Sunday, December 7, 2008

Xenophilic Xenion 12/07/08

We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seeded refusal of that which others have made of us.

Jean Paul Sartre

I had a freshman English teacher in college, I shan't name him, who was in many ways the epitome of Bob Newhart's "buttoned down mind." He rarely smiled, seemed to have no sense of humor, had us reading boring novels by obscure authors and deferred embarrassingly to his favorites in the class. I tried my best to respect that man. He was the teacher assigned to our class and therefore deserved my attention and as much honor as I could give him, which wasn't much.

The biggest problem I had with him was his habit of easily categorizing all of his students. If he made up his mind that one was brilliant then he would praise everything that one said, even if it was ignorant. If he decided that one was stupid then nothing that one said would receive any respect.

But it was even worse when he got to labeling us and putting us in neat little philosophical boxes: this one was an idealist, that one was a pragmatist, the other one was an empiricist, the one over there was a liberal, the one in front a conservative, and so on. And we were expected henceforth to follow whatever ethical, intellectual line we were assigned by him. It was as if he felt obliged to describe ourselves to us in simple, clearly defined terms, like photographs hanging on a wall, and to declare his findings loudly to the class.

I finally locked horns with him one day when I turned in a paper on the subject of opera. I was a music major. He was a music lover, or so he said. I made certain statements in the paper with which he disagreed. It didn't matter to him that I had plenty of research to explain my statements, and he wasn't going to concern himself with the quality of my writing, he just set out to tell me I was wrong because he considered himself a better musicologist than I. In the process he missed the whole theme of my paper. He had made up his mind early on that I was of substandard intelligence and that therefore I couldn't do well at any writing project. But that I happened to step on the sensitive toe of his belief in himself as a superior scholar of opera, just made matters worse. I classified him as a jerk.

It would have been impossible, I think, for the two of us to ever become friends, but now, older and with more experience in my bag, I can admit that there was probably more to the man than just "jerk" and I hope that he is considering that there is more to other people than he wants to find.

It is vitally important to our emotional survival that we kick down the sides of the box that others want to tuck us into and claim a rangy and complex individuality for ourselves. There is more to every human being than meets the opinion of others. And it is equally important that we don't prepare a box for anyone else.

No one has authority over another person's identity.


Saturday night is a lonely time.


a corgi said...

excellent entry, DB, and so true! its sad that people "pre-judge" without getting to know a person and then treat others unfairly or unkindly because of that pre-judgment

very well written

that is sad about that college professor that he was so closed minded and had to have a "his way or no way" type of attitude

enjoy the day ahead


Big Mark 243 said...

Though for practical purposes, it would have been fine to consider that professor 'a jerk', I think that you are right about the identity thing. One's right or influence ends at the legnths of their arms or the grasp of their mind.

Breezy said...

I have over the years been judgmental when meeting someone and later found out my first impression of someone is very wrong, so now I try to not be so judgemental so fast and I do hope people will take the time to know me and give me the benefit of doubt if they do get a bad first impression of me.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Very true. I try not to be lulled in by first impressions, because we are very complex animals. The first impression can go either way as when we first meet someone, we try to put our best foot forward, often to be disappointed later when we learn more. On the flip side, first meetings can be nerve racking, and we end up not really putting our best foot forward, and we are pleasantly surprised down the road :o)

Beth said...

Bravo! What's especially sad about behavior such as your professor's is that you limit yourself from experiencing some fascinating aspects to people, as well as broadening your own mind with other perspectives. If he had stepped back and realized what he was doing by categorizing you, he might have learned something from you.

Love, Beth

Arlene (AJ) said...

A wonderful read and so true that no one authority over someone elses identity....I know I'm my own person, always have been, always will be. I have always been able to find the ability to listen to someone else's thoughts and if need be, I'm willing to compromise since I'm not 100 percent perfect and I'm able to show kindness to anyone I'm talking with or working on something with. To me, life is give and take both ways.