Critique and self-insight

I once got an E at university. My first and, so far, only E.

I know, ‘poor me’, right? No, this isn’t a pity story, it’s a story of (personal) insight.

While an E isn’t a failing grade in my country, it is one step from it. When I saw it I bawled. I was shocked because I’d thought it a good essay when I had handed in, not my best but it was okay. I’d thought I was really onto something. But then, having wiped my tears, I re-read it and I saw just how many blatant mistakes I had (unconsciously) made, such as using a secondary source as my primary, giving a way too insufficient analysis of an entire film as case study, basing way too many facts on news articles and, all in all, trying to save the world. All in the amount of 20 pages or so. Never a good idea. None of it. I don’t know what I had been thinking, really. It was so obvious, yet, for once, I had been blinded by my idealism. However, the writing process had been different. In my class we had been teamed up in these sort of sparring groups who wrote within the same theme or problem. My group was a wonderful bunch of girls and we often met up at one of girls’ apartment downtown, drinking tea, eating great food and discussing the problems of the world. It was such a great experience compared to my usual hermit-like tendencies whenever I write (not that I hate those; it is my choice, after all) that I realized the paper or the grade itself didn’t matter as much as I had appreciated the unique experience of working together with those brilliant, quirky, equal-minded girls. When I was able to reach my supervisor a couple of weeks later after having gotten my grade, I was entirely serene about it. She was rather apologetic and sympathetic as if expecting I would break down crying at any minute, but I kept reassuring her in a surprisingly cool and collected way that I had realized my failings with the paper and accepted them.

When I think back, I learned so much from that entire ordeal, especially about myself. It sounds weird – a true luxury problem – but it was almost good to have been thrown down from the pedestal for once. To face your faults. Again, getting good grades isn’t that hard if you have figured out the system and a way to make it easier for yourself. But I also happen to like what I’m studying. I’m fairly good at it. Which both eases my interest and puts a bit more pressure on my own performance. Nice and contradictory as always. I would probably not have looked as positively at that E if I hadn’t been in that swell group dynamic. They certainly compensated for the grade! And I learned how to appreciate that random group work can have great dynamics after having become rather cynical about them during my earlier school years.

To back up a little, I’ve become more and more resilient (or rather demonstrative?) to outer critique like that, because the critique itself – good or bad – is within me; it is already there, so to speak. My ‘chessplayer’ logic won’t allow it otherwise; all possible outcomes have already been regarded (or deducted swiftly in the moment it happens), unconciously or not, thus I’m not all that surprised when it is confirmed from the outside world. Sounds exhausting, right? *shrugs* Well, I can’t help it. As I said: my brain has a life of its own. But as I’ve mentioned before, certain critique hits deeper because it digs at some of my insecurities or weaknesses which I may have been aware of and even regarded but pushed away in some sort of twisted self-denial. Often the critique couldn’t be more cliché and yet, somehow, all the more hurtful because of it. And when the outer world randomly and verbally ‘confirms’ it, I surprise myself by breaking down momentarily, shocked at my own violent shock, hurt and anger by something so utterly petty. I get back up on the horse, of course, but hurtful things are always hard to forget.

I questioned whether I’m just plain demonstrative in this show of ‘resilience’, which I did because as a child I was ‘diva-demonstrative’ incarnated. Whenever I drew something, dressed up or anything like that and presented my work for my parents, no matter what they said – but mostly when they praised it effusively – I would backlash; tear up the drawing, tear in my clothes, hide from the camera, huff and puff and even scold my parents for their reactions. I think I partly behaved like that because I was aware of the ‘soft soap speech’ that adults tended to put on and which I frankly hated and didn’t understand. I think I deep down wanted immediate, honest responses, not platitudes, already back then. But mostly, I was just an obstinate kid in a power struggle. Never felt entirely comfortable with authorities or anyone trying to tell me what to do. Not just my parents, but my little sister and even some of my friends in school got a taste of my temper – not always, but whenever I felt truly headstrong, wronged or self-righteous. Once thumbed a girl in the stomach because she said something I didn’t like at my seventh year birthday(!). Whenever I tell this to people today their eyes bulge with surprise and disbelief. Of course, kids are kids and thank God for that. I’ve not lost my bad temper but it hardly shows its ugly face in the same ways as it once did. Not all INTPs are like this; my temper had a lot to say and one’s personality is hardly developed at this stage. And I was told I was more compliant and mature than other kids. This was, of course, when I was outside of the home; for some reason, I knew I couldn’t behave quite like that in the public’s sphere. (Well, besides that little ‘diva-boxer’ episode.. *clears throat*).

What did I want to say with this?

Ah, right: the matters of my particular demonstrative streak. Well, some of it lingers from childhood and though the dramatics of the backlash has changed, I fear it’s still a somewhat childish behavior or instinct that in itself hasn’t matured, no matter what I choose to call it otherwise. That – when I stand up to something – it cannot be called brave or anything like that, because, in reality, it’s just my inner, petulant child speaking its mind.

And like I feel around all children, I’m ambivalent at best.

*revised 13/12/16*

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