Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Devil's Advocate

When I woke up on this glorious February morning Mt. Hood was sitting on the pink tinged horizon like a delicious mound of ice cream. Now the sun is streaming into my basement studio and I can see blue sky all around. On such a beautiful day, why am I depressed?

Yesterday was one of those days filled with little reminders that I am not part of the main stream. I have always seen the world differently than many of the people I come in contact with. The latest example of me as a misfit started yesterday morning when two email exchanges collided in my inbox. One about the benefits of a devil's advocate to a group engaged in problem solving and the other a conversation about kids and college choices.

The first message came with a link to an article about a 1966 study by Kenneth Boulding that brought groups together for problem solving. A devil's advocate was planted in half of the groups. "What Boulding discovered, was that the teams having a devil's advocate all performed significantly better in their tasks, and produced multiple options for successfully solving a problem."

In the kids and college correspondence we were talking about the difficulties surrounding the decision our children have to make about which college to attend. There are many variables to consider such as lessening the huge financial burden by choosing an in-state public school and how far away from home is too far.

I shared some anecdotes about our three children's decision making process and my view that often the academics are very similar from one institution to another so it is the opportunity for new experiences and new people that might set one school apart. How can an 18 year old make an informed decision about a career without some life experience under their belt? One of our children wanted to be a doctor and now teaches high school physics. Another changed her major from graphic design to theater design in the first week of school. Only one has stuck with his desire to be a film director although he did seriously consider acting.

The response from my friend took me by surprise.
"I applaud you encouraging your kids to follow their dreams. My daughter was the lead in the Fall play this year, and yet, as far as majors, we have been communicating to her that we are paying her way through college as an investment, so she needs to leave school with some kind of bankable skill/degree. Not exactly follow your bliss, huh? Guilt, guilt. . ."
I totally get the money thing. My college daughter's tuition and expenses are obscene. Her room and board for this year is about what I paid for my five year college degree. In spite of this, I still think there is a difference between the education obtained at college and a bankable skill/degree. My goal has always been for my children to learn about themselves and the wider world around them, to become self directed and responsible individuals, to create their own life and their own support group, and to find a life-giving way to be financially independent.

With all of this in mind, I decided to play devil's advocate in my email response and my comments were NOT well received. I feel bad about saying too much. This episode combined with some other less than esteem building experiences yesterday, left me in a bit of a funk.

Oh well, when I think about it, I have no desire to be in the main stream. Some days it is just more difficult to remember that. Today I am going to go out and enjoy the sunshine.


  1. Don't forget the second half of the experiment where each team had a chance to remove one member - in every case it was the D.A. who was removed, even though it resulted in a significant decline in the quality of their analysis and solutions.
    The authors concluded that "Intellectually, it is easy for many of us to buy into the idea that competition and confrontation can spark creativity...but on a personal level, we don’t like how conflict feels.....(If we can view) conflict as sharing the same goal or vision but seeing a different path to accomplish it....WHO is right is no longer important and WHAT is right becomes the focus."
    This can be easier said than done - I'm as guilty as the next person about getting my back up when something challenges certain beliefs, or my ego.
    Still, I do believe that when there are common values, just different ways to achieve them, bridges will get built.
    I trust that your friendship will survive this hurdle, and maybe emerge even a bit stronger in the long run. I'm hoping so....


  2. I should add to the last comment that the friendships I have that have survived conflict are my strongest. Sometimes I've had to swallow my pride, sometimes the other person, usually we've both been able to. But once we've done it, we have both gotten better at listening, and finding ways to disagree that give us both a chance to grow.