4th of July

Happy 4th of July… late… I actually wrote this on the 4th. May the Lavicius, monkey god of wealth and avarice, bless you!… … Yeah, I’m not really big on holidays, and I can’t say that I’m extremely patriotic either. This country has a ton of problems that we don’t want or just can’t address, and the thing is, I completely understand why, and why there isn’t much that I can do about it. John the Baptist was referred to as a ‘voice crying out in the wilderness’ and sometimes I have to admit that I feel the same way… not that I compare to John the Baptist, but this feeling I understand. I see the problems, and I see ways that we could fix them, or at least steps towards fixing them, but no one listens to me.

Today, I was having a conversation with one of my students concerning matters of justice and how the justice system should work. Honestly, I generally agree with the position my student was taking. However, she wasn’t really thinking through her position. She couldn’t provide solid arguments to support her positions, and she had nothing in the way of evidence. So I took the other side of the issue. My student made the comment that she felt like she was in a debate, and I pointed out that she was.

Talking over opinions is all well and good, but if we can’t support those opinions with well-reasoned arguments and provide at least some sources to back up our claims, then all we’re really doing is talking over our beliefs without actually showing any ability to defend those beliefs. All too often reasoned argument is limited to academic forums, and it shouldn’t be. We need to be able to make and support strong arguments in our daily lives.

If we can’t do this with basic things, then can we really be surprised that the public forum is filled with random, uninformed, undefended opinions, or that we seem to be utterly insecure as a nation? This is the question I keep coming back to. We do so much to build up confidence and self-esteem without actually driving people to do anything to earn these things. Confidence is important, sure. But if a person is confident in something that they have no actual ability to achieve, then is their confidence actually worth anything?

To give an extreme example, how many people have jumped off of buildings high on something and absolutely confident that they could fly? Confidence that is achieved through action is worth something. Confidence that is achieved through overcoming difficulties, through hard work, through invested time, all worthwhile. However, confidence that is illusory is just damaging. I have so many students who can’t write well, but are completely confident in their own excellence. This is one of the most difficult things that I have to deal with. Now, I’m no slouch at writing, and I’m fairly confident in my abilities, but I’m also no Stephen King or Alvin Plantinga.

If we were a little less confident, and a little more willing to pursue things that are difficult, then maybe we’d have a stronger confidence in who and what we are.

I’m trying! I swear I’m trying!

In Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back Yoda told us to “Do or do not. There is no try.” It’s a statement that resonates with me, as I think it probably does with a lot of us, but it’s also a statement that isn’t entirely true. Luke’s claim to be trying in the movie generally falls on deaf ears because he doesn’t really seem to be trying all that hard, and thus he is continually failing.

I see this a lot in my students. There are some students who are obviously trying hard, who listen to what I say and then put it into practice, and they see their grades improve substantially. Then there are those few students who are obviously and admittedly not trying. I always just love when I get an email or a phone call from a student to tell me that I need to grade easier because the class/assignment is stupid and pointless but they still need an A. However, in between these two extremes are those students who keep saying, ‘I’m trying, I’m trying!’ but show no actual improvement. When I’ve told a student a dozen times to keep their papers objective, and they still use the first person, it doesn’t seem like the student is really trying all that hard.

However, that doesn’t mean that the student isn’t trying. It just means that they are failing. I know this feeling very well. There are some things that come very easily to me, and I have a hard time understanding why other people struggle with them. Then there are some things, seemingly simple things, that are incredibly difficult for me, and no matter how much I try, I keep failing. Money is one of those things. No matter how hard I try to save money, or keep a budget, or pay off debt, life always seems to throw extra expenses at me just when I seem to be doing well, and the whole thing comes crashing down. Money isn’t the only area, but it’s one of them.

Sometimes I look at myself, at my flaws (which tend to be very evident to me), and I’m tempted to blame God, to tell him that he made me wrong and needs to fix me. This is of course ridiculous. God did not make me wrong, he made me exactly the way he wants me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way… well, most of the time. However, there are still these seemingly massive areas of failure in my life at which I try and try and fail.

Sometimes I want to say that accepting myself means ignoring those areas. Obviously since I’m not good at them they don’t matter, right? I can just ignore these areas of life and call myself a complete person. Not so much. Just because I’m not good at something doesn’t mean that it’s not important, or that I don’t need to do it. It just means that I’m probably not going to do it well, and that’s alright.

Here’s the thing we miss. If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly. The fact that I’m not good at something doesn’t mean that thing is worthless, or that it’s pointless, or that I can ignore it. It means that I can learn to be satisfied with doing it badly. I don’t need to be the best at everything I do, hell I don’t even need to be good at everything I do, and I never will be. I do need to do my best at everything I do, and realize that my best might not live up to someone else’s expectations.

The drive to succeed is not inherently a bad thing. However, it can lead us to a lot of bad places, and it’s something that we need to handle with care, both for our own well-being and for the well-being of others.