Ethics and Morals, writing

Nothing Special

I was thinking about this recently. I’m writing a very independent and stubborn character, Anna of the East Witch, and as I was writing a scene from her point of view, I found it interesting how viscerally she rejected the notion that she was in some way specially talented. Now, I’m perfectly aware that my characters are in some ways extensions of my self, for all that they seem quite real to me and I enjoy writing them out and seeing how differently they handle a situation than I would. In this case, though, I sympathized with Anna. She wasn’t special. She had just done what anyone in her situation would do, had worked hard, done what she was told, and eventually she’d gotten the position as top dog in her business because she worked hard. It wasn’t magic, it was just plain old hard work and dedication.

I don’t think of myself as particularly smart or special. I don’t like being called stupid, but having never had my IQ tested, I’d estimate my smarts as average. What I do have is a decent work ethic, inculcated in no small part by my homeschooled background. I have never learned the fine art of dilly-dallying. You see, as a homeschooler if you are given a task, you have a choice. You can work quickly, finish it, and get to go play (or read, or…). Or you can stretch it out as long as possible, and finish it up only with Mom breathing down your neck. I quickly picked up on the reward inherent in getting it done fast, and that’s become a habit with me that has lasted a lifetime. Sadly, in a regular school day there’s no reward for getting your work done ahead of days’ end, so that system builds the habit of filling the work to the available time in a school day. Which lines up nicely with a work day, so…

It’s still nothing special. It’s just that I like to work fast, I get a kick out of seeing a project to completion, and I can’t stand to sit and do nothing so when I’m done if I can’t go home I hunt up more work to do.

Anna in the story is facing down the fact that she is special, and I am worried that it will erode her confidence somewhat. If I give her too much time to dwell on it, she’s going to start worrying that this inborn talent of hers is how she got to the top, that it wasn’t her hard work, that she didn’t earn it but somehow cheated. I understand how that works, too. As a woman, I try not to think about the whole ‘diversity hire’ thing. The concept that I might at some point have been hired because they needed to balance a workforce by hiring a female. It doesn’t help that the word pops up on my timecard and mocks me… but I digress. The erosion of confidence in myself and my abilities through that fear dog me, and it’s only through learning to trust supervisors that I’ve been able to banish it and feel like I’m pulling my weight.

It is an insidious evil. Instituted by well-meaning if stupidly short-sighted people, affirmative action and diversity quotas lead to the very people meant to be assisted feeling as though they were devalued and hired only for their _______________ (insert physical attribute here). It’s haunting, to never know if you were really good enough, or if you just got that job because you were born that way. I watched Bright recently with the First Reader (and highly recommend it, if you haven’t already) and identified with the Orc, who was a diversity hire, was hated for it, and had a lot to prove as a result. It’s not a healthy dynamic. Pushed into recklessness in an effort to prove that you were just as good as everyone else is a dangerous position in Bright, and it’s no less so in the real world.

To be hired as a woman, simply because I am a woman, is to be dismissed as nothing special. It’s not my physical attribute that makes me any more special than anyone else. What sets me apart is my willingness to work hard, be on time, stay late when needed, and give it my best every day. I’m nothing special, and I don’t want to be treated like ‘special’ just equal to my peers. I certainly don’t want to be handed a little step-up and told in effect ‘you’re not as good as the men/elves/fairies so you need to have a boost if you’re to meet their level.’ I want to tackle it like Anna, head-on and without special considerations. Equality of opportunities, not equality of outcomes. You can’t guarantee if I’ll win, and if you do, you take away the reward of having won.

11 thoughts on “Nothing Special

  1. Hmmm.. My inborn white male privilege makes me feel unqualified to opine on this. The inequities I HAVE seen are those of greater height and more beauty (both sexes) having doors opened to them that stay closed to guys like me. (5’10” and ordinary appearing)

      1. Given sufficient gentlemen about, having doors opened should be a normal experience. Your “cuteness” simply makes it more fun for us. Semi-related note: I have NEVER seen my mother pump gas. With four sons, should she have to?

        1. If I am in need of gas and the First Reader is with me, he pumps. I quickly learned that was not a role he was budging on, even if I do do most of the driving! I like it, makes me feel pampered.

          1. We boys were conditioned to fill the tank as soon as it dropped below quarter full. Mom rarely dove before Dad died in 05, and still doesn’t much. Recall the books “Real Women Don’t Pump Gas” (1982) shortly followed by “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche”(later in ’82) Both were sources of much hilarity in the O’Malley house.

  2. Having seen your published works, and private thoughts you’ve been willing to share with fans, I’m going to do something I hardly ever do… mention IQ. I have been tested, several times in fact, and my IQ is pretty far up the ladder compared with the averages.

