6.13.2008

I Be Smert

Time: A while back, morning.

Set-up: Driving to work, hungry. Swing in to the on-the-way Dunkin Donuts to grab a breakfast sandwich. Normally when I do this, I get a Sausage, Egg & Cheese on an English Muffin. On this particular day, I decide to get something different: A Bacon, Egg & Cheese on an English Muffin. (Yeah, I’m a wild one)

The Event: I pull into the drive-through, getting hungry for my forthcoming Bacon, Egg & Cheese on an English Muffin. After making my way through the long morning convoy up to the little speaker in which we declare our nutritional choices for that time, I speak my order. The disembodied voice on the other side repeats it back… as a question. A question? Why is she questioning my choice? What’s wrong with a Bacon, Egg & Cheese on an English Muffin? I repeat my request… adding a “please”. She repeats it back again… as a question… and she sounds confused. Is the speaker not working too well? Is she getting static on her end? I repeat my order again… slowly and loudly, even over-enunciating it. Again, she questions it! Huh? I don’t normally go to this Dunkin Donuts, so I highly doubt she recognizes me and is thinking, “Hey, he normally orders Sausage on it… why is he getting Bacon? Is everything all right?” No… and this refusal to fulfill my very simple order is starting to get to me. I’m getting downright agitated. Again, I repeat it… slowly, loudly… the contempt in my voice is coming through. This happens for another THREE times… and I’m ready to run inside and push this lady into the Fry-o-lator!

Then she says, “You don’t want Egg on it?”

That’s when it clicks in… I was THINKING, “Bacon, Egg & Cheese on an English Muffin”…. But I’m SAYING, “Bacon, SAUSAGE & Cheese on an English Muffin.”

Now, the proper thing to do is apologize profusely, admit my mistake, and say, “Yes, indeed… I *did* want Egg on that, cancel the sausage, thank you.” Feel stupid for a minute, then eat my tasty breakfast sandwich… not a big deal, right?

But what do *I* say, instead?

“Uh… Yes! That’s what I said! A Bacon, Sausage & Cheese on an English Muffin… that’s EXACTLY what I want!”

That’s right… in an effort not to LOOK stupid… I do something even MORE stupid. Take a position of authority, and steadfastly declare that I’m right, and did NOT in fact, make a mistake (even though I did). As a result, I pretty much overdose on greasy, processed, micro-waved meat… which sits in my stomach all day. Ugh. And I feel I’ve permanently become a dumber individual for it. *shrug*

I’m the first to admit I’m an idiot.

Admittedly, a large part of saying that is my self-deprecating sense of humor. Because we’ve all done stupid stuff in our lives, and will continue to do so until our dying day. (The success of certain TV shows is a testament to that) Every mistake you’ve made, understandable or not, always seemed like a good idea at the time. If there’s one thing that’s truly universal and limitless… it’s human stupidity. So to single myself out in that fashion isn’t exactly a breakthrough… and fairly pointless. But I think it’s funny.

Now, I’ll sometimes talk to people that see a statement like, “Don’t mind me, I’m just an idiot” to be a psychological Red Flag, and immediately kick in the Oprah-Instinct saying, “No… You’re NOT an idiot… you’re a wonderful, intelligent human being who only made a simple mistake! Love yourself!”

“Uh… okay? And while I’m doing that… can you please chill-out?”

Okay, just for the Oprahs out there, I am indeed going to throw aside modesty for a few moments, and just lay down some facts:

-I have a Master’s Degree. A Master of Fine Arts Degree, to be precise, which is more specialized and took an extra year to get. Graduated with a 3.91 GPA.

-I’ve taken 2 different IQ tests at 2 different times… and scored 138 on one, and 145 on the other. The scale on both put 140 as either borderline Genius, or well IN the Genius arena.

-I’ve taught at the college level.

Those are probably the biggest, most impressive qualifications. If you want to get into some of the nitty gritty geeky examples:

-I finished the game MYST in about 5 hours, without hints or help… when most people I talked to took at least 40+.

-The first Sudoku puzzle I tried was the “Ultra-Super-Insane” difficulty level… and I finished it inside an hour.

-I know, and understand, the concept of Schrodinger’s Cat.

-And if I compared my knowledge and understanding of Shakespeare to the average person (and even some teachers I’ve had)… I would totally School them.

Okay, so the more examples I give, the geekier I sound, and the idea of “being intelligent” doesn’t sound so appealing… but the bottom line is:

I know I’m not an idiot.

I do indeed have a brain, and I’m not afraid to use it.

The reason I engage in my self-deprecation on a regular basis has to do with what I was tossing aside a minute ago: Modesty. (The Comedy is a bonus)

Modesty keeps me in check. It’s a big, wondrous world out there, with so much information… it’s impossible to ever be able to absorb it all. (Part of why I also consider IQ tests to be a bit subjective, that’s why I don’t put much importance in my high scores.) Modesty keeps me on a more even level… and gives me a better view of everything, and actually gets me to absorb even more of the world around me… large and small. (Being at the egotistical top or bottom… really only gives you one point of view.)

Personally… I think it’s an admirable quality to have, and wouldn’t mind seeing more people with it. Because big egos Suck. Now, I have been known to go the other direction with my humor… and occasionally spout lines such as:

“Oh, you didn’t get the memo? You see… I’m awesome.”

“Well, I do have a distinct and unfair advantage: I’m Polish.”

“I am the Man with a Capital ‘M’!”

