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Changing Stripes

Updated: Aug 29, 2022

In 1998 off the coast of Sulawesi, Indonesia scientists discovered a species of octopus on the bottom of a muddy river mouth. For the next 2 years, they filmed nine different mimic octopuses impersonating sea snakes, lionfish, and flatfish—a strategy used to avoid predators, to hunt, and mate.

Last week, two of our friends visited from Cincinnati. Everyone wanted to talk about flying since Walt's a pilot and what's not to love about airplanes. Although I'm a type-rated pilot, my career was as a systems engineer. Not many people engage in social conversation about hubs, switches, and routers and so when I meet someone with a similar background, like my friend from Cincinnati, it's nice to catch up. Somewhere in our conversation, we talked about the difficulty in making friends in a new location--one where you're not bonding through work, tee-ball games, or church. He remarked that since he didn't like people, it wasn't an issue.

That gave me pause. I replied that I like people--that is the socially appropriate response. But do I? Do I like [all] people?

Do I like [all] dogs?

I like some dogs. Some dogs make me really uneasy. One dog is usually nice. Two dogs are nice if they're friendly and smile a lot. More than two dogs at a time will put me on edge. Which are the nice dogs? Do they like each other? Will they bite? Are they calm or high energy? Will they respect my boundaries? Can I protect myself and my dogs if things go south?

I worked for a company in the early 1990s, during a time when our human resources department thought it a good idea to have the entire company (some 2000+ lawyers, business people, and systems/software engineers) tested using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI):

"The essence of the theory is that much seemingly random variation in the behavior is actually quite orderly and consistent, being due to basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgment. Perception involves all the ways of becoming aware of things, people, happenings, or ideas. Judgment involves all the ways of coming to conclusions about what has been perceived. If people differ systematically in what they perceive and in how they reach conclusions, then it is only reasonable for them to differ correspondingly in their interests, reactions, values, motivations, and skills." (The Myers & Briggs Foundation)

According to the assessment, I'm an INFJ with no balancing scores in the other categories. The "I" in INFJ indicates that I'm an introvert. Does that mean I'm not comfortable around people? Not at all. Before retiring in 2007, I was the vice president of infrastructure operations for the largest company in its sector in the United States. I managed, mentored, and gave presentations to large groups, set strategies, and was interviewed by professional organizations and media. I learned to invigorate the team, to maintain a stoic presence in conflict, and an upbeat persona in social gatherings. I genuinely cared about each of those people and wished for their continued success and well-being.

But, did I like them? I liked some of them. I respected most of them. I mentored all of them.

My husband is fond of saying that nobody wakes up in the morning declaring, "just how badly can I mess up today?" I think, for the most part, that's true. There are basically good people who set me on edge and the effort required to change my stripes to accommodate them in a social environment is exhausting. Fight or flight. Two or more of these "good people" is sometimes more than I can take and so have to leave the event lest I be eaten.

It's good to remember that we all have to change our stripes from time to time to accommodate one another. Just like having too many dogs in one room, even "good" dogs, it's important to note that the requirement to change has an impact. I like most people. I respect most people. And I strive to be tolerant of all people.

"Tolerance only for those who agree with you is not tolerance at all." Ray Davis

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Walt Hunnicutt
Walt Hunnicutt
Jun 22, 2022

So good. Lots of metaphors for life here.

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