Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Too Nice

fig. 2: that other picture, for Dr. S.

Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I've never been a confrontational person. In fact, I will contort myself into knots worthy of Squadratomagico's circus to avoid confrontation. There are childhood issues involved here that I just won't get into, but let's just say that I understand where it comes from.

Every group needs at least one peacemaker, someone who endeavors to find some common ground with everyone, but it's usually because we can't bear to be mean or disagreeable. We are, as a group, highly attuned to emotional tension, and usually have been since we were small children. We are targets for department bullies (since we're usually the only ones who will still talk to them). We tend to let our romantic partners walk all over us for a very long time.

So sometimes, it's a relief to write a post like I did yesterday, where I'm just blunt and put speaking my mind before preserving other people's feelings. And on an intellectual level, I understand that statements of opinion are going to provoke disagreement. As they should -- I want this blog to be a conversation, not a monologue. And yet, there's the impulse to explain, retract, retroactively edit my opinions so not to offend. So I can be the person who is agreeable to everyone, all the time.

Not gonna do it. But I wish I didn't feel like doing it anyway.

20 comments:

squadratomagico said...

If it helps any, I thought what you wrote was perfect. Better to be honest and let the student decide on the risks, than to be all sunny and encouraging, without due acknowledgement of how tough it is.

Historiann said...

Ditto to what Sq. said--I didn't see much real disagreement anyway, but I think your tone was just right. I didn't read you as discouraging to the individual interlocutor, but rather as discouraging about having a singleminded focus on a teaching career at a 4-year uni.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

See, H -- this is exactly what I'm talking about. You see little or no disagreement; I see a potentially massive interpersonal catastrophe in the making.

My brain is not normal.

Historiann said...

I guess you really are a placater!

But I still think your advice yesterday was brilliant. I've already sent it to a student, who read it and replied, "I have been thinking about that. I would still like to research my thesis even if it is for my own fascination. Employability is more important though. . . . I thank you so much for your honesty. You have always been one I can go to and get the real world in a nut shell."

(I think the compliment was more for you than for me, because all I did was send her the link to your post.)

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I loved it. And I had to have that conversation with a student yesterday, so I may be sending them to the post, or collecting a list of them. But I sort of know what you mean. I think I should blog it myself, though.

Bookbag said...

I didn't think you were aggressive in the post at all, and I thought your advice was very good. I hope my response wasn't one of those that is making you anxious -- I intended it more as a "hmm, interesting dilemma, here's what I would tell someone thinking about graduate school" rather than attacking you for what you said. I hope that it didn't send the wrong message!

New Kid on the Hallway said...

I was going to say what's already been said - that I didn't see very much disagreement, either!

But I kind of understand your reaction because I kind of do that myself sometimes - I don't get much disagreement on my blog (because I don't post about anything controversial enough!), but if I do, it's not exactly that I want to placate, but I feel terribly *misunderstood* and want to go back and explain what *exactly* I meant and why the disagree-er has misread me and why they're wrong, which entails spending *so much* time on the exact wording that will make *everything* clear to everyone, etc. etc. - and it's such a waste of time/energy! (And sometimes it is because I feel like I've upset someone and need to not do so.)

I hate confrontation, too!

Comrade PhysioProf said...

The great thing about blogging is that if you piss people off, the worst they can do is just blog back at you!

Coincidentally, Twisty left a hilarious and apropos comment at one of my blogs the other day, which I will share with you:

How did people insult each other before everyone had a blog? Did we just stroll up to people in coffee shops and say “You are an ignorant piece of shit.”? I can’t remember.

Coyote Rose said...

I wouldn't worry about it. Everything you said was spot-on. Plus, its your blog and your opinion. If they don't like they don't have to read it, right?

Susan said...

I had to laugh at your self description, as I am much the same way. It actually makes me good at committee work, because I do talk to everyone. But I'd be soooo unhappy as an administrator!

I'm just a classic middle child.

hugo said...

Even if I slightly disagreed with you, I think your blog was great because it helps people think about these issues, and God knows one has to think carefully about doing a PhD program. It is true that the current situation is somewhat depressing, and that there might not be "many" opportunities available out there as I wrote too quickly. But I still think we need passionate and talented people on board - now who is going to know or to decide which ones will be successful?

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Okay, guys: all these "No, really, your post was *good*! comments are only enabling me.

Help me, Comrade PhysioProf -- you're my only hope! I'll give you the address of the caf├ęs I hang out at, and you come tell I'm an ignorant piece of shit. I'd kind of love that.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

...especially if you brought Twisty with you.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

HAHAHHAH! It would be my pleasure!

Twisty is the funniest blogger in the entire universe.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

@ Historiann: Yes. This post is meta-placating. The mind reels.

@ NK & Susan: glad to know I'm not the only one. It's a little embarrassing to admit this about myself. Gets me into bad interpersonal relationships. And I'm figuring this out now, at almost 40? yeesh.

Digger said...

As someone looking to apply to PhD programs in the near future, I find this kind of reality check very helpful. Better to have an idea of what's really out there, than to walk in with blinders. And I think it's much better advice than what I've received from some, which is a flat out "don't do it, there's no jobs."

tenthmedieval said...

I thought the advice was tough and fair and necessary, and I, too, have had to have the same conversation with at least a student a year every year I've been teaching. The odds, they are bad.

But, Comrade Physio-Prof.:
The great thing about blogging is that if you piss people off, the worst they can do is just blog back at you!

Er, if you have tenure, then yes. Otherwise then, no, there can be consequences.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

@ tenthmedieval: only if they figure out who you are!

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Comrade PhysioProf is totally fucking stealth!

Educated Scrounge said...

I really like what you're up to. I'm new to this whole blogging thing and I'm happy to see that another, tenured academic is out there in the blogosphere. It gives me hope that I'm not committing academic suicide. Keep it up!
Serena