March 10, 2013
Yesterday Ben told me a funny story about one of his professors. "He sounds like a lot of fun," I commented.
"He is, but I like my other main teacher even better, because he reminds me of Roy [his high school music teacher and ongoing mentor]—and of me."
"In what way?"
"We're all weird and scattered and disorganized, and, if I do say so myself, really smart." His tone was neither self-deprecating or self-aggrandizing. Just a statement of fact.
I thought about this blog, in which Kath is sometimes taken to task for describing herself as "fat," on the assumption that she is putting herself down. Her response: she is fat; it is merely a fact about her like eye or hair color, and if you think it is an insult, maybe you need to examine your assumptions.
I thought about how different it was when I was growing up. Overweight children were regularly shamed at my school, not just by teasing classmates but by adults who believed that was the best way to motivate them to eat less. My brother and I both had undiagnosed ADHD, and he had dyslexia on top of that. Because I could read and write well, and performed well on standardized tests, I was constantly berated for being "lazy" for not excelling in subjects in which I felt completely lost. My brother had enforced reading periods, in which he was yelled at when he misread words that he "should" have known. As a result we both grew up with feelings of "wrongness," of shame about who we were, that haunts me, at least, to this day.
Not that it's nirvana now, of course. Kath writes eloquently about how difficult it is just to walk down the street without being heckled or worse. Even though he went to an enlightened school, Ben had several teachers who seemed unable to grasp that he was not going to shape up and become "normal," not because he was oppositional, but because that wasn't who he was.
Ben probably could have made more of an effort to conform, as I did; as many overweight people go on radical diets and undergo life-threatening surgery. For some this is necessary, a means to physical or psychic survival. But I am heartened by the matter-of-factness with which some people describe their attributes. It bespeaks such healthy self-acceptance. In Ben's case, at least, I think this translates into an acceptance of others as well. I have never, since he reached adolescence, heard him criticize another person for anything but cruel or insensitive behavior.
A friend passed on this quotation, which is attributed to Albert Einstein. I can't find any confirmation that Einstein actually said it, but I think it is worth considering regardless of its origin:
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Read more by
Opinions on Inside Higher Ed
Inside Higher Ed’s Blog U
What Others Are Reading