The Other I

August 4, 2019

It’s a circle, not a ladder

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 11:33 am

During my teaching career at university, I put a high priority on helping students identify their strengths because I wanted to do everything I could to help them maximize the contribution they might make in choosing their careers.  I was aware that ethnic minorities and women were less likely than their white and male counterparts to recognize their gifts, and were thus less apt to consider work that has traditionally been considered beyond their reach.  I am profoundly grateful to those students who have told me that I changed their lives with this advice.

But as I have grown older, and hopefully a little wiser, I see this advice reflecting too much of a ladder.  In many ways, I was advising my students to climb onto higher rungs than they would have considered.  That’s great.  But none of us is complete.  We might be geniuses in some areas, but there are always limitations.   In fact, by our very nature, none of us can survive without the contributions of multiple aspects of life around us.

Art by Sam Brown;

We can’t even survive without the micro-organisms in our guts on which we depend to digest our food every bit as much as they depend on us.  We depend on the plants and trees to give us the oxygen we need to breathe.  We depend on thousands of different kinds of life to give us the food we eat.  We depend on the skills and contributions of our fellow human beings to teach us to cook, to read, to play games, to take care of ourselves.  Even learning to talk is an interpersonal enterprise.

So if I were still teaching, I would encourage my students to identify their strengths, but also to identify what they need most from others.  It might be in the form of music, building, engineering, cooking, space exploration, verbal or mathematical abilities.  The list is endless.

One of the least and probably most important contributions that are under-appreciated is in the area of what today is called Social Intelligence.  That is the ability to intuit the needs and wishes and meaning of others.  It is a skill that makes one a good partner and also a good parent.  It is also a skill needed to understand other cultures and ethnic minorities providing very different insights than analytical thinking.

Learning one’s own limitations, whatever they may be, makes it clear that we are not perched on rungs of a ladder, but rather live within a circle, where we all need each other and our differences.  It helps me realize that my answers are not absolute.  No matter how right I think I am, I still need the contributions of life around me.

Even those organisms digesting my breakfast this morning are as important to my survival as those Great and the Good, the Celebrities, the Great Leaders, who are held up as models whom we should emulate and whom we too often try to equal.



  1. Amen.


    Comment by Chris Lawrence — August 4, 2019 @ 2:10 pm | Reply

  2. One of the things I need most from others is a hug especially today in my home town of El Paso TX!


    Comment by kay lent — August 4, 2019 @ 8:45 pm | Reply

    • Oh Kay, I know that cyber-hugs aren’t quite as good as hugs up close. But experience has taught me just how much strength and support can come with a hug. I think it can give something nothing else can. So this is a “hug” with my deepest understanding. Terry


      Comment by Terry Sissons — August 5, 2019 @ 12:29 pm | Reply

  3. somehow i never received notice of this – my loss went looking on the website to see if anything were posted – and voila my lucky day this is the 50th anniversary of woodstock. fresh out of maryknoll, i went with three others in a volkswagon bug the energy the kinetic bonding, with others, so healing truly hugs are the givers of life as in woodstock sent across thousands of folks, reach to the parameters – no fences – no filters. it was there.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by kateritek — August 20, 2019 @ 4:15 pm | Reply

    • Speaking of full circles!


      Comment by theotheri — August 20, 2019 @ 7:02 pm | Reply

  4. ‘Social Intelligence – That is the ability to intuit the needs and wishes and meaning of others.’

    Expresses it concisely and so well.


    Comment by tskraghu — September 15, 2019 @ 4:05 pm | Reply

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