Wildflower or Weed?

“Those are nice wildflowers,” my husband said when we were walking in the woods. “They are,” I agreed.
 
Then I looked at them more closely. “Those aren’t wildflowers,” I said. “They’re weeds! I just spent the afternoon picking them out of my garden.”

“What’s the difference between a wildflower and a weed?” he asked. “That’s a good question,” I said, admiring how the flowers were a welcome surprise in the dark woods, and then remembering how they were choking out my daisies at home. “I guess it’s just location.”

I was remembering that conversation recently when we attended the funeral of my brother-in-law, Ed, who died recently of a heart attack. All of his life Ed went to great lengths to make life difficult for people, most often his family. So at his wake we were all astonished to see a steady stream of people lined up for five hours to tell his wife and sons that he had “saved their lives.” Many of them were sobbing. I shook my head in wonderment and thought, “I guess it’s just location.”

You see, Ed was a defense attorney, often taking on the most challenging cases, and he was very good at it. At home, he made life difficult for his family. At work, he made life difficult for plaintiffs and prosecutors, thereby often getting his clients a “not guilty” verdict.

We don’t know what type Ed would have identified himself as because he would never have a conversation about type, or anything personal. However, his wife had no doubt that, although he wasn’t very well-adjusted, he was an ESTP. She said that if you took away the friendliness and social sophistication, the profile fit him perfectly: active, resourceful, manipulator of the environment, risk taker, nerves of steel, ruthless pragmatist and skillful negotiator.

After the funeral, his family and friends were sitting around telling their favorite Ed stories, and I kept hearing “ESTP” in those as well. One of the men who had grown up in Ed’s neighborhood told about how, when they were boys, his friend was always talking about this cool guy who had lots of old cars and motorcycles. He accompanied his friend to the cool guy’s house, because they were told he needed their help for “just a minute.” Three hours later, after the two boys had helped Ed work on one of his old cars all afternoon in the hot sun, he gave them ice cream. “The thing is,” the man said, “Ed could make it sound like that was a fair exchange.”

ESTPs are usually good at selling people on whatever it is they are selling, because their extraverted sensing allows them to read people’s motivations through nonverbal cues. He probably picked up that the boys were feeling like hot shots for working on a car all afternoon, and ice cream was reward enough. I could imagine Ed using his sharp senses to “sell” a judge and jury as well.

It is said that life is never dull around ESTPs, and most of the stories his family told illustrated that point. Apparently, one of his favorite ways to generate excitement was to beat the system and get a good deal, even though he didn’t need the money. His sons told how he made them lie about their ages to get into amusement parks for children’s fees, and his wife said he made her carry her two-year-old in a blanket so they could pass him off as an infant and get him on the airplane for free.
 
She also told how he bought her a fur coat for half price by arguing for 30   minutes with the salesclerk about the value of its fox collar. He could shamelessly make himself such an annoyance to others that they conciliated just to get rid of him. ESTPs like to live on the edge, and it seems that the edge for Ed was just past the point where people could keep saying no, and just below the point where they called security. From what I understand, a lot of his legal tactics were the same.
 
ESTPs are the most pragmatic of all the types, so the end often justifies the means. My favorite Ed story is the one where he held a big outdoor party on a chilly day. He asked my brother to go to Home Depot and charge six large space heaters. His friends enjoyed the warmth of the space heaters and the party was a great success. The next day, Ed packed up the space heaters in their boxes and had my brother pick them up and return them to Home Depot. My brother says that it’s six years later, and still, if he tries to return anything to Home Depot, even a small bolt, they call the manager. (Notice that he got someone else’s name on a list.)

To be fair, my brother also revealed that he’d been picked up for selling drugs when he was a teenager, and Ed not only got him off, but took him to rehab and turned his life around.
  
When my sister was married, I refused to go to her wedding because I thought Ed was a weed, and would choke the beauty out of her life. For the most part, that turned out to be true. As a husband he was often absent, cold and indifferent. As a father he was usually harassing, mocking or raging. As a brother-in-law he walked right past us without acknowledging our presence. But to desperate people in the worst crises of their lives, facing the judicial system and possible imprisonment, Ed was the most beautiful wildflower they had ever seen.
 
It never ceases to amaze me how people (and animals and objects and life itself) can elude my judgments of good or bad. I keep trying to sort them out, but they keep doing things that don’t fit into my categories. But then, as I walked behind the casket and passed the sorrowful faces on Ed’s former clients, I thought, “Maybe that’s good.”

 

 

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