To a Fault: Tea Party for One

Fault: Could be better at cooperating

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 negative impact on your life.
I don’t like people messing with my stuff.

My sister and I shared a room when we were little, and it drove me nuts when she would leave her toys and clothes on my side of the room. So much so that one day, when she refused to move her things, I chased her down the hall and pushed her just as we got to the end. She hit her head on the edge of a half-wall separating the dining room from the living room...and the rest was history. She got the scar to show off to everybody, and I got the reputation as the Bad Sister.

I think I was five, maybe six. She was three or four. I didn't mean for her to hit the wall, it just happened that that was when I caught up to her.

I like having my things just right. My toys. My furniture. My words.

I hate when other people come in and start rearranging my things. Especially my words.

My editors know this. I hate getting the peer review reports on my articles and books. No matter what, the reviewer will have suggested things that make no sense or that ignore the substance of my argument altogether. How dare they come in and think that they know better about what it is that I am trying to explain?

It’s even worse with my colleagues in history of Christianity or religious studies. Messing about with the things that I have been thinking about for years. They haven’t read as much as I have about Mary. They haven’t thought as hard as I have about what medieval Christians saw in her. How dare they claim that I don’t know what I am talking about when I describe medieval devotion to her?

I get equally frustrated with the historically unfounded claims about Christianity or Western civilization that my liberal and progressive friends insist on making. Claims like: “The bodies of the ‘Other’––the black body, the disabled body, the colonized body, the female body, and the nonbinary body––have long been despised targets of Christianized violence.”*

If I were five, I would chase them down the hall and push them into the wall on purpose.
Alternative Outcome: Write a short paragraph about what you might have done differently in that situation, to minimize the effect of the fault.
My sister left her stuff on my side of the room on purpose. I even made a line down the middle of the room with tape, so that she would know where her side was, but she dropped stuff on my side anyway--and laughed about it.

It feels the same when peers review my work. I don’t go in and mess up their side of the room. I let them say their boneheaded things, roll my eyes, and try to make my arguments clearly. If I get their work to review, I read as carefully as I can and tell the truth about what I think. But I try very hard to make sure I am critiquing their argument, not using their work to try to make mine.

Unless, of course, their argument is about Mary. Or Christinianity. Or Western civilization. Then the argument is already mine, and they are dropping their toys where they don’t belong.

I am not sure what my sister meant to accomplish by leaving her stuff where she did. I am pretty sure she was trying to annoy me. Doing the younger chimp poke to see what it would take to make me react, which is why it was such a victory for her to get me to chase her.

My colleagues working on Mary or Christianity or Western civilization have their own reasons for caring about these topics. I doubt very much that they worry about me, other than when I am writing about Milo. It just feels to me like they are getting at me because they care as much as I do and want their side of the room to be clean.

And, to be fair, occasionally I do drop my toys on their side because I want to get their attention.

I played by myself a lot as a child, even with two siblings. Professor Peterson talks about how little kids play at tea parties. I did, too, but only with my toys. I had stuffed animals, not dolls, and I spent ages making genealogical charts for their kingdom. The toys had relationships, but I didn’t.

How do you repair a developmental stage that you missed as a child? I can make believe that I am enjoying the tea party, but I’m not really. I want to control the toys and give them voice.
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?
I see colleagues working on projects together and feel jealous at being left out. I also recognize that mostly my peer reviewers have a point about what needs to be fixed, even if I disagree with the way in which they suggest I revise.

It isn’t as if I refuse to learn from others. Look at how much I am learning from Professor Peterson! I love learning things, improving my arguments, acquiring knowledge and skills. And I am willing to take correction from those whom I respect--meaning, those whom I think give good advice.

The problem I have is with colleagues whom I am supposed to think of as my peers. My academic siblings. My little sisters and brothers.

I hate when Mom and Dad take their side when it was my siblings’ fault for dropping their toys on my side of the room and messing with my stuff. They get all the sympathy, and I get ignored.

“Fine,” I think to myself. “I’ll play by myself.” Except, of course, it isn’t a punishment if what I like is playing by myself.

I wanted my sister to play with me, but she had her own games. My brother was sufficiently younger not to be caught up in the sororial drama, not while we were children, in any case. What I wanted was to be the Good Big Sister, like the Big Sister in the book. But my sister would keep dropping her toys on my side of the room and teasing me.

One of the big projects I have in progress is an edited volume on Mary. Since my writing about Milo hit the Internet, three of my contributors have dropped out. One told me explicitly that she couldn’t bear to contribute given my politics (unspecifed). Another pulled out of her contract without telling me; I heard it through the series editor. The third told me she couldn’t do her article, but not why.

I knew that all three had different ideas about Mary than I do when I asked them to contribute. I wanted their voices to be included precisely because they are different from mine. Just as I really did want my little sister to play my games with me.

For a change.
On the one hand, I want others to play with me, but I get annoyed when they mess with my toys. On the other hand, I make invitations to play that are refused, even when I am careful to put the toys that I care about away so that everyone can enjoy playing. Either way I end up playing alone. I am not entirely sure where the fault lies....

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

*Here I am quoting from a sermon given by the ministry intern at my old church. It's probably better I'm Catholic now.

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