Profiles in IT: Gray Carper–Analyst and advocate

By | December 1, 2023
Person in red shirt standing in front of a cityscape
Gray standing front of the night lights in a Hong Kong neighborhood. (Photo courtesy of Gray Carper.)

Tell us about your role.

I’m an analyst in HITS’ Service Analysis and Improvement team whose work involves collecting, visualizing, analyzing, and presenting data in the pursuit of performance improvement across HITS. That data comes from a range of sources, but these days it’s principally from ServiceNow. You might find me…

How did you get into this type of work?

In a very roundabout way! I joined Michigan in 2003 as a Linux system administrator with MSIS, an organization that would later unify with MCIT to form HITS. I was in the same role in 2007 when I decided to resign and move to Hong Kong. Instead of accepting that resignation, though, my then manager Wayne Wilson gave me one of the greatest gifts I could ever receive: Without thinking even for a second, he asked if I’d like to keep my job and work remotely full-time. I couldn’t believe it. I’d never even considered this possibility, so I was stunned numb, and I don’t actually remember anything else about the conversation. I know I must have accepted the offer, and I certainly hope I thanked him! After the day’s work was over and I allowed myself to let the enormity of this sink in, I sat in my car parked outside the building and wept. He had radically improved my life in ways that I had yet to fathom.

I continued in my sysadmin role for a few more years and eventually became the manager of the team I belonged to. Being 12 hours ahead of them led me to work unhealthy half-day / half-night split shifts, however, and I became unhappy. After discussing the problem with my then-manager, Gary Nichols, we decided it was in everyone’s best interest for me to no longer manage. Gary didn’t treat it like a demotion, though – like Wayne before him, Gary gave me an offer that would change my life: He let me join any team I wanted in MSIS. At the time, a new Quality team was forming under Monica Webster, and I felt like my skills and interests were a good fit. Gary and Monica agreed. I transitioned into a role that gave me ample opportunities to learn data analysis and visualization techniques. My work has evolved with the needs of the team, and its management and membership is completely different now, but the modern version of that team is Service Analysis and Improvement.

What is a favorite experience you’ve had while living in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong is incredible and an open firehose of favorite experiences for me, but let me share one that I’m very proud of: Much of Hong Kong is accessible to English speakers, but many more experiences are available to Cantonese-English bilinguals. When I moved here, I didn’t want to be limited in what I could do, where I could go, or who I could speak with, so I decided to start learning Cantonese. I’d never cared about learning another language before (apologies to my high school Spanish teachers!) and I quickly discovered how terrifying it can be. The process of learning wasn’t just about understanding the language, it was about managing my fear of speaking it in front of others. One Saturday, I decided I wanted to take a large step towards overcoming that fear. I sat down in a neighborhood restaurant completely inaccessible to non-Chinese speakers. There were no English menus, and no one working there spoke or understood English, so the staff were probably just as terrified as I was when I walked in! I took my time, ordered, engaged in small talk, and everything went smoothly! This was a major milestone in learning Cantonese and proved to me that I was capable of being fully independent and unrestricted in Hong Kong. Since then, I’ve visited more and more places where English isn’t available, and I’ve also spent time as a tour guide so that I can share those places with people who would otherwise be unable to experience them.

You’ve been a recipient of multiple HITS awards, including “Making a Difference” Awards and a HITS Values Award. How does your work continue to impact the university?

In most cases, I think of my contribution as one person and one request at a time. Let’s say I help someone define a KPI, develop a report, build a dashboard, answer a question with data, or learn to do any of those things on their own. The work of that person is then enhanced, in turn enhancing someone else’s work or life with what they do, and that ripple continues through HITS, Michigan Medicine, the university, and the world. Each contribution starts small, but leads to a significant impact by snowballing with the contributions of others. Perhaps a larger ripple from me, though, is the HITS Pulse survey. It’s a permanent listening post, launched in 2016, where HITS customers and staff regularly provide feedback that HITS leadership uses across the whole organization to celebrate successes, address shortcomings, and demonstrate the impact of our improvement efforts over time. I led its development and I continue to be the principal facilitator.

As part of your work, you’ve been asked to identify and analyze instances of gaslighting in HITS. Can you define gaslighting and how you were tasked with this work? How did you become qualified to do that?

Gaslighting is a means to manipulate and harm someone by causing them to question and alter their own memories, thoughts, perception of reality, and sense of right and wrong. That description gives you no sense of what gaslighting looks like or why it’s so destructive, but I’ll get to both if you bear with me.

My involvement with gaslighting analysis started in 2021 when I was invited to glean insights from the results of HITS’ annual Diversity Equity and Inclusion survey. One survey question asks respondents to describe first-hand experiences they’ve had being gaslit at work. I expected to find retellings of gaslighting events, but I was very surprised to find respondents actively gaslighting in their responses to other questions. This wasn’t just gaslighting in the past, it was happening in realtime to anyone reading the survey responses! It was so shocking that I decided it deserved its own special section of the analysis, and below you’ll find a few of the case studies.

Presentation slide showing survey results and a list explaining them.
Survey result with an illustrated mouth saying a quote in a speech bubble, with a list on the right of an explanation of the info.
Survey result with an illustrated mouth saying a quote in a speech bubble, with a list on the right of an explanation of the info.
Survey result with an illustrated mouth saying a quote in a speech bubble, with a list on the right of an explanation of the info.

