Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Can't take a compliment

Managed to have a nice long chat with my teacher today. Was good to catch up with her after my three months away in Japan. She seems to take great pride in my achievements, and is generous with her praise, which always leaves me feeling energised and ready to receieve my crown (seriously, right after our conversation you could have shown me all the unemployment figures you wanted, and I would have kept on smiling.) At the same time however receipt of such praise always leaves me feeling very embarrassed.

I think my feelings are rooted in two things: firstly, and this could be a cultural thing, the slightest hint that an elder is treating me as they would a peer is something that is slightly disconcerting. One of the cultures in which I was raised coming up on the mean streets of Southwest London is quite hierachical, with great respect given to ones elders. As a result I usually address people with their titles, and even feel slightly facetious when I use their first names in contexts where formal titles would be strange or inappropriate. Indeed I've been struck by the lack of formality that characterises many of the student-teacher relationships I have seen here in the United States. I think British Academia is much more formal, though it could be changing. Also, the very idea that I am worthy of such treatment is rather strange, my feeling is What, in my few years on this earth could I have possibly done to be given such praise, to have my hand shaken as a peer?

Second, I think part of me hearing that someone thinks I'm great. Again part of me just can't believe that anyone could have such a high opinion about something I've done, or the person I am. It just doesn't match the image I have of myself. This could be because while many of my closest friends, and family have a very abstract idea of what it is I do, I don't think a detailed conversation would be possible, or of interest to most of them.

My mother in particular fretted about my choice of both undergrad and master's courses. For instance, "what job", she asked with clear concern in her voice, "can you do with philosophy?" It was the way she said "philosophy". I'm sure there's a joke out there that the first words of English Nigerians learn (and never forget) are "doctor", "lawyer" and "engineer". If there isn't there ought to be. My mother uttered that word "philosophy" as if it were entirely foreign to her daily vocabulary, and therefore distrusted. Moreover as a word she did not use, I'm certain she considered it -and subsequently the entire discipline- as useless. I'm sure my recent achievements have done nothing to change her feelings.

I also think there's a little fear in there.  I resist the idea that the nice things people are saying could represent me as I am.

Anyway. Please don't get it twisted,  if you have good things to say, keep them coming. I like hearing them. It gives me something I can aspire to. Like that Obama fellow when he got the Nobel Peace Prize.

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