the children we are

February 15, 2007

we’re grown-ups without a clue. maturity? sure, we can fake it at job interviews, first dates, or family reunions. we can talk intelligently about politics and religion. we can exclaim over the childish or just plain mean things others do, as if we’re above that.

reality is, most of us are no better than kids. when we’re stressed, when someone irritates or hurts us, our high morals fly out the door. we see red. we lash out like we did when we were six.

example: my roommate is…interesting. she’s incredibly loud and just a little too much all the time. i don’t think she has insight on the kind of impression she makes on others. she thinks she’s being confident, and that others are sometimes intimidated by her. we’re not. most people who meet her just don’t know what to say. they think she’s weird.

i have a lot in common with her, strangely enough. we’re both incredibly insecure. the difference is that i wear my insecurity for anyone to see. i’m a mess, and you have to deal with me the way i am. some, but not many, people do. they are my friends. my roommate on the other hand pretends. or maybe she just has a complete lack of personal insight, i’m not really sure. she act so confident, she’s smart, she’s this, she’s that. she has great style, she has so much talent in decorating, she’s so organized, she’s so EVERYTHING. i think she lies a lot too because some of the stories she tells, usually about she’s so <fill in the blank> just seem out there.

she talks too much, using all this extra description that no one finds interesting. you can literally see people’s eyes glaze over. a boy asked for her number the other day and so my innocent question is, “so how’d you guys meet?”. i get, no exaggeration, a twenty minute explanation. seriously, a blow-by-blow description of how they met in photo class and they were moving such and such object and the teacher said this and she left her coat and had to go back and the syllabus for the class is really too much work and the guy said her camera wouldn’t be sufficient and he was saying this and doing this and then they talked about this and she explained about such and such thing that he didn’t do (she then tangents off to explain this thing that he didn’t know that she did) and finally he asks her to tell him her craziest drunk story and she says she’s that fun kinda girl who doesn’t care and will strip in place of her friends during strip poker so that they won’t be embarassed because she doesn’t care.

um, ok. great thing to shout out the first time you meet a guy. he’s not thinking about getting you naked at all…although i will admit the guy seemed decent and may have genuinely been interested in her. but she just as easily could have met a jerk.

other irritating things she does: randomly yells in her room. eats GINORMOUS amounts of food. i’ll be the first to tell you i binge eat all the time. all the time. i will tell anyone i do that because it’s what i do. she has concocted a different story for herself though. her “body is not used to only having periods four times a year” since she’s on Seasonal, and it’s affecting her hormones, apparently causing her to eat an entire pizza and three orders of bbq wings from domino’s all in one sitting. she’s a very pretty girl, that irish skin, beautiful blue eyes. i think she’s pretty as she is and would be extremely attractive if she lost the fifty-odd pounds she’s packing on extra. pounds which she has had long before seasonal. why not just be honest? why does she make so many stories up for why some external factor is making her eat and gain weight? don’t these excuses sound as fake to her as they sound to everyone else? in general, she has excuses for everything.

and what does this ode to my roommate have to do with my original “we’re children” motif? because when we feel hurt, this is what we do. we think of every mean, spiteful thing to say about a person, somehow overlooking the good things too.

the truth is that my roommate does do everything i so glowingly outlined. but she also makes me cookies, tries to make me feel better (albeit with horribly long and usually irrelevant anecdotes), helps me out when i have a problem, and frequently tells me she loves me. because of this, i’m very ambivalent towards her. sometimes i think she’s great, obviously with problems, but hey, look at me. i don’t know if i respect her, but the bottom line is that when she pisses me off or does something to put me on the defensive, i bad-mouth her to our other mutual friends. not too respectable either. to continue the childish cycle, she, outraged by my behavior, lashes back with her own angry outpourings to said friends.

you know it’s strange, i’ve always been a thinker. even as young as middle school, instead of concerning myself with boys and clothes, i was asking questions about why we’re here, if there’s a god, how people can do such evil things. i read a lot about the holocaust.  years later, when graduating high school, i thought i had a good sense of who i was. i thought i was moral. i thought i was mature. i thought that in situations that test our innate nature, i would come out on top because i had read so much that i knew what was right and what was wrong, and that would be enough to allow me to act like a grown-up.

