Earlier this week, I had a twitter conversation with an active member of the Labour Party. I like the woman, even though my cynicism around Labour is running at an all-time high. When she invited feedback, I gave her my honest opinion which, as regular readers of this blog will know, tends to be extremely upfront with both barrels. Bev is the kind of person who values this and I was invited to contribute further. It was at this point I did something that interests me, although I’m sure all traditional advice would have counseled against it. At the time of writing, she has yet to respond, so I thought I’d share my action to see what others might make of it.
In my current society, the ‘norm’ for introducing oneself to others favours the good: a CV will, for example, promote our successes whilst seeking to minimise our failures and failings. Well, whatever the prevailing norms, I have never been able to fit them no matter how hard I’ve tried. When I have tried, I’ve always felt as though I am something of a fraud. It’s not that I don’t have good qualities – I have them in probably the same proportion as any other human being which, if we’re being balanced about it, check in at 50:50 good versus ‘bad’. Whenever I’ve tried to accentuate the positive, the negative in my shadow usually sabotages my efforts, so these days I’ve learned to keep both in view when engaging with others. But Bev was seeking information without the benefit of knowing my ‘history’ and this concerned me. So what did I do? I turned the CV ‘rules’ upside-down.
One of my complaints about Labour is its total failure to engage with our ever-growing population of British outlaws and social exiles. As a member of this ‘class’ for the past 13 years – now fully qualified and accredited – it seemed only fair to her to give her all the reasons why she shouldn’t talk to me in order of importance. My upside-down CV looked like this:
Any one of those qualifies for social rejection in our current political climate and, no doubt, it becomes more alarming to the socially-accepted that I have three. Certainly, its enough to spook the horses! The more I’ve reflected on my actions, however, the happier I’ve become. Here’s why.
Firstly, poor people are more likely to acquire criminal records and I was certainly poor when I got mine. Our present social structures vilify anyone with a criminal record and impose penalties on the poor for being… well… poor. There’s no escaping it. Society has a great deal of ‘understanding’ and compassion for the socially-acceptable (ie: rich) whilst delegating blame, responsibility and criminality downwards. It has to land somewhere and I happen to be someone it landed upon. My peers-in-poverty can expect the same absence of understanding and compassion should they ever transgress the ever increasing number of rules designed to keep us in our place: silent, obedient and invisible.
The general thrust of this style of political social ‘management’ is to judge and shame us. Instead of a balanced 50:50 good and bad, we end up carrying the bulk of the bad and are regarded as having no good in us worth mentioning. Whilst it’s neither true nor factual, we live at a time where truth and fact seem to be firmly gagged and tied-up in the boot of British politics by our so-called social ‘betters’. If someone like me is being invited to share, a ‘negative’ CV like mine is likely to be the norm rather than the exception. Since I happen to value factual truth more than propaganda, it’s actually a relief to be so open.
The other point worth making here is that of management. The accepted way of highlighting our ‘good’ history and minimising or disguising our ‘bad’ leaves those dealing with us at a serious disadvantage. The only way they get to find out about the human messes we are capable of is through bitter experience. When I taught this stuff as a management trainer, I encouraged participants to be upfront about mistakes because they are actually easier to manage. If we know what the problems are, we can deal with them; management decisions are informed and can contain the problem. It’s far more difficult to resolve fuck-ups if everyone is hiding or evading the truth. At least Bev knows what she’s getting into with me – how much more difficult might it be if she had to learn as she went along. My upside-down CV gives her the facts she needs to make educated choices.
The next advantage I identified dealt with what I describe as ‘whispering campaigns’. There’s little or nothing the subject of such campaigns can do because the whispering goes on behind their back and it requires considerable trust between the
‘whispered-to’ and the ‘whispered-about’ in order to manage it. Such trust rarely exists in new working relationships… unless, like me, you’ve submitted an upside-down CV.
Whispering campaigns have a habit of developing a mythology of their own. For example, mythologies about me have included reports that my claims to a psychotherapeutic career were altogether untrue (but fail to mention what I was supposed to be doing instead) and, of course, there’s the myth of how that career ended. We only get to find out what mythologies are attached to us when actually someone tells us – otherwise we are entirely in the dark regarding the imagination of ‘concerned’ others. An upside-down CV is a remarkably effective remedy. It demonstrates our willingness to address problems arising from our own selves and because the conversation is already opened, it enables the ‘whispered-to’ to ask questions if its a subject I haven’t already mentioned.
I suppose my action could be regarded as ‘risky’ behaviour by those who have an investment in staying hidden, but when I consider the potential pay-offs in terms of trust and relationship, it begins to look more like insurance.
Firstly, if Bev is someone who is likely to be spooked by my actions, it saves both of us time and energy. We both learn I’m not someone she’s ever likely to feel safe-enough with. She doesn’t have to engage with someone who spooks her and I don’t have to go through the process of living within the prison of her fears. Because I start from a place of integrity, there’s no requirement for either of us to journey through disappointment and disillusion – a painful journey at the best of times and one I’ve travelled too often to want to do again if I can avoid it. All these considerations point to a win-win for both of us, even if she does decide I’m too hot to handle.
If Bev is someone who can manage these negatives – and they are my most ‘flamboyant’ – then all roads lead up, not down. Her experience of me is more likely to be one of pleasant surprise than horrible shock, which seems only fair to someone strong enough to get over a negative CV like mine. That seems to be much fairer on her than the ‘traditional’ route as someone willing to take a risk with me.
Lastly, there’s a final bonus.
Although I have traveled respectable pathways, my journey through the realms of ‘outlaw’ carry more value and worth to me than anything I did before. Certainly the professional skills I acquired whilst ‘respectable’ paid the bills but they weren’t really tested by experience. Respectability looks like a safe cocoon after the white-knuckle ride I’ve been through. The dimensions of social exile tested the theories I’d been taught and stripped them of middle-class self-delusion. When I claim to speak from the perspective of the outlaw, no-one can question my integrity. Additionally, I not only demonstrate my capacity to fuck-up but I also show how I deal with it, what I have learned, and how I managed my behaviour afterwards. My humanity is authentic and measurable.
‘Nice’ CV’s can’t do any of above, which is something that is really worth reflecting upon. So even if Bev decides I’m someone it’s wiser not to get involved with, I’ve learned something truly invaluable from our contact and I am extremely grateful to her to that.