Sunday, September 19, 2010

Delayed Appreciation Sunday

Last night, as Iris and I sat in our usual spot at Bizen, we talked about the previous week, and more importantly, some decisions we'd come to based upon it. Since both of us are quite busy and have far more opportunity than time, it's become quite clear that we need to develop a new set of criteria by which we determine which opportunities to pursue and which ones to pass on by. As we discussed our weeks, one criterion that emerged for me was appreciation, i.e., how much does someone you're helping or with whom you're working appreciate what you're doing. By appreciate, I don't mean expressing gratitude, I mean getting it.

Time Before Swine
We had several events over the past few weeks that triggered our discussion of appreciation. Iris spends lots of time with parents of kids with autism and she has a lot to offer them. Some parents listen intently to what she has to share, asking questions, wanting learn from her experience and opening themselves to the possibilities. Others don't listen so intently and sometimes not at all. They have their opinions and questions that are independent of what Iris has to offer. They don't appreciate the opportunity they have in Iris.

The problem is that it's the non-appreciative parents that take up most of Iris' time. It's not that Iris wants people to robotically do whatever she says; she simply doesn't want to spend a lot of time with people who have no intention of listening or aren't open to the idea that there may be things they simply don't know or understand.

In the end, the challenge isn't the people per se; it's time. Iris is amazingly patient with the non-listeners, but each moment she spends with a non-listener is a moment that she's not spending with a listener.

Fleeting Time
For me, time has become more precious than ever. As a result, I find myself constantly evaluating my time investments. Is this really where or how I want to be spending my time?

The other night at rehearsal, I found myself feeling the time pinch. Normally, I'm all about experimentation and giving everyone as much latitude as they need to figure things out. However, last week was my most overloaded yet. I worked right up to rehearsal time and planned to work after we were done. Since we'd played a gig the week before and had one coming up Friday, I figured that we could quickly run through the set list and be ready to rock-and-roll.

It didn't go that way. Instead, we found ourselves running into basic challenges with songs we'd been playing forever. As I saw my planned work-time evaporating, I started evaluating my investment. I thought to myself: Come-on guys, we have rehearsal tapes so everyone can go home and work this stuff out. Showing up not knowing this stuff is like showing up without your instrument or your amps or cables.

In frustration, I declared, "Hey, look, if we're not comfortable with this song, let's just not play it."

I probably said some other equally useful things before kissing my planned work-time goodbye and getting down to working through the material. As we came to one song, Scott (our bassist and trumpet player) began playing lines that duplicated the syncopated rhythm of the guitar players making the song feel top-heavy and in danger of tipping over. Scott is a remarkably talented and creative person, music being just one of the manifestations of that talent. However, in this case what he was playing just wasn't working. It was one of those not-even-wrong situations where he played all the notes well, they were just the wrong notes in the wrong places.

I stopped the song and asked Scott to change what he was playing so that it would offset the syncopated rhythm of the guitars. I played him a quick example of what I wanted him to play anticipating that he would pick it up right away and then play it (Scott's quite quick at picking up new material). However, tonight was different (of course).

Rather than trying what I suggested, Scott insisted that what he was playing seemed to be the thing to do. When I convinced him to at least try what I'd proposed, he did so half-heartedly stopping the song in the middle and declaring that it wasn't working.

So, I asked him, "Were you actually playing what I asked you to play?"

He responded, "Sure I was... wasn't I?"

I asked him for the bass and we started again with me playing the notes I'd prescribed. The sound and effect were decidedly different.

My little evaluator whispered, "Twenty minutes on something that could have been one minute?"

Getting It
There are many aspects of get-it-ness. For example, there's the simple understanding of cost. How much did it cost so-and-so to do that for me. Cost might be measured in terms of money, but it can also be measured in terms of time or effort. In all three cases (money, time and effort), the cost to a person is not absolute, but instead proportional to the amount available. If someone has lots of money, the cost of ten dollars is much less than it is to someone with little or no money. The same goes with time and effort.
To appreciate someone involves being aware of what it costs them to do what they're doing.
Another aspect of get-it-ness involves skill and expertise. It's quite often the case that someone's skill and experience level is so far beyond your own that you can't fathom just how far beyond it is. In many cases, you can't fully appreciate the skill of an advanced practitioner until you've developed your own skill level. The problem is we often don't conceive that someone may be so far ahead of us that what they're telling us to do may sound like complete nonsense.
To appreciate someone involves staying open to their being so far ahead of you that their nonsense may be genius.
Another aspect of get-it-ness is perspective. We often come to the conclusion that our way of doing, understanding and perceiving things is the way. We become dismissive of other ways. However, there are almost always infinitely many ways to do, understand and perceive something.
To appreciate someone involves taking time to understand their perspective.

Being Appreciated
Of course, we often make being appreciated a bit challenging, for example, insisting that others rely on clairvoyance to know how much something is costing us (in time, effort or money).
To be appreciated requires you to openly share what it's costing you to do what you're doing.
Another example involves insisting that someone listen to you simply because you're an expert. After the syncopated-bass incident with Scott, I sat down at the piano and played a straight bass part with my left hand and a syncopated rhythm part with my right. I then played the same song with both parts syncopated. The contrast was easy to see and Scott immediately picked up on why I had asked him to play the way I did. I could have saved myself the twenty minutes.
To be appreciated requires you to explain to others why you want what you want.
Another example involves sharing conclusions without foundations, contexts and perspectives. So often, when we're pressed for time, we jump ahead to the conclusions without providing all the background information. Sans context, breakthrough conclusions can sound completely ludicrous.
To be appreciated requires you to share your perspectives, assumptions and logic that brought you to your conclusions.

Delayed Appreciation Sunday
Over the years, I've played the role of pearl-endowed swine many times. In just the past couple of months, on several occasions as I thought about people from my past (colleagues, bosses, teachers, and friends), an insight occurred and I'd think, "Shit, now I get it!"

There have been people in my life who were so far ahead of me that they defied understanding and appreciation. There have been people in my life who did things for me at great costs that I am only beginning to understand. There have been people in my life whose perspectives and insights completely escaped me at the time, but are now making wonderful sense.

There's an oft referenced phenomenon of how much smarter parents become during a child's first year away at college. As you look back through your life, there are probably many people who seem much smarter, more insightful, more caring and more skilled than you could have understood at the time.

On the flip side, there may be people in your life who just don't appreciate you. Perhaps you haven't been easily appreciated.

So, after this long and winding post, I'm declaring today Delayed Appreciation Sunday! How do you celebrate Delayed Appreciation Sunday!? It's easy: think of someone whom you now appreciate much more than you did during your time together and let them know how much you appreciate them now. Alternatively, if you've been feeling under-appreciated, take a quick inventory of the things you done to allow others to appreciate you. Have you expected clairvoyance? Have you fully disclosed your costs and perspectives? Spend some time today becoming more appreciate-able.

Happy Delayed Appreciation Sunday!


  1. It's still Sunday so my appreciation for you, for this, is hardly delayed - I'm especially struck by the issue of trying to understand what it costs us - someone else - everybody else - to do something. And to be vulnerable enough to share that
    thanks again

  2. Before even reading the blog I was appreciating a delayed appreciation... A woman and schoolteacher I used to tell about how I saw happiness as a choise, about playroom and other stuff - until I realised that she didn't really listen - she came to me for advise and she listend so carefully that it was a real joy to help her.
    I thought about an advise on relate-to-autism about using "cliff-hangers" and how I had started to use that as a way of not giving advises to people who didn't ask for it - but giving them short cliff hangers and waiting for them to get back. - and they do, they always do, after moments of lifetimes.

    Thanks Tef, for being an inspiration.


  3. I wonder how often people go through life thinking that they are a genius and feeling underappreciated when they are really just ordinary ... or even subpar. Underappreciated genius is so rare as to be nearly nonexistent. The grandiose delusion of undiscovered genius leading to feelings of underappreciation is so common it should be listed as a separate personality disorder in the DSM IV.


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