To a Fault: Eyeroll

Fault: Can be contemptuous of other people and myself

Describe an experience: Please write a short story (approximately 2,000 characters) about a time in your life when this fault created a situation which had a negative impact on your life.
Sometimes I don't know whom I contemn more, my academic colleagues or myself. 
They say such boneheaded things! 
Like: “We can get more majors in History if we emphasize that studying history will give students research and analytical skills that they can use in other professions.” (Thus refusing to define a positive reason for studying history as such, while at the same time reducing our discipline to its lowest common denominator among the social sciences and humanities.) 
Or: “We need more diversity among our faculty and students.” (Meaning, of course, diversity within the parameters set by the federal affirmative action guidelines.) 
Or: “I think we need to consider race and/or gender and/or ethnicity here.” (Because whatever else we have been discussing is clearly not the real issue, unless it can be co-opted by current identity politics.) 
Or: “Her opinions are both so specious and so odious as not to be worth debating.” (Pretty much everything I have just said.) 
Until recently, however, I have for the most part kept stumm. Sure, I roll my eyes inwardly when I hear them talking in these terms, but I do not--or have not--confronted them directly. They are so earnest. And they mean well. Plus, my colleagues in academia are really smart. They wouldn't say these things if they didn't see some merit in them. 
Maybe they are right and I am wrong. I wouldn't want to be wrong. 
I'm a coward. And a wimp. If I had the courage of my convictions, I would stand up to them. Even better, I would find a way to prove to them that I am right and they are wrong. 
But there are so many of them who agree. They all nod their heads when each other speaks. It is hard enough disagreeing with them even when I don't speak. They would all hate me if I stood up to the group and called foul.  
Which, of course, I just have. 
Alternative outcome: Write a short paragraph about what you might have done differently in that situation, to minimize the effect of this fault.
It's the eyeroll that gives it away. I care what they think about me, but I find it hard to care about them when I disagree with them so fundamentally. I want to enjoy the intellectual fellowship that they seem to have with each other. I don't like feeling left out.  
And I don't like realizing that what I have been feeling is contempt.
It is a complicated emotion. Part jealousy. Part fear. It's at once a kind of shield and an admission of vulnerability. A way of telling myself I don't care about their reactions to me, even as I care very much. And yet, I cannot agree with them when they make those arguments. So I feel trapped, threatened with exclusion from the group if I speak, but shamed by failing to stand up for myself if I stay silent.
It wouldn't matter so much if I geniunely did not care what they think. I hate needing their approval in order to feel validated. I hate feeling pressured into agreeing with ideas that I find morally wrong. 
How was it Our Lord put it? “Judge not that you be not judged.”
I don't think that the answer here is not to disagree with my colleagues about the way in which we talk about the purpose of studying history or the meaning of diversity or the effects of thinking in terms of identity. The fault is in assuming that if I disagree with my colleagues, they will contemn me. “Contemn not that you be not contemned.”
I wish that I could get to the root of this conviction, that if I disagree with someone, he or she will be angry with me. It feels like it goes very deep, almost as deep as the pit that opens up before me when I lose a fencing bout I am convinced I should win. My impulse is to apologize and abase myself, even as I am convinced I am in the right. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
Except what I am really am is afraid. Afraid of being judged, but even more important, afraid of being cast out. Shunned. Shamed. Excluded. Unloved.
Because I have dared to disagree.
Guidelines for General Improvement: Now that you've thought about how you might have behaved differently in that particular situation, please think about this fault in more general terms. How could you work on improving this fault in general, so that such situations do not repeat themselves?
Disagreement creates uncomfortable emotions. It is hard feeling out of sympathy with other people. It goes against every instinct we have as social beings, not to go along with the group.
Even worse, it is hard feeling out of sympathy with those upon whom we depend for validation and approval. Like our teachers. Or our parents. Particularly when we are the oldest child.
It is much easier to tell ourselves that we didn't need their validation and approval in the first place.
Except, of course, we did.
It is even worse when our younger siblings get more attention. Or our peers. It's just like Tolstoy said. Sort of. “Happy families are all alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Academia at present is a very unhappy family.
I don't think this experience is just about me. Not to deflect from my own fault, but I worry about the way in which our campuses have become so intolerant of disagreement. Maybe it isn't just my imagination or tendency to judge. Maybe my colleagues--at least some of them--do contemn me for the opinions that I have.
But why? We can't all be oldest children jealous of our younger siblings. Some of us must be younger siblings jealous of our elders. And many of the students now must be only children, given the demographics of their generation. Many of whom are convinced that their very existence is threatened by those who hold opinions like mine.
Professor Peterson would say we are experiencing a crisis of mythology: we no longer know what stories to live by. We no longer know whom to trust to judge what stories are true.
So all we have to go by is whether we belong to the group.
I wish I knew what the answer was. I wish my father were here, he would know. But then he always had a hard time getting along with his professional colleagues, too. He much preferred hanging out with the car guys than with the other surgeons.
I guess you could say it runs in the family. Being the one who doesn't belong.
This fault was the hardest one yet. Very difficult to untangle...

--From Jordan Peterson's Self-Authoring: Faults program


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