Friday, December 21, 2012

Little Truths

I've discussed words of wisdom several times: those nuggets of advice I've heard from school advisers, friends, TV shows, fortune cookies, and the like. But with this ridiculous semester finally coming to an end, I feel like my head is clear enough for the first time in months to look back and discover all the little things I've learned on my own, just by existing and living and watching the world move around me like I'm stuck in a shaken snow globe.

So here they are:
1) There are truths no one can teach you. These are the ones you have to find on your own. Anyone can tell you that the pumpkin flavored cupcake is the best, but you will not know it until you try that cupcake. Anyone can tell you that you will discover certain truths, but those things ARE NOT truths until you discover they are. For example:

2) Cliches are cliches for a reason. That saying you've heard a billion times over, the one that makes you want to scratch out your eardrums? There's a reason everyone says it. Usually, it's because on some level, it's true. Things like 'you'll never know until you try,' or 'everything happens when you least expect it,' ALL TRUE. But you only realize them, as I said in #1, if they've already applied to you.

3) Nothing builds your confidence like losing absolutely all of it. Sounds like nothing that makes sense, but it's true. If you're anything like me (or even if you just happen to be female, or human, heck), you've suffered from low self-esteem at some point. You went through a time when all you wanted was for someone to tell you you're pretty. And when someone did, you believed them. For two seconds, and then you went back to feeling like a waste of space.
But then somebody told you that you actually ARE a waste of space. And this wasn't a school bully or someone you dislike or even someone who was trying to hurt you. Somebody you either didn't know or cared about said something that reinforced your every self-loathing feeling, and made you lose every bit of confidence you had. Maybe they said it outright, maybe underhandedly. And you hit a low point.
But then even you took a look at yourself in the mirror and thought, no. I'm not worth nothing. I may not be worth much, but not nothing. And then you corrected yourself: no, I'm too cool, and nice, and happy to be not worth much. Heck. I'm worth quite a lot. And you start to build confidence. ACTUAL confidence that depends on nobody but you. Which brings us to:

4) There is no way to convince someone of anything (that matters). You can convince someone that the second Batman movie was better than the first. You cannot convince an anorexic person that she's not fat. You can convince someone that mashed potatoes taste better with sage butter than olive oil. You cannot convince your right-wing cousin that they should be left-wing if they actually care about politics. You can convince someone that the Hulk would beat Thor in a fight. You cannot convince a Rabbi to take up Catholic Priesthood, not if he actually believes in his religion. You cannot convince somebody broken and sad to suddenly be happy and whole. You cannot convince someone who thinks they're ugly that they're beautiful. If there's a truth they must discover, like that they're not hideous, or that their selfish behavior will only hurt themselves, or that nobody will believe the fiftieth lie in a row, they have to discover it themselves. There's no. stinking. way. around that. But with luck, they WILL discover it. And that's called maturity.

5) Emotion is not weakness. Crying may not look good. It may not be dignified. It may not be attractive or pleasant to watch or listen to. It may feel terrible. But it is not weak of you to cry or tell someone how you feel. Sometimes it's much easier to pretend nothing is wrong than to face it. When you feel like something's missing and you act like nothing's going on, that isn't strength. It's called DENIAL. Don't cry all the time, don't let it sit on you like a giant rhino storm cloud, maybe don't dwell on it longer than you should. But letting it get to you once in a while does not make you weak. It makes you honest, if only with yourself.

1 comment:

  1. "There is no way to convince someone of anything (that matters)."

    Let me share three anecdotes.

    When I was in Israel, I was something of a libertarian (in fact, I started out as very much a libertarian - an Objectivist even). And I had a friend named Joel who I would have called a left-winger. And we had a lot of conversations, and I tend to be a pretty strong debater, and he often conceded that my arguments made sense. I haven't thought about this in a while, but I've seen him on Facebook recently. He makes tremendously libertarian arguments. Because of the discussions we had? I'm not sure, but it wouldn't surprise me. (This is kind of background, bear with me.)

    I also have a friend named Avishai. Avishai was very into the "Kuzari proof for God" and liked to talk to me about theology. So when he first brought up the Kuzari proof, we had a pretty long discussion about what we know and what constitutes good evidence. So sporadically throughout my third year in YU, Avishai would (generally uninvited) wander into my room to discuss another shiur he had listened to online, and discuss what constitutes evidence. And something happened throughout the year. Early on he would enter with a new argument, and I would proceed to question the strength of its assumptions. Later in the year, Avishai would come in with an argument, go through it and suddenly say something "so I loved the part about the nature of evidence, but then he tries applying it to revelation. And boy..." and he'd continue, taking over my role in the discussion until he demonstrated how this variant of the argument failed.

    There's one great irony in this. Avishai went to the same Yeshiva in Israel that I did. And I remember that I was once in his room, discussing the proper extent of government, and I was arguing for my point of view as I tend to. "Well," he said "you have to admit that schools are important," followed by an anecdote about the Detroit public school system. And I said something like "sure, schools you can count among the necessary functions" but truth be told, I was shaken. And he doesn't know this, but I left his room with very little certainty about the worldview I'd been advancing, because I had nothing to respond to his point about education. Because education isn't a simple yes or no, it's a question of how much you invest, but without some education you can't begin to succeed. And the potential to succeed was at the very heart of my worldview and I realized that in a city with many poor people, that opportunity just doesn't exist by default. And I had to reconsider things.

    So that's that. I think I converted Joel to an ideology I later rejected. I'm pretty sure I convinced Avishai to reject a weak argument that was pretty close to his heart (not to reject his religion, but I'm not comfortable doing that to begin with). And Avishai, through a small anecdote in a friendly conversation pretty dramatically changed my mind - and it would never change back.

    Sometimes people are open to arguments. And sometimes even people who aren't (i.e. moi) can be convinced of something if you make the point the right way.

    That's all. I just really wanted to write this.