Perception is Nine-Tenths


You can’t go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we had a few fools left.

– Oscar Wilde

I find that, no matter the situation in which I find myself, there is a Wildeism that applies. Today, this one’s mine.

Simply put, I’m often too clever for my own good. I’m often overly convinced of my own vision and acumen, of my own position in the master-student hierarchy. Convinced that in a kingdom of the blind, I’m the only one who can see. In short, as was pointed out to me rather bluntly a few days ago, I am often an arrogant bastard.

On one hand, I’m not persuaded that this is necessarily a bad thing. The very act of writing something down for public consumption entails a certain “humble arrogance”: to think that something one has to say might actually be of benefit to others. To hope that some pearl of dim wisdom, derived from the relatively quotidian experience that is the average human life, might in the end shape the essence of things, might change the world as we know it. This requires a special kind of arrogance indeed.

On the other hand, though, there is the sometimes overlooked fact (at least by me) that the experience of average human life is quotidian precisely because it is shared. I am not the only one watching the world through perceptive eyes; although I may have something of value to contribute, in that I am surely not alone. Failing to acknowledge this entails a not-so-special kind of arrogance.

There are two sides to every coin. And my coin, much to my chagrin, seems to be rigged. It’s a trick coin, a Harvey Dent coin, a coin with a mind of its own. In other words, in the battle between arrogant bastards, the humble guy generally gets his ass kicked.

A few days ago, I wrote a post about gender and race relations. I tossed the coin, aware of the risk I was taking, but not as prepared for the fallout as I thought I was. Like I told a friend, my skin is never as thick as I think it’s going to be. I tossed the coin, and it landed pretty much right on its edge. Which didn’t work for me. So I knocked it over. The wrong way.

Let me be clear: I still believe what I said is in many ways correct. I’m not the type to grovel and scrape, and I don’t feel any need to here. That being said…it has become clear to me that a) I didn’t say it nearly as eloquently or innocuously as I thought I had, and b) what is more important by far, I am perhaps not the right person to say it in the first place.

I want to revisit the Alicen Grey quote that started me down this argumentative road in the first place:

It’s painful when I hear/see quotes from men, waxing poetic about how violent and inhumane “we” “humans” are “to each other”. When historically and globally, males account for the vast, vast majority of violence. Mostly against women. I used to wonder, how could these men – fancying themselves profound and in-on Truth – possibly call “humans” violent when they are technically the source? But I guess that’s what happens when the only people you consider humans are other men.

(I’m going to borrow a bit from a recent e-mail to a friend, sent in the aftermath of the “post-ocalypse,” in the hopes of explaining myself a bit better. I hope she doesn’t mind.)

I believe Alicen Grey is justified in her feelings in ways that (as I said) I cannot understand, being neither Black nor a woman. I’m telling you that I believe her (yes!) imperialistic language is used in this case in an attempt to right wrongs in a system in desperate need of righting, but in a manner that sells itself short by angering the people (men) she holds responsible rather than inspiring them to self-reflection. Not unlike my own reaction. Sometimes people who have a point worth making make it in unfortunate and counterproductive ways. Again, not unlike myself. I can’t hold it against her, because I wouldn’t want it held against me. So, yes, given the opportunity, and given the benefit of the doubt, I would gladly work alongside her. I’m not just saying that. Once I’ve gotten over myself, I truly believe there is no one on this planet with whom I could not find some common ground somewhere.

You see, I forget sometimes that perception is nine-tenths of the truth. I said what I said, convinced of its accuracy, with little regard for the ways in which it might be taken. In other words, I did exactly what I was suggesting Alicen Grey shouldn’t have done. So…shame on me.

Whatever else you take from what I write here (and I’m stealing from the e-mail again), please take this:

I truly desire nothing more than to make the world a better, more equitable and just place for all of us. But at the end of the day, I’m human; I can’t be more than that. No one can. And my humanity, as everyone’s, is the thorn in my flesh. It allows me to soar, and it causes me to crash back down to earth when my wings collapse under the weight of my own hubris. And it always will.

According to Oscar Wilde, the world needs a few more fools. In my case, perhaps an acknowledgement of my own episodic foolishness will do, as a step toward a more Wildean equilibrium.

I will write on. And stumble from time to time over my own wayward ego. And then, get back up, dust myself off, and write on further.

It’s the best I can do…

5 thoughts on “Perception is Nine-Tenths

    1. As Dickens would say, damme, indeed! :0)

      BTW, I’ve talked Tammy into watching Die Hard for the first time ever tonight, to kick off the retrospective…

      1. But of course! That’s why it’s first on my list! That, and because it’s THE GREATEST ACTION MOVIE EVER MADE!!! You may convey my shared apalledness (appallment?)… :0)

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