Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Practically Perfect in Every Way

I've discovered something of infinite value: high self-esteem can be attained through monumental self-delusion! That's really the only explanation I can come up with for people who conduct themselves with the utmost confidence, when in fact their appearance, personality, and general attractiveness are more suited to hiding in a darkened room than to public displays of one's self. Now, I'm not talking about aesthetically less-than-lovely people who have other redeeming qualities on which to build their self-confidence... I am talking about wildly flawed persons who walk through life as if their flaws were in fact sexually attractive to others.

For example, some days my friend Caroline will come by the office when things are slow, and check her email from one of our computers... Caroline is very into dating boys, and so has posted personal ads in various online communities. It is always entertaining to listen to her as she sifts through the responses to her ads, especially the responses from "ugly old men." Now these men aren't always as ugly as Caroline thinks they are, since her tastes run towards pubescent boy-band types, but sometimes they really are. And what really affronts Caroline is that she specifically states in her ads that she is looking for an attractive young man, i.e., girlishly-pretty and under 25, and that gentlemen not suitable for inclusion in the pages of Tiger Beat or Seventeen need not apply. And despite these tacit strictures, men in their thirties and forties, with potbellies and fancy cars and combovers, who couldn't even make the final cut for a JC Penney work-clothes catalog much less model Dolce & Gabbana swimwear, insist on contacting her in hopes of a date.

The only excuse I can think of for such behavior is that these men aren't aware that there are women in the world who will not find them attractive. And that kind of self-delusion must be awfully comforting. Wouldn't it be nice to walk around in bicycle shorts, believing wholeheartedly that one was Hot Stuff, despite the crying children and retching queens passing one on the street? It must be delicious to go blissfully through life thinking that a red sportscar actually disguises your three chins. What joy to be convinced that porn stars, fashion models, and random hotties on the street will fall in love with you if only you say the right pick-up line!

I, on the other hand, am so immersed in the belief that I am unattractive and unlovable that I would prefer to set myself on fire, then roll in rock salt, then go swimming in alpha-hydroxy solution rather than ask someone on a date.

It seems to me that there is a happy medium, somewhere in there. There must be some way of being blind enough to your flaws that you can go comfortably through life, to consider yourself practically perfect in every way, but not so blind that you make a fool of yourself...to not become smug in your practical (or virtual) perfection that you cease to make improvements when you can, or that you continuously waste your time on the unattainable.

So anyway, those are my thoughts for today. Here are some thoughts based on somebody else's thoughts:

The Tuesday Too

1.) What is the most important thing going on in your life this week?

Hmmm...I can't really say that much of what I do is, in general, important in and of itself. If I do something, or fail to do something, it is unlikely that more than one other person in the world will even notice.

But in my own personal priority list, the most important thing this week is making a habit of morning prayer and meditation. The need for creating some order and stability in my quietly chaotic, halfheartedly haphazard life is reasserting itself, so I am going to set my alarm for 8 am every day; before 9 am I will be sitting up in bed reading my Daily Reflections, then I will pray and meditate on the Reflection for the day.

Also on the To Do list is to take Caroline to her doctor's appointment this afternoon, go to the grocery store afterward, go to my AA meeting this evening; during the week I have to go buy a new distributor cap and fusebox chimer for my Volvo, and then get my sister to install them; and then this weekend I need to clean up my room a bit (it's starting to smell) and start cleaning the basement and garage so that Grandmother can have people come in to give us an estimate on earthquake retrofitting. Oh, yes, and I have to go to work each day.

Riveting, isn't it?

2.) Tell us about your quintessential faux pas.

I can't really think of one really essential faux pas, something I've done which really illustrates a major character flaw. My main social ineptitude comes from forgetting things: names mostly, and birthdays, locations of objects, actions I've promised to take, etc. Most of the really big, embarrassing gaffes I've made have come from either forgetting something or mis-hearing something. The rest come from falling down in public.

Actually, I've probably made several quintessential boo-boos in my life, but my psyche is blessedly supressing the memories. Now if only I could get that kind of supression working on my conscious mind as well as my memory banks...then I could believe I was practically perfect in every way!

3.) Why would you most likely be nominated to speak your mind, and what is it you're going to say?

Interesting question... since nobody really has asked me for my opinion... which is why I have a blog, so I can disseminate my opinions without having to be asked.