it’s not. and it’s not just me. i see it everywhere. i see people cheat on their partner, on tests. people lie, gossip maliciously, key cars. these are just normal people. i’m guessing if it was possible to quantify goodness, they would score in the 65% “normal” range. it seems that at the behavioral finish line, heated emotions easily beat out our conscience, whether it’s sleeping with that oh-so-hot chick/dick while our partner ignorantly waits at home or vomiting up the secrets we kept for an ex-friend. these are adults, these are college kids, these are rich, these are poor, these are smart, and these are stupid; these are people granted rights like drinking and smoking, but whose visceral response is still that of a child’s.

on a positive note, i don’t think this is everyone. some people manage to act morally. they don’t have the weakness of character that i and others seem to have. they behave the way they believe. i guess all the rest of us can do is be so conscious of our emotional flaws that maybe next time we’ll catch ourselves. or at least apologize?



  1. That condition you’re outlining here has been worrying me for ages. I even managed to turn it into professional interest. It’s though. It’s confusing, irritating and probably a dozen more adjectives I can’t think of right now.

    How can you know what is right and still be overwhelmed by the lesser-you so that you find yourself doing the wrong thing?

    Philosophers call this weakness of character “acrasia” and up to now I have yet do find a compelling explanation for it. And I believe that everybody is susceptible to this fault. There are just those who have excercised their character long enough to escape its grip.
    But among those who have not yet reached this level of moral integrity there are (at least) two groups. There are those who can’t stand hurting people for ultimately invalid reasons. I’m siding with them, and you, as far as I can infer from your post, do too. There is nothing worse for me in this world than picking a fight with my wife just because I’m frustrated, tired or whatever excuse comes to mind.

    The other group is in much more trouble: They know that they shouldn’t have acted upon these emotions and still they pretend that their behaviour is justified. It’s usually described with the beautiful French word mauvaise foi: They’re effectively lying to themselves. This is bad. If you’re true to yourself and aknowledge that you’ve done wrong and you apologize and think of ways to fare better next time, you’ve always got the chance to finally be the person you want to be.
    Not so with those who pretend that the’ve done nothing wrong and the worlds been conspiring against them. If you’re like that, if you don’t have the courage to stand up for your moral sentiments, you will eventuall become numb against them. Then there are no checks and bars, and you’d be spiralling down ever forth, acting only on your selfish impulses, loosing your friends, your family, your sense of dignity.
    To me this is, after all, a horrible idea, I prefer listening to my conscience, eventhough it might be sometimes a bad conscience.

  2. i looked up “acrasia” just for info’s sake.

    i guess my question is, these people who pretend they are justified, can they really lie to themselves? my problem is that i KNOW exactly what i do and say. i know when i crawl in bed at night and i have to live with that. so is it that these people have some sort of immunity against guilt, or do they have such little self-understanding that they can fool themselves into whatever justification they spin for others?

    if so, i (albeit horribly) wish i had that ability. unfortunately, i know exactly what i do, why i do it, what is my fault, what i should have done, what i purposely did, and what that says about me.

  3. I’m equally puzzled by people’s ability to fool themselves. But perhaps it’s neither immunity to guilt, nor lack of self-consciousness. It just seems to me that our consciousness is an highly ambiguous device: Depending on what aspect of your life you concentrate your attention, other aspects will drop out of sight. Perhaps this kind of self-deception is actually mastery of self-concioussness: If you concentrate on the lie long enough, the fact that it is a lie will fade out of sight eventually. You will know it’s a lie but you wont notice save for the rare situations in which you’re force to deal with it.

    I can’t imagine people being immune to guilt, I prefer to think that their moral sentiments are under-developed or worn off. Guilt becomes a constant companion you get used to after a while. Thinking of it this way is somewhat comforting to me because it leaves me with the silver lining that even these people can change.

    But again, this may be just another self-deception.

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