When someone gaslights you, you experience what’s called traumatic mind-mapping. Your brain reads the intention of the gaslighter, realizes that they intend to harm you, and tries to protect you from that harm by blocking or repressing the trauma. Alongside the direct damage done by gaslighting, this defensive response causes some awful side effects, and over time the two combined can lead to…

  • Cognitive impairment. Victims get brain fog / jelly brain while being gaslit, while trying to remember a gaslighting event, or even when gaslighting is not involved.
  • Mental blind spots. Victims won’t consciously recognize that their abusers are abusive and will even defend them.
  • Inverted morality. Victims will do or say something wrong while considering it to be right.
  • Reduced or eliminated compassion. Victims stop caring about others.
  • Increased hatred. Victims start wanting to harm others.
  • Gaslighting. Victims use gaslighting to manipulate others and do all of the above to them.

That last side effect means gaslighting is also passed within families from generation to generation, like a neurological disease, and that’s one reason why I’m qualified to analyze instances of gaslighting. In my family, parents gaslight their children, those children grow up to become parents who gaslight their children, and so on. Everyone in the family is both victim and perpetrator, including me. Allow me to present my qualifications through two examples from my life:

  1. Once, when a family member was privately complaining to me about another, I told them that I felt they were asking me to take their side. Their response was, “I didn’t think there were sides.” That’s both a dodge and a gaslight. The act of complaining about someone else clearly establishes two sides, but when I point that out, they tell me that sides don’t exist. Worse than that, they’re implying that I’m the one who is creating sides. That this is my fault, not theirs.
  2. I once had a girlfriend who didn’t like cinnamon. I knew that very well. When making a Thanksgiving meal, I baked a pumpkin pie including cinnamon because I wanted it. When she tried a bite, she immediately detected the spice and asked me why I included it. I said, “I thought you wanted to try the original flavor.” This is a gaslight. I knew she didn’t want cinnamon, but made her think she had asked me to include it when she hadn’t. I made her feel like it was her fault when the fault was mine.

If these events were isolated, then their harm would be minimal and easily repaired, but that’s not how gaslighting works. It happens in small, seemingly-innocuous statements done repeatedly over time – like little droplets of hate falling on you – and these examples are emblematic of thousands of others that I’ve experienced or perpetrated. When a gaslighter repeatedly warps your perception of reality like this, you eventually stop trusting your own thoughts and start depending on the gaslighter to tell you how you should think. They have complete control over you, and that’s exactly what they want.

You’re probably wondering how it is that I, a gaslighter, can talk like this about gaslighting. In 2013 I found an incredible counselor at the Crucible Institute who helped me rehabilitate myself, and in doing so restored my compassion, taught me how to love, and eliminated my gaslighting behavior. He saved my life. If you’d like to know more about the process of counseling and how it’s benefitted me, please contact me. I’m happy to share.

A big theme of this year’s HITS awards is self-care and burnout awareness. As a past award winner, what would you like to share with colleagues about navigating self-care and stress at work?

I wholeheartedly recommend counseling. It’s far and away the best thing I’ve ever done for myself and those around me. Had I done it sooner, I would have spent more of my life happy and I would have harmed fewer people. You might not need a complete emotional reconstruction like I did, but counseling can help you take better care of yourself in all aspects of your life, and at Michigan we have an abundance of counseling resources available:

Other suggestions that have helped me include:

  1. Prioritize. Either independently or in coordination with your manager, decide what to do first, next, etc. If someone has to wait because you have higher priorities, let them know.
  2. Set boundaries. You’re only paid to work a certain number of hours, and you know what that number is. Make sure that’s all you work. If something or someone is interfering with your productivity – perhaps you’re invited to meetings that you don’t need to be in – say “no” and explain why. 
  3. Be direct about what you want. We all need resources so that we can do a good job. Equipment, help from a teammate, training, time off.. Whatever you think will benefit you, ask for it.
  4. Give yourself a break. If you can’t get something done, then you can’t get something done. That’s okay. Beating yourself up about it only does you harm and provides no benefit.
  5. Protect your team’s psychological safety. If you work with an abuser (bully, racist, gaslighter, etc), including your manager, please report them. You aren’t just protecting yourself from their abuse, you’re protecting your team, unit, and the whole of Michigan. 
  6. Do no harm. The process of hurting someone else also hurts you. 
  7. Be a source of joy. The process of making someone else happy makes you happy.

What do you like to do for fun?

My wife Violet and I are insatiable food adventurers, and Hong Kong is an eater’s paradise with access to cuisines from all over the world, so we love crawling through neighborhoods to sample what each has to offer. We also love to travel and our trip plans are almost always centered around food. Beyond that, I enjoy games, art, music, and performance in most of their forms. I’m absolutely obsessed with a game called Blood on the Clocktower, and on more than one occasion I’ve hosted the online version for members of my team in HITS.

Screenshot of individual avatars of people playing an online game called Blood on the Clocktower, with an illustrated door knocker in the center.

2 thoughts on “Profiles in IT: Gray Carper–Analyst and advocate

  1. John Brussolo

    What a great article! Thank you Lisa for bringing Gray’s story to us. Gray, thank you for being vulnerable and sharing parts of your journey – you set an outstanding example. I also appreciate your explanation of gaslighting and the examples – these are very helpful for me to better identify it when I hear it, and more importantly, before I do it. And, I need to check out Blood on the Clocktower! That looks like fun!!

    1. Gray Carper

      I’m so happy that you read this and replied, John! Thank you! I feel like gaslighting is distressingly common, but poorly understood, and I very much wanted to shed some light on it through this article. I’m thrilled that you received it that way! And I’m absolutely certain that you’d love Blood on the Clocktower. Perhaps we can get you involved the next time our team plays!

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