Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The precocious child inside me

One of the fascinating things about being back at school (I'm a complete beginner again, studying theology at the undergrad level) is seeing my own traits in others. Sometimes I see people much younger than me doing things that make me cringe and a big part of what makes me cringe is that they remind me of what I was like at their age.

And maybe more so because I can see that I haven't entirely shaken the bad traits I see.

One of these is being precocious in classroom discussion. People straight out of high school do this. They want to do well on the "class participation" portion of their final mark. But that's only part of it. This behaviour is driven by a fear of being tested. You can see, watching them, that they are desperate to establish that they are so good that the essay or the exam would be superfluous. It is so painfully obvious that they are doing this that the professors have attempted to counter this. They have made class participation worth only ten percent. Furthermore, they are careful to explain at the start of each session that all you need to do to get the ten percent is to show up at every class. As a matter of pure logic, that should be enough to discourage the behaviour but it doesn't. And it's painful to watch.

Why do they keep doing it? And why do we never grow out of this trait? I think I've gotten more subtle about how I do it but I still catch myself doing it. I find myself preparing to respond to something and realize that what I am about to say will add nothing worthwhile to the discussion. It's just me showing off. I notice it especially when what I am about to say is a digression.

Part of the answer is that conversation is often an avoidance tactic. It's a good thing that it is. We sometimes talk rather than physically assaulting one another. We sometimes talk instead of leaving. We often talk as a way to avoid being tested.

That, I think, is the important lesson. Succeeding at life is a matter of being tested. Over and over again we are tested. Sometimes we fail and sometimes we succeed but we are always tested. You cannot avoid the testing. You need to embrace it and be ready for it. The whole point of taking a course is the test. You should be preparing for it from the first class. Don't avoid tests, push yourself into them.

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