To a Fault: “Squirrel!”
Fault: Have a hard time planning for the future because I am interested in everything
Describe an experience: Please write a short story (approximately 2,000 characters) about a time in your life when this fault created a situation that had a negative impact on your life.
I do not know Latin as well as I should.
Sure, I studied it for three years in high school. By my senior year, I was the best at Grammar in the state. I was the best in the country in Grammar the year before that. I won medals and trophies in Decathalon (grammar, reading comprehension, vocabulary, Latin derivatives, mottoes, Roman history, mythology, literature, geography, and Roman life) as well.
But I didn't stick with it in college after my first or second year, despite changing my major from Physics and Math to History and Religious Studies. It was too easy, or so I thought. I already knew Latin well enough to be the best student in Classics. Why study it more when there were so many other things to learn?
I found out when I got to Cambridge to start my graduate studies and couldn't read the texts. It took me months to work through a single commentary on the Song of Songs. Granted, it was over three hundred pages in the 1960 edition. But that was only a single work and there were (and are) so many still to read.
You'd think that would be sufficient to hold my attention. But I was the one who loved studying for the Decathalon, knowing everything. My second year of graduate work I decided I needed to learn German and Greek. I also took a stab at learning French. I spent every morning working an hour on each, while the afternoons I spent reading more commentaries on the Song.
When I matriculated at Columbia the following year, I passed all my language exams, even French, at the first go. But I never learned to speak French, even though I can read it. My spoken German at least sounds like German. But what I really needed was better Latin.
Since graduate school, I have worked my way through several long--okay, very long--books in medieval Latin. But I don't read Latin as much as I should. There are always so many other things I am interested in reading. Which means when I need to read something in Latin, it is still harder than it should be.Alternative outcome: Write a short paragraph about what you might have done differently in that situation, to minimize the effect of this fault.
Perhaps I am being too hard on myself. I did manage to read several very long texts my first two years as a graduate student. And, to the best of my knowledge, I am the only living person to have read in full several of the texts that I used in my forthcoming book.
Would I be a better scholar if I were able to stay focused on just one thing? After all, I have been focused on devotion to the Virgin Mary for over thirty years. More accurately, I keep coming back to it, after going hunting after other beasts. Just look at the syllabi for the courses I have taught.
Plus, studying Mary requires knowing everything. She is, after all, the mother of Wisdom and filled with wisdom herself. Those books that I read for my new book are themselves encyclopedic in their attempt to describe the one who contained Him who could not be contained.
The problem is that I feel anxious about making plans for the future. It is much easier to distract myself with shiny new toys of knowledge than to keep with the scholarly work that I know I should do. Except that the only reason I know I should do it is because I have read so much.
Once again, it comes down to trust. I do not trust myself to make the right decisions about what I should do. It only seems wrong to be interested in the range of things I am because I am anxious that they are not the right things, so when I am studying or practicing, I am second-guessing myself.
I make plans for the future all the time. Grandiose plans that involve learning everything, acquiring multiple skills, knowing the whole scope of human history. I have the title for my next book already: "The Lady and the City: How the Virgin Mother of God Gave Birth to the Modern West." Nothing modest about that!
But then David Hackett Fisher comes along. Or Milo. Or Jordan Peterson. And I am off trying to learn everything about something new.
Is the problem that I make grandiose plans? Or is it that I make too modest ones? Am I setting the bar too high? Or too low?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?
This is how you give yourself writer's block. Been there, done that. It is a form of procrastination, convincing yourself that you never know enough to get started, never know enough to have a worthwhile opinion, never know enough to be truly interesting.
I am so envious of Professor Peterson. Everything he says is so insightful. Everything he says blows open things I have been thinking about for years. I was the one who spent a year sitting in on courses in psychology so as to be able to talk about the way devotion works. Why is he the one who gets to figure it all out?
Greed. I'm being greedy. I want all the shiny toys. I don't want to have to share. It isn't that Professor Peterson knows more than I do. It is that he knows something that I don't and I want it. NOW.
Plus, of course, I want more attention. And to feel important because people are interested in what I have to say.
Simone Weil said something brilliant about this temptation in her essay on what it means to study as a Christian. We learn how to pay attention to God by giving ourselves in study to the subjects that we do. To study geometry or Latin we need to be willing to surrender ourselves to geometry or Latin. We cannot spend our time thinking about the fact of studying. We have to trust the subject and let ourselves be absorbed in it.
Judging from the videos I have watched thus far and being about halfway through his book, Professor Peterson does not know everything. He just seems to know everything because he knows one big thing--the Jungian structure of consciousness--extremely well. It seems like everything to me because it matches so beautifully the one big thing--medieval devotion to Mary--that I know well. (Okay, no false modesty. Better than almost anybody else.)
The hard part is letting myself believe that because I know it, other people will find it important and interesting, too.Professor Peterson rocks, if you haven't gathered by now. Two faults down, seven to go....
--From Jordan Peterson's Self-Authoring: Faults program.