    YOU are not average, no way, no how, just nope!

    You, IMHO (or not so humble opnion), are smarter than the average bear to the point I’d guess dealing with average folks is a learned skill.

    I got spoiled by going from home with parents who never realized how intelligent they really were… to college at a time when not everybody was expected to attend, into the Air Force in a carreer field where the average person couldn’t get through the first stage of specialized electronics training. I was lucky enough to deal with mostly peers and equals for the first half of my life.

    Retirement (first retirement from the USAF) came with some shocks. Even working as a RadioShack Associate, and later Tandy Computer Specialist, kept me in the company of associates and customers that were smart enough to sell High Tech back when computers and cell phones weren’t commodities sold in drug stores…

    Working for The State of NC as a facility IT type was my first real experience with the “average” and it was a bit of a shock. For the first time I was dealing on a daily basis with people who didn’t have a clue. Folks that had limited or no problem solving skills, and worst of all, people who weren’t even interested in anything that challenged their capibilities.

    Picking up new life skills in order to deal with that was a crash course in politics, teaching, and developing a sense of humor that encompassed human frailty as something other than tragedy…

    That said… I got good enough at dealing with that to become a teacher… Industrial education at first, continuing my military skills there, just applying them to folks that really needed nurturing along the way.

    Later I was asked to take over some college courses for a friend with a new baby and serious medical complications. Teaching 100 and 400 level CIS courses for a few months. That got me working on a degree of my own, and also led to substitute teaching in public schools. Still doing that after 23 years.

    That long boring background hopefully will give me a little credibility in saying you are and amazing, intellegent, and interesting person who sees answers before those around you see the problem. You might even have developed the skill of waiting to say answers till the other person actually asks the question You should, by this time, know that the teacher realized YOU know the right answer and is asking others to see what THEY know

    Bottomed line: IQ is a number you never need worry about, if you tested you’d just embarrass anyone trying to one-up you with their Mensa credentials.

    1. Oh, I’m not worried about the number. Part of the reason I was never tested as a kid was that Mom didn’t want us to judge ourselves or our capacity by a number. As an adult that made sense to me, so I’ve never made a serious attempt to learn it.

      I have tried to learn everything I needed to know, and some stuff that just looked interesting. I’ve had times where it was fun, and others where it was a desperate race to learn so I wouldn’t fail at what I was already doing. There’s a saying going around on memes something to the effect of ‘how do you manage?’ and the answer is so true “I didn’t have a choice.”

  3. Cedar, I have a (tested) IQ of 121 and was told I had the equivalent of an MS (with only 3 years of college finished), because I “self educated.” But, I on’t consider myself “smart.” I just tend to intensively study what I like, with a near photo memory. I also work hard, like you, at learning.

  4. Cedar, it might be interesting to take one of the on-line IQ tests someday and see what you get (there are some that are pretty accurate, for values of accuracy….). Your father and my mother both test just above ‘genius’ level; I tested at 122. So I suspect you are probably right up there with your dad and grandma.

    Ted Hall, you are right about the difficulties of dealing with people of ‘average’ intelligence. Growing up with a very bright mother (and probably my father, also, though as far as I know he never had an IQ test; he only finished 8th grade, but was really good with mechanical skills), it was kind of a shock to deal with people who couldn’t ‘get’ things that I ‘got’ as a matter of course and thought everyone ought to be able to ‘get.’ You kind of have to back-pedal and make things more basic when you are dealing with them, and be patient so you don’t offend them inadvertently. And then there are those people who are much smarter than I am, who have to do the same thing for me.

  5. In my experience, the people in any organization who routinely get things done are people who don’t concern themselves with qualifications or responsibilities, they just notice a problem and decide to fix it. Frequently they are not the people who get credit for fixing the problem, because credit is also something they tend not to worry about. They just want to process to work as well as possible.

    I have had a great many psychological tests, including IQ tests, done over the years, and have very little faith in them. Intelligence isn’t any kind of static quality, it’s a measure of how much reasoned effort you’re willing to apply to something. Some people think faster than other people (I have said that being a genius means that I can make more bad decisions before breakfast than most people make all day) and some people are better at certain types of abstract reasoning, but neither of those things are really intelligence.

    Intelligence begins with taking responsibility for your own epistemological health–developing the tools to independently verify what is true and what is false, and maintaining that understanding in the face of emotional pressure while being willing to reevaluate facts on the basis of sound evidence and reason. That’s a choice, not an innate ability.

    The idea of people being “too intelligent to relate to ordinary people” has always struck me as pure nonsense. It’s like claiming that I am too strong to lift a bag of groceries because I can lift an engine block. You can say “I’m not willing to make the effort to understand this person because I think I’m better than he is” but that doesn’t sound as noble, does it?

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