Saturday, May 4, 2013

People Who Dare

Mrs. Goldstone, my 12th grade English teacher, used to mark on my papers “inconsistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."* She would alternate between this quote and “awk” for the frequent awkward sentence structures I’d throw out there (awkward sentence structures remain one of my trademarks to this day. You’re welcome). 

There are people in our lives who support us always and tell us we’re great and special. This is wonderful and necessary to one’s self esteem. If I told one of our family friends, Mrs. Biasotti, that I was going to become a drug dealer, she’d reply with something like, “That’s so great! So industrious of you in a tough economy. And you really have the people skills to do it!” 

There are, however, those people who point out when we’re “awk”. There are people who tell us when we need to shape up or that maybe we’re being a bit of a jerk. We might hate these people a little when they point out such things or think perhaps we know better, but thank goodness for them.   

I’ve been thinking about these people a bit lately because of how rare they are in the adult years (and how especially rare they are in an uberpolite culture such as this. I miss yelling :( ). For someone to take the time and tell you, lovingly, that you are being an asshole or that you’re off your game, happens a lot less as you get older. People are just too busy or don’t care enough to do it. As an adult, you sort have to read the signs and figure it out for yourself.

So, as another thing Peace Corps has given me time to appreciate – thank you to all of those who put me in my place through the years. 
  • A PC staff member who challenged us, not only to grow up, but to realize that maybe in the process of analyzing and critiquing things here, we conveniently avoid examining our own personal spirituality.
  • A teaching counterpart who called me out on ignoring people and basically being kind of an asshole lately (no matter how much I’d love her to use that word, sadly, it was expressed in a more civil manner. We’re still making an effort to seamlessly work the word “sucks” into conversations). 
  • A PCV pal who openly expressed her frustration with me and my less-than-clear decoration assembly instructions. 
  • An RPCV friend (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) who confirmed that trying Peace Corps was no big deal in the grand scheme and provided her matter-of-fact perspective to “just leave if you don’t like it." Any daunting thoughts immediately erased. 
  • My brother giving it to me straight when what I write is incomprehensible. Mrs. Goldstone's work continues.
  • My tough, expressionless college adviser trying to smack some sense into me, “Look, you need to focus and help yourself before you can help everyone else.”
  • My favorite, crazy Western Civ professor patiently hearing out my cliché realizations of history and life, breaking down how things really are, and then consoling my rocked world by telling me, “You have a wonderful mind.” 
  • When flexing my indecision and procrastination over declaring a major, writing a speech, or what have you…my aunt cutting me off during my rants and laying it down for me…”sometimes you gotta go Nike and 'Just do it.'"That’s it. Get it done. 
  • An old roommate making me laugh so hard over nothing in the library. At the time, I hated her for getting everyone at the surrounding tables annoyed with us, but I realize now she was teaching me a valuable lesson – how to twist ‘nothing’ into something so hilarious that you can’t control yourself. This skill is actually one of the key ingredients for survival, I think. 
  • For all those who made fun of how I say "waiting on line" instead of "waiting in line" or "sleigh-riding" rather than "sledding". You helped prepare me for the world.
  • A crazy, smart Harvard grad breaking molds and showing me that pretty much anything is possible - anything is within my reach. Except, of course, maybe Harvard. 
  • My co-worker and friend making international travel seem so simple and shutting down any reason I had to not get out there and see the world. 
  • My college pal challenging me not to listen to or get discouraged by tightly-wound and dream-crushing friends - to just suck it up and run that marathon.  
  • My sister keeping me in check and telling me exactly when my priorities are out of whack.
  • My old friend who openly expressed disappointment in me when I accepted my first corporate job. “You can do so much more.” While I think I ended up doing quite a bit at that brief, ten-year job, this thought always stayed with me. Thanks.
  • Watching a cross country runner throw up beside the track mid-workout and then keep going. My coach catching the look of horror on my face and telling me, “That’s what it takes. That’s why she’ll win.”
  • Another coach yelling at me during races, “You’re stronger than you think you are. And stop laughing while you’re running!”
  • My first boyfriend challenging me in high school that it really is ok to be yourself…whoever that may be. 
  • My friends in "My Mother's House" for teaching me the world is a lot bigger and harder than what I knew. And for clarifying what "making out" meant. And that roller skating to Rob Base in the basement is pretty much the most awesome fun you can ever have.
  • My 1st grade teacher who scolded the begeesuz out of us, but, by golly, I learned to read. 
  • A family friend** who challenged my knowledge of my brother when I was little. After climbing up onto the bench they used at their kitchen table to rotary-dial my house from theirs, I confirmed that my brother was, indeed, color-blind as she contested. In one fell swoop, I learned the hard way never to speak with authority on things I clearly had no idea about. And perhaps that I should get to know my brother a bit better.

These people tell us how it is, sometimes with little regard for sensitivities. They can tell us when we’ve strayed from what we set out to do or who we are. They can test us and force us to take stock of our true priorities and realize the boundaries of our own morals and values. Sometimes, they not only force us to go beyond what we think is doable, but they challenge us to realize that stretching, doing what we didn’t think we were strong enough or smart enough to do – this going beyond – it’s actually who we are. 

So, terima kasih, folks. Let's keep the hard truth coming.  

*As pointed out by Mas Tim in comments below, this is a misquote. I do remember her getting the quote wrong, but now I must go back to my files and verify exactly what was written. TBD. Either way, I think what she was going for is that I was a poor writer and an unclear communicator. Yup, still working on that...

**At age 6, she also taught me that not everyone eats Eggo waffles for breakfast. This realization was enough to get me to call off the sleepover we'd planned.

1 comment:

  1. This is a grown-up essay. I applaud!

    Hard truth: Your 12th grade teacher misquoted Emerson. The actual line is:

    "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds".