Ministry-Test-Guy-who-checks-if-you-are-well-suited-psychologically-to-be-a-Minister: You scored 30 on the extrovert scale.
Me: Something is wrong with your test. I am higher than 30.
Guy: The test is out of 30.
Me: Oh. Well, that's all right then.
Guy: And you score a touch high on psychopathic deviance.
Me: I'm sorry? <note: It was a Canadian sorry. Canadian sorry is a word that is used to mean many things. Not usually apologetic things. In this case, it translates to “you are wrong, and bad at your job. Go home.”>
Guy: Oh, don't apologize. “Psychopathic deviance” doesn't mean what you think it means.
Me <inside my head>: “I’m sorry” doesn’t mean what you think it means.
Guy: At this slight elevation, Psychopathic Deviance just means you don't succumb to pressure from peers, or from society...
Me <thoughtfully>: I AM unusually impervious to the norms of my culture. I have to remind myself to act in ways that are consistent with the arbitrary rules of social appropriateness.
Me <inside my head>: For example, I am reminding myself of that right now.
Guy: And you score high on pollyanna syndrome. Which means you are a bit naively hopeful about the world.
Me: That test was calibrated on Americans, which are an unusually pessimistic and fearful culture. By choosing a culturally homogenous and incomplete calibration method, the authors of the test skewed it and made it of limited use beyond their own context. I am not unrealistically hopeful, I can back up my claims with research.
Me: <cites a bunch of research>.
Guy: Uh, okay. You also score as having problems with authority. Like you would argue back a lot, or when someone is evaluating you, you might...
Me <takes breath to speak>
Guy <makes inadequate attempt to suppress his grin>
Me <with great restraint>: That seems accurate.
Guy: You’re planning on being a Unitarian Universalist Minister, though, right?
Guy: Shouldn’t be a problem, then. You’ll fit right in.
He thought this because UUs take pride in their history of shit disturbing. Of the five guys who wrote the declaration of independence, UUs claim half of them (two were, two weren’t, and one was Unitarian “in his heart” or something like that). We claim Thoreau and Emerson, too, although not actually legitimately if you look at all closely.
I was raised on that stuff.
My religious education consisted of a) math formulas that my dad insisted were spiritual and in their poetic elegance, and b) quotes from transcendentalists. My mother was a little less math-ey, but also into civil disobedience. Although rather than phrases like “The vast majority of men lead lives of quiet desperation” and “Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine” she said things like “what a load of bullshit”.
I like Thoreau. A lot. Probably because I never had to sit in a room with the guy, but his ideas seem good. That said, it does seem a little unfair to the teachers to send your kid to elementary school passionately declaring “The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right”.
I did get 100% on a report on Thoreau in grade seven, but beyond that, my depth of knowledge on the injustices of The System was surprisingly useless in elementary school.
It didn’t go over too well in seminary, either.
My first seminary class, I spend the whole time a) googling the really long words they were using, and b) remembering the time my parents encouraged my sister to go on “desk strike” because the teacher wouldn’t let her switch to a desk big enough to swing her legs.
Everything about the seminary desk didn’t fit.
I spent two years composing Thoreau-esque wordy-papers on everything wrong with seminary. Then I spent a couple more years saying “what a load of bullshit” a-la-my-mom, to anyone who would listen.
Then, I started to think less in terms of “Institutions” vs "Rage-Against-The-Machine".
“Institutions” vs “Rage-Against-The-Machine” is not a sensible way to think of it. Because both ways of thinking have their uses.
Like skill-saws and curry paste both have their uses, and you can’t really argue which is better unless you specify the situation. Although you can definitely argue which is better for me to be in charge of, because I am a genius with curry paste and I’m not actually sure which tool a skill saw is. Because via classical conditioning I have learned from an early age that all tools that go “ZZZZZZZ” are named “NOT-FOR-LIIIIIIIIIIIZ!!!!”. If you listen carefully, you can hear saws actually make that sound when they cut wood. A clunk and a whirr that sounds exactly like “NOT-LIIIIIZZZZZZZZ!”.
I learned in seminary that institutions are also "not-Liz", but it took me a while to come to really understand what this means. It took a while for me to realize that the moral of the story of my sister’s desk strike isn’t just about rage-against-the-machine. Sure, she was able to know when things didn’t fit, and speak up for herself. But she also stayed in the room. Papers spread around her, sharpening her pencil, ready to get down to useful work. Working alongside the desk.
Institutional thinking is about getting credentials or rising up a ladder. It's about fitting into a paradigm and contributing to it. Think employed-by-big-company, or proff-with-tenure, or in my case clergy. Leaving institutional thinking is about... different things.
Which is why the shift to freelancer or consultant or entrepreneur can involve some growing pains. You have to learn to think less like a construction worker and more like someone putting together whatever leftovers are in the fridge into a constellation of delicious and home-ey using your unique gifts and pantry and flair for figuring out spices. It involves a lot of spotting patterns and fitting in and grabbing opportunities and feeling free and on fire.
Also terror. It involves a lot of terror.
For me, this terror translated into rapidly alternating between trying to fit back into the machine and raging against it. Because retreat and rage are easier than fear. For me, the cure for this was learning to look in different places. Instead of thinking all the time about what didn't fit, I began to think about what did fit. Like they say about skidding on ice... don't look at the tree or you'll hit it. Look at the gap between the trees. Look where you want to go, and steer there. I looked for the stories of people doing what I want to do, and learned from those stories.
After a while, I became one of those stories. More and more people are asking me about this process. People dodging tenure, people trying to break from big companies into consultancy. Seminarians. People struggling to shift their thinking. It's a terrifying prospect, because it involves a tremendous loss of faith in the institutions we once served and relied on.
It's not a full loss of faith, though. You can continue to believe in something, but change the limitations around what that faith means. Because sometimes things look like they are crumbling when they are actually expanding. Becoming part of a whole ecosystem of more diverse things. Like happened with the institutions of family, and marriage.
Diversity breeds strength. You don't want everyone in the desk. You want some people working alongside it.
The best homes are built by skill-saws first and then also someone with a good knack with curry paste and decorating and how to get the family involved in a rousing game of co-operative-board-games-and-shouting.