This is not a political post, I promise, but it is about Hillary Clinton, or at least one particular bit of the narrative about her. You see, I think she is in many ways a lot like me.
I am not good at small talk or in social settings. Put me up in front of a classroom or auditorium and I feel at home; it is a safe place for me That may sound odd for someone who is incredibly uncomfortable around other people, but up there in front there exists a buffer, a slight remove that alleviates my anxiety over being in the world. This fact about me, though, leads many to perceive me as aloof, overly analytic (if I had a dollar for every time I’ve been told I think too much I’d be wealthy indeed). It is not that I don’t want to be comfortable around others; I’m just not. It isn’t that I don’t want to have “normal” conversations, but I cannot help but sweat the details.
This affinity with Secretary Clinton burst forth during the Democratic convention (full disclosure: I watched both conventions and am an absolute political/policy junkie). She used that exact phrase in her speech: I sweat the details. Whatever one might think of her as a candidate, I do believe that is true about her. Her mind gravitates to the how, the what, the why. Everything ultimately turns to policy, the matter of fixing something or at least understanding the underlying reasons and broad implications. That is her lens, just as it is mine.
And that leads to the coverage. Commentator after commentator addresses her perceived unlikeability, the notion that she is cold and distant, unwilling to let the world see her human side. She is called guarded at best, more commonly wary, but more often than not secretive. She simply is not human enough, or at least so the story goes.
This is not a post intended to defend or promote Secretary Clinton, nor is it a post about the ridiculously imposed double standard of public femininity. This is much more personal. In all of that coverage of Secretary Clinton I hear all the things I have heard about myself since childhood. What I experience as thoughtful is called overly critical, what I experience as curiosity is regarded as overthinking, robotic. What I experience as conversation, the sharing of ideas, thoughts, and perspectives seen as debate, confrontational.
My brain constantly seeks connections, revels in following the trail of implications, is most comfortable (even joyful) when ferreting out the nuances. Perhaps that does set me outside ordinary social conventions (being compared to Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory is not uncommon for me). Even that wee boy with his stuffed bear understood that he wasn’t quite acceptable, even if he did not yet know why. My whole life I have been told, subtly and not so subtly, that I am doing it wrong, that I need to be friendlier (whatever that means), to relax, to be more approachable. But when I hear that, when I am told I am doing it wrong, what I hear is that I am wrong, that there is something wrong with me because no matter how much I might change my responses to the world I cannot change who I am.
And I like who I am; I love that brain up in my head and how it works. I love the details, the permutations and implications, the connections between things and the subterranean meanings behind the world. I do not have a casual relationship to the world and I would not want it any other way; it makes everything a source of fascination, of inquiry and understanding. What I don’t like is that seems to be a barrier to admission, to acceptance in the day-to-day world. Is it any wonder, then, that I gravitate to writing? The blank page is endlessly accepting; I need not fear alienating my notebooks.
And that brings me back to Secretary Clinton. What is so wrong about preferring policy papers to heartwarming stories? Wait, I take that back; there is a terrible false dichotomy in that question. For people like me, and probably Secretary Clinton as well, those policy papers are heartwarming; they share a worldview, they explain how we see the people and world around us, how we envision a better world. For us policy is personal, the analytical is inspirational, the details we care about are a reflection of our innermost selves.
So, I don’t ask that you agree with Secretary Clinton (I am doing my very best here to remain apolitical), but I do ask for understanding. It hurts to be rejected for who you are, for what you love. It is one thing to disagree (heaven knows lots of people disagree with me on lots of things, and that is great), but it is another to dismiss or even denigrate someone simply because of how they tick. When I offer my thoughts, my understanding (I am well aware that my conversation almost always tilts toward analysis) that is how I share, that is me opening up, letting you in. And after decades of that not being right, not being good enough, it is no wonder that I hide in corners at social events, cling to my wife at parties terrified of being on my own.
And when I hear the world say that Secretary Clinton is not a real person, that she lacks a proper personality, that she isn’t playing the role of wife, mother, woman well enough I take that personally. Whatever you think of her choices in her public or personal life she is who she is. And if that isn’t good enough, if she is not human enough, then I suppose I am not either. And that just make me more wary, more afraid, and more alone.
And to honest, I don’t like being alone.