Sunday, March 18, 2012

Eleanor Roosevelt was wrong.

They're not just something to throw up on your Facebook status or Match.com profile (or to read on people's statuses and profiles in order to know whether to run screaming in the other direction, lest you drown in a cesspool of triteness/unoriginality/genuine, deep appreciation of Nickelback). They're not just platitudes that you get tattooed on your lower back at 19 and regret for the rest of your life--I'm looking at you, "To thine own self be true" and "Carpe Diem." PS, isn't it interesting that most people forget (or don't know) that 'To thine own self be true' is spoken by Polonius, the pompous, self-important clown in Hamlet--the character whose advice I'd personally be least likely to follow? Not that I'd bee seeking out any of the characters for a heart-to-heart--the characters are all evil, self-absorbed, or crazy. Anyway. Some quotes actually mean something. And--I'm sure this comes as a tremendous shock--there are some well-known quotations out there with which I do not agree.

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. --Eleanor Roosevelt
In some cases this is true; sometimes, if another person is making you feel like crap, the person you really need to look at is in the mirror. I had a suitemate in college whom I really, really didn't like (keep in mind that the number of people I PERSONALLY know and dislike is small enough to be counted on one hand), and part of the reason I disliked her was that being around her made me feel utterly 'less-than.' True, there were things about her that were objectively annoying--while I fretted about having enough money to go home for Christmas, she made a big show of being able to fly to Cabo for a weekend, and when arriving home at 1 am would turn on all the lights (and music!) as she got ready for bed--but she never insulted me personally.

It finally occurred to me that part of my distaste for her was because she exhibited so many personality traits that I kind of wished (in a deep, dark, Jung's-Shadowish place in my psyche) I could, if I weren't so busy being such a 'good person' all the time. Where I try to be unassuming and almost aggressively altruistic, she was a 'me-first' kind of girl. My parents hammered the virtues of humility into me, perhaps a little too well; she was not above mentioning her test scores in large public settings. I was (and still am) too damn poor to 'treat myself' to clothes/shoes/luxury lotions/whatever the hell--well, ever, and even if I woke up tomorrow with 50 grand in my bank account the idea of 'deserving' a pair of $300 boots would not occur to me.  A concrete example: Living in our co-op, my first thought before turning on my radio was, 'Is this going to bother someone else?' Hers was, 'Am I sure I really want to go with Dave Matthews Band at ear-splitting levels, or would I rather listen to some klezmer music?' So there's that. BUT.

A lot of people interpret this differently, without some of the nuances I mentioned above. I remember hearing this quote from one of my (well-intentioned, but utterly clueless) teachers when an angry little acne-bomb of a freshman shoved me against my locker and called me a [redacted 'cause this is a family-friendly blog] dyke. In that case, the problem wasn't that I was being made to feel inferior, per se--16 years of homophobia from the pulpit, friends, and family had accomplished that already--but that I was being shoved around by a wispy-mustached, oily-haired, Limp Bizkit-besotted mouthbreather, and none of the supposed adults who had seen it or been told about it were willing to stand up and call him on his bullshit.

 Not to be too crass, but some people interpret this to mean, "No one can be a dick to you without your consent," which is obviously and patently false. This also doesn't address the issue of the 'isms'--racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism--those pervasive, pernicious and systemic ways in which people are made to feel inferior. This is why this quote is the wrong answer when someone's been called one of the "letter words" (e.g., the n-word, c-word...now that I think about it, I've never heard anyone refer to 'f*ggot' as the f-word, perhaps because that spot's already taken by a more aggressive contender), or when a child is being heinously bullied. Don't try to shift the blame to the victim, and don't try to pretend that the 'isms' don't exist. The problem of people exhibiting dickish behavior isn't going to be solved by telling victims not to let it bother them--something which, by the way, invalidates victims' experiences and, by minimizing the real impact, gives the hurtful idiots (I decided I was tired of phallic imagery) carte blanche. It will be solved when people stop acting like hurtful idiots.

So probably never.

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