t like him. I never said a word, welcomed him into my home and watched as he broke my daughters heart within six months time. My daughter never asked if I liked him –she knew.

    I think there have been times my husband would have liked me to leave this skill on the shelf. I think overall he appreciates my 7th sense. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • My older siblings warned me, “NEVER dis the boyfriend, let time take care of that one.” REALLY hard to do, but they were right.

      I wish I had your people sense earlier in life. My radar has improved, but lordy, was I clueless as a younger woman.

  8. I can relate to that! When the TV show “Monk” came out, my kids coined the phrase “Monkish” to mean those times when something is off kilter & one of us has to fix it (usually me–lol)…My daughter believes that all of us suffer from a degree of OCD but some of us allow it to rule our lives…It was fine to adjust an article of clothing on my children but asking them to “tuck in their shirts” or remind them that a ticket in the collar of their blouse is visible becomes tiresome as they are now 27 & 24 years old…Of course, I check out my own appearance & would want to have someone let me know (I am the person in the Ladies Room that tells someone their “slip is showing” before they leave as I’d expect no less from others)…I often miss something exciting (or some conversation) as my mind is tied up with seeing these flaws…Ev PS I am an Accountant so details are part of my life & my nature…

    • One of the creepiest things that happened to me: I was sitting in court, minding my own business between cases, and felt something brushing the back of my neck. I guy I wasn’t at all keen on had presumed to tuck in the tag of my shirt, without asking, without warning.

      Subtle, but presuming as heck. Gave me the sense I ought never turn my back on him, because he’d find an excuse to presume again. Probably have to use this in a book…

  9. Strength that gets in my way – organization. It comes in handy in so many ways. But really alienates people and limits me when “going with the flow” is called for!

    Weakness that deserves the limelight – depression. I’ve discovered the ability to offer comfort, validation and hope to others just be being honest about this trial in my life. We really are strengthened by knowing we’re not alone.

  10. I understand what you are saying i can pick apart a piece of art especially my own with aruthless vengeance and often when people tell me something ive made is amazing or beautiful all I see are a mass of flaws and a piece of work i feel by the end my toddler could have produced better. It seems we are our own worst critics but It has helped me develop and ASK for other people to critique me and I have learned with a certain grace how to take those critiques and shape my work be it art, a paper, or a various piece of performance for theater. Taking critisism is not something people are naturally inclined to do and it took years to overcome those friendly recomendadtions as just that instead of thinking i was being attacked for not being good enough. I do also have a tendancy to go above and beyone be it a college class project or report/ presentation. I am a visual arts person and as such I find that presentations require eye catching pomp and tend to put in 100x more effort then many of my fellow class mates, which often gets me digusted looks or quippy comments and though they may get a 100 for completing the assignment I often feel my 100 was earned whole heartedly by sheer production value and I dont know if it is competetive or if i simply must see my self as doing my best but if i produce a project or present material it must be the best and make heads turn, Sadly I am a people pleaser that atta boy and praise means so much to me that I often over stretch myself and put more money or work into things that I do. But on the same end I hate when my joy of praise is mistaken for my joy of doing for others. its completely different when its a personal project for a friend or a gift I dont want praise and I hate that people think that that is my goal in everything. If I gave up any of these things I dont know how my life would change I know it isnt me. I would probably sit here quietly and just read or nap. My life is a constant striving for being better than i was yesterday for someone to tell me good job or that they love me for all I am or do, For the things I do to MAKE heads turn and impact at least one person. And my advise on your critical eye… use it to your advantage but dont see it as how is it Wrong but how is it different. Be it a funky tree in the woods… its simply twisted with character, or a piece of art… maybe just maybe it was painted or draw with that flaw to get your attention…if not maybe a polite critique to the artist (with a solution as to what may help the piece) would help them improve, Or even your own writings they are not wrong/ bad/ or worse than another just different character and often its those quirks or flaws that remind us of our humanity and each of us is stamped with that unique and special difference:) <3

    • Wow. I hope you’re keeping a journal, Kathalina. The written word does well in your hands.

      I am growing better about criticism being about the work, not about me. Sometimes, readers are out to win a round of get the author, and there’s no book written they can’t find fault with. I’m learning to say: Good for them. If for five or seven bucks, they can find a way to channel their own critical, or even disempowered, energy, that’s OK with me.

      But it’s hard.

  11. As always you strive to have us bare what we usually keep inside ourselves. I spend time wondering why I do the things I do and get no recognition (I am not one to stand up and say “see what I did” and others who make no real effort are constantly fawned over. I do not do the things I do for the recognition, but it does become harder to be that person when people see you as invisible

    • You put it very well: Why does recognition often have little to do with merit, much less virtue? But I applaud you for keeping the focus on rewards other than recognition. If you get pulled into the popularity game, it’s really hard to regain your balance.

