Struggling to come to grips with being someone who might eventually have a PhD.
Contrary to what I’m starting to see that people think about me… I actually do not enjoy being characterized as an academic and I do not think I’m smarter than the majority of people I know. I think anyone is capable of obtaining a PhD; a lot of it has to do with putting up with a lot of tedious work.
This past year my discomfort with being an “academic” amplified. I have been teaching my first class and every time I stand up in front of my class the same questions starts throbbing in my mind: “Who am I to teach these guys? What authority do I have?” I’ve had to deal with this by creating class environments that have students talking more than me. But marking them is incredibly difficult for me…
I am, however, in this realm. This is what I do. I go to school and I talk to people about things. We like to know pedantic details, we challenge each other’s ideas and we like to learn from one another. I find it difficult to turn this off, and I’m not entirely sure why I have to.
Two incidents happened this holiday season:
- I laughed at an answer someone gave in a board game that was pretty far off of the correct answer, in a geography category (the category I usually found to be the easiest). I got called an asshole for doing this. Later, the person who called me an asshole laughed and mocked me, in the same way I had done to her before, for not knowing a few answers about culture and entertainment (a category I almost never knew the answer to).
- At the dinner table I was talking about something I had done during the school year that has to do with computers. Before even getting to the point I was cut off by the opinion of someone who claimed expertise based on personal experience rending my entire story and opinion invalid. Later, this same person mocked me for being a know-it-all because I was attempting to explain why I thought his opinion on something was off-base – on a topic that I had more personal experience with.
So… I started thinking about these incidents and wondering why they got to treat me the exact same way they had each criticized me for acting earlier.
Now… both of these incidents happened with my siblings, and the three of us have (unfortunately) pigeonholed each other into certain areas that I think at least two of really dislike. What bothers me is that I’m pretty sure they both think I’m a know-it-all (or this is my own insecurity coming out here – because I am CONSTANTLY worried about coming off as one) but they both know substantially more than me in various areas. Do I think they know more than me about geography and environmental science? No… but I do think they might know things in these subjects that I don’t know. And I also think my sister knows more than me about music, culture, empathy, crafting, social skills, life in general, working hard, police systems, current affairs, cars, how to balance a budget, how to decorate, cook, raising children and has likely read substantially more books than I have.
What seems to be the disconnect, and I’ve felt it other places than just with my family, is that it is (for whatever reason) more offensive to be corrected on a stereotypically “academic” topic than a stereotypically “cultural” topic… so my sister will call me an asshole for laughing at her for getting something wrong about Europe but won’t even consider the fact that it hurts me the same way when she laughs at me for not knowing things about culture.
I think it is easy for someone like me, who doesn’t want to make other people feel stupid and doesn’t want to be thought of in a bad light, to start getting really self-conscious about coming off as a know-it-all, especially in the subjects that I study. AND it is really difficult for me to know if I am offending other people just by being myself (I can often fit in at a party and come up with chit-chat but my social skills are not the best and have been deteriorating)… but it pisses me off that I have to tip-toe around my pedantic curiosity and the only things I know a lot about because other people get offended by my pride in knowing about them. I don’t know about culture and history! All I know is geography and the environment! Some people are proud to know the number of countries in the EU, others are proud to know dates that things happened, others are proud to know the ages of celebrities. We all have things we are proud of knowing, and everyone made fun of other people for not knowing answers but I was the only one that got called an asshole for laughing about my particular topic of pride. The people who know a lot about culture, entertainment and computers get to laugh at my lack of or deny any existence of my knowledge in those areas because it is more socially acceptable for them to do so. For some reason they think it is less hurtful and less degrading. But to me… it isn’t.
I think this all steams from the firm belief that I have that having knowledge (academic or not) does not make you worthy of respect. It is the type of person you are, what you do with any kind of knowledge and how you treat others that makes you worthy of respect. This is why I respect my sister *so much*. She is a kind, honest and giving person. It makes me ill to think that I would make her feel bad because I make a quip about her not knowing the answer to a question.
Knowing things and education does not make someone a good person. Actions (and to some extent…intentions) define people’s goodness (IMO). I wish I could always say the right things, and not be offensive…ALL THE TIME. Part of my struggling to come to terms with being an academic will also have to include trying even harder to say the right thing and not allow any now-it-all-ness to come out …especially when I am outside of my workplace. It’s hard, because I don’t recognize it. But I will certainly try…