Thursday, July 16, 2009


"Listen. Easy now," said [Professor Faber] gently. "I know, I know. You're afraid of making mistakes. Don't be. Mistakes can be profited by. Man, when I was younger I shoved my ignorance in people's faces. They beat me with sticks. By the time I was forty my blunt instrument had been honed to a fine cutting point for me. If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you'll never learn."

~from the novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I very much like being right. I attribute this to two main causes: 1) I am a diehard, obsessive perfectionist. 2) I'm academically gifted. (Seriously, I was tested and stuff in first grade. I have a Label and everything.) If not for 2) I might have channeled my perfectionism into some other pursuit, like...making my bed neatly every day. (My mother would love that one.) However, since being academically excellent gets you all kinds of positive reinforcement I channeled my perfectionism there and everybody thought I was awesome and I was happy. Believe it or not, I like it when people like me. (My introversion--which can sometimes seem like standoffishness--notwithstanding. Trust me, I'm standing there quietly glowing with happiness whenever anybody indicates that they like me.)

I was a senior in high school before it occured to me that I didn't have to be right all the time. I was taking Advanced Math, you see, and due to my intense loathing of anything involving numbers I had set up a nice mental block for myself and was getting Bs on most of my tests. (Of which there was one every 2 weeks or so, if memory serves.) As any perfectionist knows, Bs are The End of the World and You Shall Surely Die. The lovely and brilliant Emily eventually saved me from my misery by loaning me a set of videos in which a lady with a soothing Southern accent carefully explained the stuff I was supposed to be learning, and so I slogged my way through Advanced Math and came out with an A or A-minus (I can't remember now. Which proves that grades are really not Life and Death.) Anyway. Before Emily saved me, I looked at those Bs on my online transcript and told myself, "Okay, all that says is that you don't perfectly understand everything. And that's okay. That's how things are supposed to be. If you perfectly understood everything to begin with there'd be no point in you being in school. You're in school to learn things, and the prerequisite to learning things is not knowing them to begin with."

That mental pep talk didn't work too well, but 2 1/2 years later that lesson is starting to sink in. If I already knew everything there is to know then I wouldn't be human. There wouldn't be any point in me being on this earth because I am here to learn about life and love and everything else that people have wrestled with since Eve ate the apple.

So I blog. I stick my philosophical and theological guts out there for you all to look at. And every now and then somebody disagrees with me and my first instinct is to take down the post and then go crawl under a rock and flagellate myself. Instead I respond with, "Well, I had thought of that and I'm sorry if I was unclear in the part of my post which addressed it" or "Wow, I hadn't thought of that. I'll keep it in mind." And I learn.

So, here's the deal: I'll keep blogging, even when I'm scared silly of getting something wrong. And you all (all five of you) will keep commenting and if necessary telling me when I'm showing the fact that I'm only a 19-year-old with a big mouth and an internet connection and not an actual philosopher or theologian.

Note: This post is not meant to be a sort of passive-aggressive response to anything recent. (Or any particular not-recent thing, for that matter.) It's just something that's been percolating in the back of my mind for a long time.


Erin said...

As I don't really know anything very well, and definitely less than you, I won't be one of the ones to correct you, probably. :D
I'l look up to your thoughts so I can learn from you. :D

The Sojourner said...

Thanks, Erin. :)

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Bs are not the end of the world. I worry that your perfectionism will hold you back from doing well in life itself because if you cannot allow yourself to fail, it is likely that you will not allow yourself to risk failure -- and if that is the case, you may miss out on wonderful opportunities. Who says you are no good if you get a B?

Shakespeare's Cobbler said...

Don't worry, I'm working on breaking her of that. 8^)

The Sojourner said...


I believe you are mistaking a caricature of my views 3 years ago with my current view. I'm sorry if it was unclear that I was being hyperbolic, and poking fun at myself besides. The whole point of the post was to say that I'm starting to realize that making mistakes intellectually can lead to learning and growth, rather than merely embarassment.

SC: I love you.

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Thanks for the clarification. Happy risk-taking!