Saturday, February 28, 2009

Oof, Thank God That Week Is Over

You know, it's not actually that this whole week was bad. Teaching was actually really awesome, I found out my dean thinks I'm great, I've got really supportive colleagues by and large, and I really do feel like the hard work I'm doing in lots of areas is being acknowledged.

The problem, I suppose, is that all of that this week was sort of overshadowed by what I perceive as the jerkitude of a tiny minority of folks. Now, I think that what I perceive as jerkitude is in fact jerkitude, for a variety of reasons, but I'm willing to grant here that I'm not entirely objective on this matter. I feel personally affronted and disrespected, and that's not so great for the objectivity.

I suppose, now that I've forced myself to chill out a bit (although let's be honest: I'm still really pissed off but it's just that I know that giving in to that anger will only make me look like a tool and what is really in order here is to take the high road) I realize that none of this is life-or-death stuff. Things are going to move forward (I think) with the work that I've been doing, and while I think there is more drama yet to come, I also think that I shall emerge from the drama (as long as I keep my cool) victorious. But see, look at my language there: I'm all in battle mode now, in a situation that I had initially perceived as one that was all about being positive and collaborative. And this shift is actually really disappointing to me. I'm disappointed in myself for not being able to truly take the high road (although I'm pretending that I am) and I'm disappointed in the jerks who have turned something that could have been about productive compromise into something that's really negative and fucked up.

It's not that I expect everybody to be totally happy - or that I expect that I will be totally happy - with any outcome. Compromise means that total happiness for any party is usually unlikely. And it's not that I'm a martyr. I think that (some) people (also known as the jerks) think that I'm either a martyr to somebody else's cause or (when they're less generous) a tool of the system. The fact is, my approach to matters of curricular development and department and university service generally has absolutely nothing to do with me being a martyr or a tool. The reason I care about these things, and the reason why I agree to take the lead in this sort of way, typically relates to the fact that I see these matters as really critical to how the university works. I think that it's important for faculty to be deeply involved in these things, and to get out ahead of mandates that come from above (whether "above" is the administration, accrediting bodies, or the state). I think that it's important to take the attitudes of the "above" into account as we make our plans, and I don't think that entrenchment or retrenchment is ever a solution to protecting or advocating for the discipline or for empowering a department. Put another way, I do not think that there is any moral high ground in digging in one's heels and in clinging for dear life to "ideals" that are out of step with conditions on the ground.

What's funny, though, is that I'm a pretty idealistic person. It's not that I don't have ideals. It's just that I don't believe in platonic ideals. I don't believe in ideals that are unchanging, and I don't believe in ideals that are somehow pure of political interest. I'm fully willing to concede that my ideals are shaped by my own interests and my own context. That doesn't make them bad - it just makes them contingent. And it means that I'm open to doing what's best for a pragmatic end, even if it may seem that I'm giving some things up to get there. And, seriously, I think I'm pretty good at seeing the interests involved, in seeing the big picture and not just my own picture, and in trying to negotiate toward an end that, while imperfect, is better than where we start.

But where I lose patience is at the moment when other people seem to characterize their ideals as in some way "true" (with mine and other people's as being "false" or "wrong") - when they dig in their heels and refuse to see any point of view but their own. That is the moment when I decide that they are foolish and stupid, and that is the moment when my impulse is to beat them down, as opposed to working for a positive outcome. And that is the impulse that I have to fight, or I become the very thing I'm criticizing. And fighting that internal impulse takes a lot of energy, and so then on top of the energy I have to expend on that, I also expend even more energy on being angry about being put in, as I see it, a false position. It's really hard to take the high road when other people are trying to drag you into the mud.

Where I'm proud of myself this week is that I think I've done as good a job as I could have done with staying out of the mud. Now, this wasn't all that hard, as the attempts to drag me there were pretty transparent, and it wasn't like I was totally blindsided by the fact that things have gone sideways in this fashion. The one thing that happened that did surprise me almost made me leap into the swamp of negativity, but that only almost happened for the typical reason that it does happen with me: that I don't have faith that others will see the bullshit that is attempting to be perpetrated. (Actually, this is I think where the other side is coming from: I think that they are filled with righteous indignation and think that it's their duty to show all of their stupid and mystified colleagues how stupid and mystified they are. And you know, people don't really respond well to being treated as if they are stupid and mystified.)

And so. That's where things are with me, and I'm planning to spend this weekend cleaning my house, writing, and catching up with grading. And I'm going to stop ruminating about all of this bullshit and force myself to table it until there's something to be done, which will be the middle of next week. And I'm going to jump back on the workout bandwagon (for with the ear infection and all of this drama I've fallen off for the past couple of weeks), and I'm going to take care of myself rather than letting other crap get in the way. But let me say this: spring break can't come soon enough.


Belle said...

With you all the way on all of this.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

You've just described much of my week. Add to that still dealing with breakup blues, and a second committee of people who are led by two vary patronizing types, and you've got my life.

Historiann said...

Dr. Crazy wrote: "I think that they are filled with righteous indignation and think that it's their duty to show all of their stupid and mystified colleagues how stupid and mystified they are. And you know, people don't really respond well to being treated as if they are stupid and mystified."

Your erstwhile enemies (sorry to adopt the language of the battlefield!) are pretty inept, and that's a good thing. That must make them slightly less annoying in the long run, right? I've seen situations like the one you describe, and folks like that dig their own graves. You merely served as a convenient focus for their resentment, but in the long run, if they either don't care or aren't smart enough to figure out how to win a political argument, then they don't deserve to win. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean they won't live to annoy you another day...