  12. My Memory is most definitely a blessing and a curse in my life. While it’s wonderful to remember a whole lot of things, like people’s birthdays, anniversaries, kids names, etc. it can also garner me some very weird looks when talking to someone I haven’t seen in 20 years when I bring up something most people would have forgotten in that time.
    It’s also not fun for my husband when he is telling a story and I keep interrupting him to make sure he is getting all the details correct. I try my hardest to keep my mouth shut but sometimes it’s so hard to do.
    It also makes reading books difficult at times because it will pull me out of the story when something is off from either the beginning of the book or from the previous books in the story.
    On the other hand it’s great to have all these wonderful memories from my childhood that are still so vivid after all these years. Wonderful memories of time spent with my grandparents who are no longer here and haven’t been here for well over 20 years. I lived more years without them but sometimes it seems they have only been gone a year or two.

    • I wonder WHY your memory is so good? I used to have an excellent memory for anything written in my own hand, but I do so little writing any more, that’s pretty much shot.

      I wonder how Hubby and the rest of the family rely on your memory, because I assure you, they DO.

  13. I have a bit of OCD, so I can be very particular about certain things, and I have to stop myself from commenting or telling people what is wrong or needs to be corrected (in my opinion). I try to either ask if they would like my opinion, or just let it go, but I have to bite my tongue to do so. One thing I don’t notice, but my son does, is the flaws in a movie (unless they’re glaring). He picks a movie apart, and I just enjoy the experience.

    • Oh, when the kids hand us the insights we least want to acknowledge. My daughter has names for my riffs, and gets an endless kick out of them. Only fair, I suppose, because she put up with me when another kid might have lectured me into submission.

    • I can tell you this: One of your strengths is economy of words, but sometimes, I do wish you’d give us a few more hints about your thinking. WHAT is the strength you don’t allow to become a weakness, for example? Always a bit of a mystery…

  14. I am a retired teacher and I also worked in retail, first for my father in his pharmacy and then in other, regular retail stores before I was able to get a full-time teaching job. This made me a “people person” in the sense that I can deal with the public and students. However, the reverse side of this is apparently, I have a brusque, harsh side to my personality that has driven my family away from me (along with my liberal political views); I haven’t seen or spoken to my sons now in seven years by their choice, my sisters just about as long. The real me, who knows?

    • Oh, Trudy, I am so sorry that you and your boys aren’t in touch. In my family there are political divides, but we’ve learned to change the subject. While part of me wants to say, “Send a Christmas card! Drop them a line! Don’t let the silence keep you apart any longer…”

      Another part of me knows that there’s family of origin, and family of choice, and sometimes, they simply cannot overlap without causing us great misery. They’re adults, those sons. They can send a Christmas card too, I hope.

  15. Were you in Bethlehem this weekend? A little too far for me to go, as I had other plans so I couldn’t fit it in, though I would have loved to. I’m wondering if you ever get recognized when you are out and about, and if you find it flattering or if you’d rather have your fans respect your privacy?

    • Gretchen, I WAS in Bethlehem all weekend. Had terrific fun, and was very impressed with the town and the festival. Somehow, the place has turned itself around, so it’s better than ever. Full of creativity and civic pride, and fun things to do and experience. I was really impressed!

  16. I take commitments seriously sometimes too seriously.

    When it comes to work I am very much a type A personality. I will do my best and work very hard at my job to the point of bringing home the stresses associated with work. Lots of people do so, but I am only an assistant manager at a high end pet store – not a world changing occupation. I try to be the buffer between the manager who lacks essential people skills (among other problems) and the rest of the employees. I was recently told that the entire crew would have quit if it weren’t for me. I end up playing mediator a lot – often when I am off the clock. I need to learn to let work stay at work.

    I have had moments of clarity when I knew a commitment did not need to be honored. I almost didn’t break it off with my ex even though I had realized we were not destined for happiness if we got married – I had committed to the relationship after all. If I had gone through with the wedding, we would have both been miserable.

    • Interesting comment, and I think a lot of small businesses are held together by a Glenda, somebody who can bridge the economic enterprise with the people skills. Hope you are paid what you’re worth.

      I’m divorced, and when my ex made it plain he was ready to throw in the towel, I felt the vows yanking on my hems: You can turn this around, you can bargain past this, you can placate the temper and frustration at work here…

      But I couldn’t do it. That was pride and inertia talking. Wisdom was as my dad often said: You don’t want to be with somebody who doesn’t want to be with you. Sad, but true in my case.