I'm not an expert on any one thing...the old Jack of All Trades, Master of None sort of mentality. I know a lot of things, I even know a lot about certain things, but mostly I know a little bit about many topics and nothing at all about many more. But then, I can always be counted on to have an opinion. Even if I don't know what someone is talking about, I can usually formulate an opinion of some kind.

But if someone were to ask me to stand and preach about just one topic that I feel is really super-duper important, I would get up on my soap-box and talk about Education. It is my firm belief that the most important thing a person can possess is a thorough liberal arts education, with a focus on reasoning and critical faculties, and more than a dash of literature and science. Now, I know that not everyone has a mind to reason, not everyone has a mind for science or literature, not everyone has a mind for the arts. But everyone should have to at least be exposed to these things enough that they can understand their importance.

I feel that one of the main problems in education in America today is that education itself has been subjected to quantification... there is this idea that education can be measured and evaluated by numerical or monetary standards. Standardized test scores and per-student spending and so-called "life-skills" are strangling our public educational systems. The focus of pedagogy has been to get children to repeat facts and figures, in one way or another, rather than to make them think. New education systems are tried out, and then judged not on their own merits but on the ability of individual teachers to inculcate these systems in individual children. By focusing on what is easiest to learn, the educator fails to train thinking people. By clinging pointlessly to the belief that all children can be taught the same way, the unending diversity of the human mind is ignored; and by turning to the opposite direction, that all children should learn in whichever way they find most helpful, the educator is stymied by the sheer numbers of different learning methods.

There is also this weird idea that education should prepare a person for a particular role in life, and that this role must be chosen in childhood. Children are still learning to do mathematical equations that any machine can do, rather than shifting the focus of mathematics from practice to theory at a younger age. Yes, children should be able to add and multiply and what-have-you, just in case they find themselves having to figure a tip in the middle of a desert and they've left their calculator at home... but what is more important to know than one's times-tables is how and why numbers work together. History is taught in this bizarre simplified manner that plants what is essentially false information into a child's mind, and so half of one's higher education is spent unlearning or enlarging upon the half-truths one learned in grade-school. And then, if one does not indulge in higher education, one spends one's life believing that Christopher Columbus discovered America, that George Washington could not tell a lie, and that the Civil War was fought to free the slaves.

I'm not an educator, and I have not studied educational methods to any great extent, but there are a few things I have learned from my own public educational experience: the first and most important thing I've learned is that intelligence cannot always be demonstrated with a letter grade; the second is that student performance is not an accurate method of gauging student retention; the third is that PE should never be required.

I never excelled in school until I got into college... and I think that there is a clue in that: if I had been taught in the method of university instruction, lectures and reading and lab-work culminating in creative demonstrations of learning, I would have done a lot better in school. So much of my time was wasted in repetitive busy-work, trying to get me to memorize such trivial tasks as dividing triple-digit numbers and naming the fifty states and their capitals: time which, in my case, could have been better utilized in teaching me how to reason quanitatively and to understand the scale and scope of geography. If I had learned Critical Thinking principles when I was ten instead of when I was twenty-five, my early life would have gone a lot better and I wouldn't have made quite so many indelible mistakes. If I had been allowed to take dance lessons instead of doing idiotic callisthenics, I might have been healthier as a child, and would have picked up a useful skill in the meantime.

I could go on and on and on...I guess my point is this: education is more important than any other social program in this country. It is more important than any other governmental program. If you stint on education, you stint on your nation's future: public education should therefore receive the lion's share of public funds. Teachers should be paid more than administrators, and certainly should be paid more than mail-sorters, more than garbage-collectors, more than government clerks. Furthermore, individual and adaptable instruction should be used instead of grandiose educational theories and pedagogical vogues. If you teach only conformity, you raise a generation of reactionary lunatics; if you teach only individuality, you raise a generation of people who cannot live in community; if you keep tying yourself into knots trying to make every child just as intelligent as every other child, you rob the children on opposite ends of the curve of their fullest potential. Education is not an economic commodity: it is the enrichment of the mind and spirit, a necessity of progressing civilization, and the only thing really worth having.


Well, doesn't that sound nice and pompous? The result of a good university education should be an ability to think and to formulate opinions, and more importantly the ability to hear and understand other people's differing opinions. And if you did really well in university, you have lots of words and ideas at your disposal, with which to baffle those who are not similarly educated (and some who are). This is the one place where my self-delusion works pretty well: intellectually, (I think) I am practically perfect in every way!

Still, I need to go do something frivolous for a while to recover from all that seriousness.

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