Wednesday, May 24, 2017

My KalamazooX Talk

As I mentioned in an earlier post, several weeks ago I was off for a road trip, part of which involved speaking at the KalamazooX conference.

My talk was on dealing with adversity. I think we as a society have become afraid of it in our work, social, and personal lives. I hit all three of those areas in the talk.

Unsurprisingly, my coverage of the “social” part generated some controversy. I was emphatic with my disgust with the current mindset of “safe spaces”, shutting down speakers holding different opinions, and how polarized and prone to offense we’ve become. I used examples of riots at Berkeley, Portland’s Rose Parade cancellation, and the assault on professor Allison Stanger at Middlebury College.

I took it a step further using Trump supporters sucker punching protesters and the semi-infamous Trigglypuff. I intentionally used inflammatory language describing the two, like “redneck hillbilly” and “overweight SJW” to point out how we “other” those we feel strongly against.

After my talk one woman stood up to make a statement (framed as a question, but it was a statement) taking offense at the words I’d used to describe the woman. Fine. Point missed and underscored at the same time. I tried engaging her in discussion after the talk, and ended up getting surrounded by three other folks who were also upset with my talk. One fellow was literally, not figuratively, literally shouting at me, to the point where I couldn’t even finish the conversation with the woman.

I ended up walking away as he shouted “YOU’RE PROVING MY POINT!” No, pal. All that was proved was you’re a narcissistic asshole. Or at least you were that day.

Later on in the day one fellow went so far as to offer me help to rewrite my talk to make it “less offensive. I can make it so people go ‘Wow!’ instead of ‘BOO!’ ” I shook his hand, said that I had taken some feedback to heart, “but for the rest, tough shit.” He didn’t react to that well…

(I’ll also point out nobody objected to the words I’d used to describe the white male Trump supporter. Make of that what you will…)

Dealing with personal adversity was the theme of the final third. I used my struggles with depression and suicide to illustrate how that gave me some tools and strength to deal with my wife’s murder and the assault on my daughter in January. Yeah, it was pretty intense and open kimono.

Overall the point of the talk is by avoiding tough things we lose out on many benefits: strength, kindness, and the true beauty of our human nature.

Watch it if you’re interested and see what you think.
“…Makes You Stronger”

4 comments:

Amitai Schleier said...

I listened to this while walking the dog. Besides collecting his business, I had to stop a couple times to collect my own. I don't have a hard time believing that at least some folks misunderstood at least part of your message. I do have a hard time believing that, given how vulnerable you chose to be, some people chose to react as though something else besides your humanity were more important in that moment. (And I'm disappointed, but entirely able to believe, that only one of the intentionally inflammatory descriptions was worth arguing about.) I wonder what you'll take away from the experience. In any case, I'm proud to know you.

Jim Holmes said...

@Amitai: Thanks for the very kind words.

I learned two things, well, one was a reinforcement.

0) As a speaker you own delivery of powerful things. If you're going to use extreme examples of any sort (technical, social, whateves) you have to NAIL setup and delivery. You can't use extreme examples, then half-ass making the point. I knew that, failed to live it.

1) I'm done giving soft talks. Reception of things I'm passionate about has been "Meh" the last couple years. I think I'm not doing well enough delivering, plus others are saying the same things in a much better way. It's OK. It's just a thing and I'm fine with it.

AndyLeonard said...

I appreciate your transparency, Jim. A lot. Because I see the things you see in our culture - and am similarly concerned - I am not surprised by the reactions you endured. I am, however, disappointed almost to the point of disgust that someone would interrupt your conversation by yelling at you after you bared your soul so. They *absolutely* made your point.

(Somewhat) like you, I struggle with diabetes (mine is type 2 - I ate myself into it). I found out at age 51 when my doctor looked at the A1C results and said, "I've never seen this reading before. It says '>14.'" The machine couldn't measure my glycated hemoglobin - it was too high. One meter read my glucose at 525. the doc looked at me and said, "How are you conscious?"

I just shared a link to your post on social media.

I pray you continue putting one foot in front of another. I pray you continue to share because there are lots of people (not just me) who need to read and hear your words.

Andy (@AndyLeonard)

Jim Holmes said...

@Andy: Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate the support.

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