There are some gifts I willingly admit I possess; I have a talent for identifying color- which shades work together and which do not; I understand how to turn a phrase, or align words in such a way that they seem to make more sense; and I have a decent singing voice. These are real gifts.
The gift I do not have, nor has ever been attributed to me, is that of subtlety. (At this very moment, people who know me are nodding their heads, or laughing at the very thought of such an attribution.)
Subtlety, of course, isn’t the only gift I am lacking. I have zero idea how to throw a football or even the faintest understanding of the game. Numbers and I have a difficult relationship, making sometimes even the most basic equations an all-out brain freeze. And the square-jaw, rugged-handsome gene skipped my generation.
If my mother were to chime in right now, she’d probably say something like, “Well, Tom Brady and Daniel Day-Lewis certainly don’t have your singing voice, do they?” Thanks, mom.
However, just because I don’t possess those gifts, doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate them.
The gift of subtlety and nuance is one rarely witnessed today– but you know it when you see it. And you miss it when it is absent.
New York Times Opinion columnist Frank Bruni recently referenced this in his take of the 2020 Democratic Presidential Debates:
We’ve entered an especially coarse chapter in American politics. We’ve also entered a spectacularly unsubtle one, in which what stands out and wins the day are big jokes, bold strokes and broad-brush moralizing. Tidy, intellectually facile dichotomies rule: good and evil; villain and victim; oppressor and oppressed. The least exalted real estate is the middle ground and… the most rapidly fading shade is gray. (full article)
In my line of work, subtlety is risky, but it sometimes really pays off. There are great examples of this in advertising over the years. I think of the simple “S.C. Johnson, a family company” creeping in at the end of television ads.
What isn’t said matters.
One commercial I saw recently brought me to tears in the first ten seconds. Watch it here, but try not to read what the commercial is for, just watch the ad. You’ll be glad you did. This is even the abbreviated version and it totally works.
I am looking forward to more opportunities in my creative life and my actual life that cue me to face challenges with subtlety and nuance.