19 December 2008

Angels and Demons

Everyone have their own problems. Nobody here in this world is problem-free. With that being said, I am constantly reminded by some of my friends, that I have problems as well.

The thing is, sometimes, I have this idea that people around me think that I am problem-free. Some people think that I am such a high achiever, and that I never experience failure, and therefore I am not human. Indeed, sometimes, even I myself think that way. I rarely experience failure. Not that I wanted to brag, but looking back, it seems that I have been able to overcome the obstacles that life has given me so far. I was a valedictorian in grade school, I was in the top 10 in middle school, I got to live in different countries while growing up, and I graduated with Latin honors in college. Now, I am working on a graduate degree. And my grades and my performance are unblemished. Thus, from the eyes of the outsider, it seems that I may have the easy path.

Because of that, it is easy to be the target of everyone else. Indeed, people say that it is lonely at the top. And I do believe that due to the human nature of selfishness, people would simply hate those that are above them.

I am not saying that I have no friends. I have a few who are close to me, and who know my deepest secrets. These few know my demons, and I have quite a few of them. Sometimes, we discuss our demons, and they remark that they are in a way, glad that I have demons as well, because that makes me more human. Of course, I am not offended by this remark. After all, it still is compatible with the selfishness hypothesis. They say that if I don’t have my demons, I would not be able to relate to their struggles. But the fact that I have my own struggles makes me more capable of relating to their own battles.

Of course, not everyone around me knows this. Other people think that I am just an over-achiever, and thus, the target of animosity. Graduate school isn’t a walk in the park. Graduate school is not like college, in which there are people who care about school, and there are people who just want to party and get laid. Graduate school is where one should expect to meet other people who may not just be as good as them, but in fact, better than them. Graduate school is competitive.

Now people would ask why I am revealing my demons here. Actually, no, that is not my agenda. I don’t want to reveal my demons here, for fear that what Tennessee Williams has said might come true. If you know what my demons are, you might kill them all and my angels might die too. Sometimes, people need pain, simply in order to feel that they exist. People need pain in order to confirm their existence. Armenians need their Genocide, Jews need their Holocaust. People need a struggle, or else they won’t feel that they are alive.

I suppose I have come to realize that it is not the case that I have no obstacles which result in my being perceived as an over-achiever. It is just that I learned some skills to succeed and dodge disappointment.

I remember one morning, three years ago, my sister and I had a rather interesting discussion about this. I had already graduated from college. It was one of those days in which I was waiting for the day in which I would fly to the United States to come. My sister asked me whether I was disappointed in that I only graduated with a magna cum laude, and not a summa cum laude. It happened to be that my GPA didn’t qualify for a summa cum laude. Some of my General Education requirements were rather difficult, and I had low grades in them. I told my sister that no, I wasn’t disappointed, since I never felt that I could reach the cut-off point anyway. She then theorized that that was my defense mechanism. That I cease wanting something if I know that I will not be able to get it.

In short, I am in denial.

I guess that is true. I would not deny that I would love to get the highest honor possible. I remember calculating my grades every end of a semester, and seeing what my grades for the remaining classes are supposed to be if I wanted to get the highest Latin honor. I wanted to be the best. I wanted to be on that stage, looked upon by everybody, as one of the brightest minds the university has produced that year.

But yes, reality kicks in, and that did not happen. I suppose this is where I simply denied ever wanting it, that a magna cum laude is good enough. And I am happy. According to my sister’s theory, that is just my defense mechanism, in order to avoid the crunch of disappointment. After all, if you did not want it, then you wouldn’t be sad when you don’t get it, correct?

I am not trying to justify myself. After all, life is difficult. There are so many things that can go wrong. But this should not make each and everyone of us clam up in our own rooms, for fear of something bad happening if we decide to venture even an inch outside our doors. We need to be more pragmatic than that. We develop strategies, defense mechanisms, heuristics, and other tactics in dealing with the chaos in this world. Chaos is a huge factor in the universe, and us humans have this desire to control it, to run against it, to overpower it. We develop statistical tools of inference, such as ANOVAs, regression equations, and other tests designed to infer and predict different outcomes of what we test, using assumptions that involve normality in this world. And these tests are designed to be robust, that even when normality is violated, the tests would still hold up.

People are uncomfortable with the uncertainty that results from chaos. That’s why people want the world to be predictable, so one can learn its patterns and protect oneself. I suppose my own version of my defense mechanism is just one example of that.

So there, if my friends think that I am more human when I have demons to wrestle with, then so be it. And if outsiders think that I am an over-achieving superhuman who is worthy of their animosity, I suggest they think twice, since they are wasting their time. I really am not. I just don’t get disappointed easily.



(View from Inside, from my Arlington Cemetery Series)

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