Monday, December 22, 2008

Parable of Contrition

About a year and a half ago, visiting family, I met a woman around my age who was dating a wealthy man twenty-five years her senior. She looked to me as if she had a fake tan, she worked as a pharmaceuticals representative, she wore very low-cut and tight clothes and made a lot of margaritas. Though she came across as a nice person, my snap judgment was negative and dismissive. Her values seemed far from mine, and easy to belittle, and I didn't see much else to recommend.

But I got to know this woman over the next year, at first because it was necessary, then because I enjoyed my time with her and wanted to. Before she worked for the pharmaceuticals industry, she got a master's degree in epidemiology, which involved travelling to Thailand, and worked in publicity for a women's health organization, requiring travel all over the country. She is a skilled and financially stable businesswoman in her own right, left the Big Pharma job to start a completely different company of her own soon after we met, and aside from all the practical stuff that clearly demonstrates my brand of snobbiness, she is straightforward, generous, thoughtful, and a really terrific conversationalist.

And the fake tan? Yeah, her father is black.

That's my parable. The wonderful thing about parables is they apply in any number of situations. For example, this one applies in the story I am about to relate.

I recently wrote a post about a conversation I had in April. It was a conversation whose content I was unhappy about, and I was very harsh towards my partner in that conversation. A few days ago she read my blog.

Such is the internet. But she was kind enough to send me a really thoughtful message, saying she agreed with the content of the post if not the tone, all the more so because she's now studying arts education in grad school and developing an ever-clearer sense of what she wants to do, what's important to her. The content of the program I lambasted, along with its description, was given to her by its coordinators with neither guidance nor real freedom, and she was far more frustrated by her circumstances there than I could ever have been by one twenty-minute conversation.

After I responded to her message, hoping to show as much rationality and thoughtfulness as she had, we chatted about arts education and grad school on facebook for a couple of hours, and it became one of the more compelling conversations I've had in the last six months. The kind I hope I can continue having over time.

All this goes to say, I should calm the fuck down on my snap judgements. Not on judgements in general, mind you; I'm still all in favor of those. But I'm in favor of them being rational and considered and, well, right. My judgements should be right, at least. To make them right, I have to have an appropriate amount of information to assess them. And that takes time, and it takes thoroughness. (Something else a good legal system knows that I still hadn't quite figgered out.)

So, in other words, I was wrong. Not in content, but in form. Without knowing the full story, there was no reason to make my attack on the ideas as personal as I made it.

Retracted, and plans for improvement noted here.


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