People process and communicate differently is a simple message I share every chance I get. I’ve learned over the years to value and appreciate those differences, especially through the lessons I’ve learned with Louie.
I’ve watched him with his new gal pals as he tries to figure them out. Dakota is the shy, quiet type. Claire is the adorable, but rambunctious puppy who will soon tower over him. And Jazz is statuesque with long legs and can body slam Lou in a heartbeat—all in fun, of course. With each encounter, I watch him size up the situation and process if it is time to play or time to run away. No matter what he decides, it is comical to watch him process.
Louie and I were doing our usual stroll through the neighborhood when he started charging at something. I am keenly aware of his “danger” signals but as I scoped the area, I saw nothing to merit such a strong reaction.
Finally I saw the object of his fear. He was charging a decorative black cat. It looked like a real cat and since it didn’t move even with a hound dog charging at it, it appeared to act like the cats in our neighborhood. I understood why Louie was concerned.
He walked away confused and kept looking back at the cat. He didn’t understand how it could look real but not be real. All the pieces of the puzzle did not seem to fit together. The next day he was walking with his buddy, Mick, who had the same reaction. Louie once again looked confused about a cat that wasn’t real but sure looked it.
While I tried to assure Lou that it was just a fake cat, and it would not pose any danger, my words fell on deaf ears. He had to figure it out himself to fully comprehend whether it was safe or not. We could certainly draw some comparisons between people who seem authentic but aren’t! But I thought of something else as I watched him—the inverse square law.
I struggled with math all my life, and by comparing myself to others who seemed to catch on quickly, I thought I was stupid (even typing the word makes me cringe). Yet I actually enjoyed Radiation Physics in college—at least by the end of the course. The sequence of events that led to my entering college for Radiology and Nuclear Medicine Sciences is fodder for another blog post. Foundational to understanding radiology is a theory called the inverse square law. Without getting too technical, it is the intensity of the X-ray beam being inversely proportional to the distance from the source; the intensity of radiation becomes weaker as it spreads out from the source. Technologists must account for the distance as they set up for the X-ray. I know photographers understand this theory as well.
I had a hard time understanding this concept. Like Louie, I was confused and could not make sense of this theory—the pieces of the puzzle did not fit. My professor, the very patient and compassionate Susan Weidman, continued to work with me through a long and arduous process. Finally, I looked at her and apologized for not getting the theory. Very matter-of-factly she said, “Don’t apologize to me. I am not the one who will fail the course if you don’t get this theory.”
It was as though the heavens parted, an angelic chorus filled the sky, and I finally saw the light—I finally understood the inverse square law. What made the difference? One little word: Failure. Failing the course was more painful than the hard work it was going to take to figure out this theory.
While Louie is a very quick learner, there are some things that do not make sense to him. He needs time to process. Humans also need time to process. Leader, if you are a quick processor, do you show impatience with others who don’t share your gift? Do you assume because you can click right through accounting formulas that others should as well? If you lead a team, does your body language show your disgust because someone can’t comprehend something that seems so obvious to you?
Disdain for those who are different than we are or who learn differently will kill a team, not to mention what it does to a child. Value the differences among people, be patient, and practice servant leadership by helping others. Your team will be much more healthy and productive.
As for Lou and the black cat…he’s counting down the days until Halloween is over.