  17. When I was young I could see thing about to happen, I would mention them and told not to speak of it, I would get the looks from my mom, like why did you think like that…example…I told my mom not to let my sister play on the monkey bars because she will break her arm, after three minutes later, my sister came in with her arm broken…that knowing sense diminished throughout the years as I was told to be quiet…but, in my adulthood it would creep up…Harry and I were driving down a highway on a very misty morning, we could only see about ten feet in front of us, when I said drive off the road and drive to the farther side so they we won’t get hit back side…then, when it cleared we saw in front of us what was a horrific crash of with 18-wheelers carrying tree logs all over the place…I wished I could have learned to strengthen that ability instead of being quiet.

  18. Me to a tee. I see the weeds then the flowers. I mentioned this to a fellow worker who was kindly trying to show me a beautiful sun rise. I thought he was trying to show me a door I needed to fix. Ah, Grace, sometimes we need a rest.

    • A rest is right, Peggy. A rest from thinking it’s all up to me, and I won’t be safe if I ease my grip… We’re wired to never forget the bad things, but I think we can also acquire the knack of holding onto the good things too.

  19. The flip side of discerning is judgmental. I think all strengths and weaknesses have their pairings. The task is to learn how to function healthy within that frame.

    • Wonderfully said! And worse, sometimes when I all I mean is an analytical observation, it comes out sounding nothing but destructive. I’m working on it, Myrna, but your comment is a nice, pithy way to focus me on the dilemma.

  20. One of my strengths that can also be a weakness is my ability to do a “worst-case” analysis. I can run multiple “what-if” scenarios through my head, thinking about what is needed or could go wrong at any step. This helps in planning labs, projects, parties, etc. It was hugely helpful during my Navy years, and it’s been great as a classroom teacher. But it is also a weakness in that it can sometimes keep me from trying new things. It can also send me into a worry spiral over something that is not very likely to happen
    My planning skills can also negatively impact my relationships with family, friends and coworkers if they don’t put as much thought and analysis into their projects (that I participate in.) This is the “bossy” or “control freak” part of my personality.

    • I think this same dynamic is half of why I’ve owned my own businesses for the past 20 years. I play nicely with others, but it’s taxing. The few people I have working for me are a very special group, and they don’t require much supervision.

  21. For a long time I had trouble accepting compliments. I wanted to talk you out of the compliment and why I did not deserve it.
    I can now take a compliment and let it sink in and believe it. It took a long time to get there.

  22. I am to opinionated and often judgmental which can be a dangerous combination. I give my opinion when it isn’t wanted or needed. Thankfully a dearly loved friend told me sometimes just listening to someone helps them more than any words could. As for my judgemental mind frame I try to deflect it with a “those without sin” mentality.

    • Somebody once complimented me because in a conversation with my daughter–for some reason–I responded with, “Do you want me to simply listen? Problem solve? Counter-vent? Tell me my role here.” This is not my usual response, but the compliment stayed with me, because it was the right thing to say in that conversation.

      So I’m complimenting you listening to your friend!

      As for that judgmental mind frame, I get stuck there when I see unkind posts on social media, of people who can’t dance, who dress funny, whose bodies aren’t the ideal. But how do I chide judgmental people without coming off judgmental? Ooops.

  23. I believe that any job tackled should be well done to the best of your ability. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and kind of drive my family crazy wanting things done my way. One thing I really notice a lot are mistakes when I read. If they are few and far between, I can overlook them, but if there are a lot it really ruins the story for me. I think, don’t these people have anybody to proofread for them? Also, I like to prepare for whatever, just in case, you know? When we go on trips and such. Kind of drives my family crazy then, too! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Meredith, I hear you on the boo-boos, but they’ve certainly happened in my books. My editor, my copy editor, my proofreader, my production editor have ALL missed the same problems. This happened several times in The Traitor, and that broke me heart. One friend suggested it CAN happen with the stories that are the most compelling because instead of proofreading, etc, other people are pulled too far into the story.

      Nice theory, but I still loathe the typos. Loathe. Them.

      • Yes, I do too. I just read two books for review. and both had grammatical errors in them. Since there were only a few in each book, it was easy to overlook them and enjoy both stories. I wasn’t always like that, but over the years I have learned that if I want to enjoy life, I need to be a bit less of a perfectionist. ๐Ÿ™‚

  24. I find that I am a person that always has to be doing something. I find things to do either at home or at work. I feel like I have to be busy to be more productive. I feel like it is a flaw that I need to work on because I really need to delegate more.

    • My mom is still somebody who needs to move to feel in control over her life, even at age 90. If she sits too long, she gets querulous and squirrely, but who can blame her? She didn’t stay on top of seven kids and various shirt tail cousins by spending much time on her backside. The child-rearing years for her lasted more than half her adulthood.