I have all sorts of work and writing to do, as well as exciting projects to think about and delve deeper into at the moment, all involving high concentration, focused attention, action research, and clear thinking. Yet here I am, dissecting and exposing my personality flaws that so aggressively jumped out at me during my recent time in Thai. I’m now less emotional than I was a week ago but I still feel like writing this down and having it out.
I have a theory why this blog has become more of a personal journal. I haven’t taught a university class since June. I haven’t taught a class in a real physical world room since September. As disappointing as it is to realize for me, classroom communication with its varied dynamics, personalities, challenges and successes is what drives me to think ELT, read your blogs and get inspired for teaching and experimenting with teaching.
Right now my mind seems to be in the condition of stagnation, professionally. It’s not easy to put the focus where I must, but speculating on self appears to come round naturally. So I’m embracing it while it’s here.
5 things I want to be less – for myself, people around me, my students (since they also fall into the category of people around me), my colleagues, better communication, and clearing my sense of guilt.
I want to be less forceful. It’s a quite recent discovery. As soon as I start talking about the things I believe (maybe even mistakenly) to be true, I let it pour out of me with intensity I neither control or approve of. My overconfidence might look so aggressive at such moments, it’s appalling when I manage to take a side look at myself, post preaching. What I want to be more is distanced, in a good sense of the word. I’d prefer to be milder, more willing to stop my talking and just listen without having the load of my own opinions hovering over.
I want to be less self-absorbed. Here’s where I get trapped as I’m in two minds about this. On the one hand, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with desire to think of your own benefits, well-being, pleasure, etc. Apparently the times when I’ll be able to think of myself as selfless are in the distant future. What’s erroneous and ugly about egoism is when this dictionary definition gets centerstage:
egotistical – characteristic of those having an inflated idea of their own importance; concerned chiefly or only with yourself and your advantage to the exclusion of others (also selfish).
So I want to be more unselfish and less centered on my own self there where feelings or others are involved. The combination of selfishness with other unflattering qualities in this list that I possess cause situations making me feel ashamed. The line is thin and there seem to always be potential victims to my wish to “have it my own way”, because, in fairness, I am the only one who is closest to knowing which way is good for me.
I want to be less of I-know-it-all-better-and-consider-myself-superior. The ultimate reason for wishing to change this is it is simply not true. There’s a lot to be said (and even more to be withheld) about it, but there’s one example I’ll share. A couple of days ago I read this little piece on reading from brainpickings. It features a letter of 20-year-old Franz Kafka to his friend, and there’s this line that struck me: “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.” It is a powerful line, and I think maybe even dangerously so. For many years I have been placing this kind of books (and indeed films as well) on top of my favorites, and that’s what I would openly admit to reading. Just like Kafka (haha, really..) I used to think that “we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us”. Ask me who my favourite Russian writer is and you’ll hear Dostoevskiy in response. How does that relate to my arrogance? Well there seems to be a lot of posing in this attitude. It makes you seem different and/or more intelligent/ thoughtful/ intellectually deep than the crowds who read mass-oriented and served product. The crucial part of analysis of this extensive flaw of mine is that this perspective means I’ve missed out on so many stories just because I was assuming (with no good grounds) they were not worthy. I wanted to protect myself from mediocrity and found myself getting narrow-minded. I’m now trying to break out of these confines and open up.
This is in direct relation to arrogance. As long as I consider myself knowing better, I inevitably land on the judgement plane. Examples can be plenty: what teachers do in their class, what presenters talk about in their sessions, what bloggers blog about, what Facebook friends share in their status updates, and so on and so forth. This quality of mine used to be so inflated that it would govern a lot of my behaviour in and out of teaching contexts. The progress has been made though, and I’m happy the message that there’s more benefit for me in stopping the practice of persisting judgement sank home. Still polishing it and trying to avoid or ignore people who proudly scatter their verdicts left and right.
“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” I’ve been turning these opening lines of The Great Gatsby over in my mind for about 10 years. I didn’t at all understand what Fitzgerald was trying to tell me at first. At this particular point of my intellectual maturity I read it to trace a note of both judgement and arrogance built-in. I’ll certainly turn to these words again.
This last “thing” overlaps with many others already mentioned as it’s an outer manifestation of those qualities. Josette LeBlanc wrote a post back in December 2013 about her linguistic rebellion, which was, as this circle of blogosphere goes, a spark to get 4 more people to write about theirs (links at the bottom of Josette’s initial post). I almost laid mine bare back then, but pushed the brakes as I thought that “the snapping side of me” (as I have it in my drafts) is too revealing. Now I feel fine about accepting it. Since I was about 12 I’ve heard my parents and people closest to me at this or that part of my life say that I “have a sharp tongue”. Many a time that meant some damage was done, people were hurt. I did not always feel deeply sorry about the effects my biting remarks had for members of my family. Then with time I started to call it sarcasm, or the extreme of it. Now I hope I’m in a better control of my language and my apologetic instincts are at much higher levels (sometimes fortunately even before the waspish words roll off my tongue). I can’t get over it completely, though. Luckily, you’re not going to be harmed, since it seems to be working in me only for my family, which adds pain to the fact.
There are times I can physically feel the whole heavy weight of these things I want to be less on my shoulders, but most perceptibly on my mind and conscience. It causes headaches, tears, remorse, and guilt. Internet is great for making yourself look sticky sweet, or put on a trendy sarcastic hat, or remain impassively professional, or exaggerate anything to any extent. I’m not sure how great the Internet actually is for exposing one’s flaws in hopes to lessen the pressure of guilt. I am fully aware of the fact that it could be far more effective to talk about it in a more private setting, with the people who get affected.
Anyway, ELT-related blog posts on this blog are just round the corner. For now, thanks for reading what’s bothering me now.