I'm cursed with street smarts.
My first gig out of college was playing the blues in a crack house in a slummy part of Roosevelt, Long Island, where gunfire erupted on more than one occasion (the trick: never stop playing; no one shoots at musicians). I've played in dozens of countries, and had wild experiences with wild people. Over the course of three careers, I've met and befriended an unnaturally broad range of characters, from crackheads to murderers to movie stars. Having been through innumerable tight situations and seen innumerable people of every background behave under stress, I've developed a faculty for knowing what to expect.
I always figured my street smarts - my ability to instantly know who's who, and what someone's capable of - were a good thing. There's no disputing that they've come in very handy. But I recently realized what street smarts actually are: a nonstop subconscious monitoring and gauging of the very worst in people.
That may sound anxious-making, or even paranoid, but it's actually not. On the contrary, this low-level monitoring makes me feel calmly secure, because I always know what I'm up against. And whereas paranoia is delusional, this scanning provides true, useful info. Much experience over time has borne that out.
I'm not a negative person. This stuff is all unconscious, and it never dominates. Consciously, I appreciate the positive aspects of people I meet. I'd be completely enjoying my conversation with you (not worrying whether you'll attack me!), because you're a nice person! But if the stranger sitting behind you suddenly goes nuts, I'll have spotted him first.
But here's why it's a curse. Human beings have dark depths. Some of us "go there" more easily (and I can smell those people effortlessly). But we also have divine heights. And street-smart people don't monitor for that. There may be conscious appreciation, but it's not part of the humming substructure.
Like most street-smart people, crowds make me edgy. Lots of information, lots of negative potential. But lately I've been experimenting with flipping it. I scan crowd faces (which, if you pay attention, are almost always glum, drained, self-absorbed, burdened, and/or angry in the rich First World), and intuit how close everyone is to erupting into radiant smiles.
It's startlingly, disarmingly easy. To my amazement, it's even true. My radar confirms it's in there! The potential does exist! Always!
And I'm aiming for an even bigger flip. When I talk to people, I'm trying to speak to their latent smile, rather than to their latent darkness. I don't necessarily aim to draw out that smile (which would feel manipulative); I just "get" them in their hidden light, rather than their hidden darkness.
It is, again, surprisingly easy.
[Note - this was close to that, and true. But this is truer]
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