“It truly is a bane being this Hot…”

Again, I do this for comedy. I think those statements are so exaggerated and over-the-top, that I can’t see how anyone would take them seriously. Also provides a change of pace from the “I consider it your fault, because I *am* an idiot” type of discourse. Even though, I usually follow one of these self-inflating statements with an intentional bit of silly foolishness. (Hopefully, to emphasize the comedy)

It’s the genuine big egos we gotta watch out for. Because Big Egos are the ones that are real good at building themselves up… but they’re also good at pushing others down.

One big lesson I learned when I did “Improvisation Sports”… when you try to make yourself look good, then Nobody looks good. But when you try to make OTHERS look good… then Everyone looks great. (Plus, it always makes for better and funnier scenes.) I think this applies verbatim to real life. It’s always more productive to “Build-up” then to “Tear Down”. So I’ll readily sing the praises of the awesomeness of my friends… because it feels good, makes them smile, and makes them want to hang out with me more.

Yet, I do have people in my life that love to build themselves up… and they seem to prefer doing it by pushing me down. (It’s hard to avoid them… being related to them and all.)

And it’s all too easy to tear people down. Because no matter how many degrees I have, no matter the IQ score or whatever I’ve done in life… there’s plenty of things I don’t know anything about. So there are many times I’ll say something that I’m mistaken on… and man, they jump on that stuff faster than a cat on a mouse! For the next hour, this error is then shoved relentlessly in your face. (Which is as fun as it sounds.)

What’s even more fun is the times that you’re *helping* the Big Egos with a task, they tell you what they need you to do, and even when you’re doing it exactly that way… they start to get mad at YOU because it’s not all going as smoothly as they planned… never thinking that they botched the initial explanation. Nope… it’s just easier to yell and treat you like a 5-year-old moron. Albert Einstein wouldn’t be safe around these people.

I’ve said similar statements before… There’s a big difference between BEING stupid and FEELING stupid.

I know I’m not stupid… but I know what it’s like to feel stupid.

That’s one of the reasons for using the Comedy like I do… if I point out my own mistakes and *I’m* the one saying I’m the idiot… that pretty much defuses anyone else’s attempts to sincerely knock me down a few needless pegs. (Doesn’t always work, but generally does the trick) They have no steam or ammunition to use against me, because I already did it. Very close friends (Level 1 and high Level 2s…) can get away with calling me an “idiot” once in a great while… and only when I’m vocally encouraging it. (It’ll be something like, “Just call me an idiot, and tell me to shut up, okay?”)

That’s also why I go out of my way to try and make sure I don’t treat anyone ELSE like they’re stupid. I’m not saying I’ve never done it… but it surely wasn’t intentional, those times that I did. I’m hesitant to ever declare someone utterly “stupid”… because I’m sure there’s some hidden genius within them. Maybe it’s working on cars… or history and applications of Beautician techniques… or Watch-making. All things I’m not in the least bit interested in… (okay, the Watch-making could be cool)… but doesn’t make that person stupid, or even any less intelligent then me. It’s just a different kind of intelligence. If we did a test based on “Automobile IQ”… I don’t think I’d score very high… because my exposure in life was not to cars and trucks. In that realm, I’d be stupid… and I’d feel stupid as soon as I see the test results. But as soon as the conversation turned to Shakespeare… boy, watch out!

And one thing I’ll never do? I consciously make it a point to NEVER EVER say these words:

“I told you so.”

There’s words that will make you feel dumber… but not many. Being on the receiving end of that situation; you’re told someone’s opinion… your decision for action goes AGAINST that opinion… and you fail? Well… a person that says “I Told You So” feels a little higher… a little bigger, a little smarter… because they knew what you obviously didn’t… and just to be sure, they’re pointing it out.

Those words have absolutely NO value, intrinsic or otherwise in the world. They don’t solve the problem, they only point out folly. It builds the speaker up by pushing the listener down.

When I give an opinion, and the other person goes against it… and fails… guess what? They already KNOW what I told them. They were there. In fact, they may be feeling dumb already because they know “they were told so”… so wasted words don’t need to be said. (Even those people that innocently say, “I’m just saying, I told you so”… thinking they’re being innocent and not in-your-face obnoxious? It IS obnoxious, because there’s still no point to say it. Why are you bothering?) And since it wouldn’t solve the problem… well, I figure that’s the more important issue on the table (rather than my own ego-stroking), so why not just get that taken care of? Has the situation/problem changed at all? So tackle it anew, and fix what is broken… get on with a more productive life.

If anything, I feel it’s my job to build that person back up… remind them that even though they failed this one time… they’re still awesome. (If I’m giving them my opinion and advice, I most likely think that already) And NOT to blindly “take my advice next time”… because I’m not always going to be right. In fact, they did what they SHOULD have done… listen to the advice/opinion, assess it within themselves, and using their *own* judgment, make a decision on what they think is the right thing to do. Sure we’ll all make mistakes. That’s what being human is all about.

So be human.

And let’s get stupid.

1 comment:

fritz said...

In 7th grade, there were 2 vicious individuals (and 2 more less vicious kids) in my science class that delighted in verbally tormenting me. Thanks to my older brother, I knew how to cut them off at the knees--by bagging on myself. (Does that term totally date me?) I got so much practice putting myself down that they finally had to resort to ignoring me. And a friend wanted lessons in how to put herself down.

So, yeah, I agree with your assessment that those who try to make themselves feel better by putting others down are insecure, no matter how together they may appear.