Don’t Feel Bad for Being Booksmart.

Don’t Feel Bad for Being Booksmart.

It is the cry of all products of the American school system, after sitting through seven hours worth of coursework followed by the after-dinner ritual of checking off assignments until who-knows-what hour of the night (or morning.) High schoolers, liberal arts college students, human beings who have ever had to sit in a biology class – all of them collectively throw down their Bic or their Ticonderoga and wail:

“When will I ever use this????”

We’ve all been there. I’ve been there. After getting an algebra question wrong for the umpteenth time in seventh grade, I threw my calculator across the room, breaking my bedroom lamp in the process (though she be but little, she is fierce.) Watching the clock strike midnight as I was barely halfway through AP government homework. Dissecting a very sad-looking fetal pig in human biology my sophomore year of college, wondering, why does a communications major have to learn about the inner workings of a farm animal? 

The answer is simple and not so simple at the same time. The American school system is flawed. We all know that by now. Some kids learn faster than others, some love every single class and graudate with a 4.0 while others scrape by because they don’t see the point. Everyone is tested based on the same things. Every year, high school juniors sit down in a big room and melt their brains over a Scantron sheet to see if they can regurgitate enough information to get into a good college with good scholarship. (And they say daytime television is mind-numbing?!)

So yeah, there’s problems. In school you learn that mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, but you don’t learn how to change the oil in your car. You learn long division (?!) but not how to file your taxes. You figure out what equals but you never really figure out why you need to know that (see what I did there?)

But don’t worry. It’s not useless. You didn’t waste your childhood sitting in a desk, I promise you.

The pursuit of knowledge is a noble thing, even if you don’t know exactly why or how you will use it. You may think your schooling has been impractical or mundane, but there was something else at work in the midst of that. School wasn’t designed to teach you how to do taxes or how to fix a car. That’s not the point.

You learned about cells so you can understand that your body is freaking awesome and you should take care of it by drinking water, eating reasonably healthy, and going easy on yourself when you’re sick.

You learned English and read novels so you could write a solid, descriptive resume or cover letter, free of grammatical errors. You read those novels to understand other worldviews, other places in time, the way the language you’re writing has changed an evolved.

You learned history because – well, it’s history and it’s important. I don’t need to explain myself on that one.

You learned adding, subtracting, long division, and algebra so you can calculate your tax deductions, your gross income, and your adjusted gross income on your taxes.

My point is this: the purpose of school is to teach you how to learn and understand. Take grades and all that out of it. And if it’s not teaching you how to learn and understand, it should. 

So don’t feel bad if you like school. That means you like learning. You like understanding things, even if it’s outside of what your main interests are. I’m not a huge fan of math. However, I do like the simple pleasure of seeing an algebra problem methodically solved by eliminating bits and pieces until you get the answer. Chemistry was never my strong suit, but it taught me how to get permanent marker out of various materials because of the chemical compounds at work.

You might be more booksmart instead of street smart. And that’s okay. Don’t let people make you feel bad for not knowing about car insurance or taxes. If you’ve got anything between your ears, you know that there’s more to life than taxes, interest rates, oil changes, and dividends. There’s mitochondria and Charles Dickens and algebra and Thoreau and JFK.

Albert Einstein (a shining example of a genius who rose above adversity) once said, “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” The end-all and be-all of our lives isn’t to know how to cook a full-course meal or file taxes correctly or change a tire. Our end-all, be-all is to be humans who thirst to learn more, to discover. Discoveries build bridges. They help us understand why some people are booksmart and other people are street smart. They help us understand that mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell, that it’s possible to solve for y, that we need history or else we’ll repeat the mistakes of the past, that we need each other in order to understand. If we don’t seek to understand these things, we’ll be no better than an unfiled tax form.

 

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The World’s Biggest Problem

I’m not going to say what you think I’m going to say.

Our problem isn’t our insatiable appetite for technology, that alienates us from true relationships – but it’s related to that. It isn’t our rabid political divisiveness – but that’s part of it. It’s not one particular person or cause. It’s not one absolute Thing that I can point to directly, but it is something I can prove beyond reasonable doubt.

Log on to Facebook. Right now. That’s your homework assignment. Go to the search bar and type in the name of a news site you follow, whether it be a traditional site (like CNN or Fox News) or more peripheral (like Fusion or Buzzfeed.) Choose a story that’s been recently published and read the comments. You’ll find lots of different opinions there, ranging from empirical to somewhat idiotic. And usually a lot of name-calling. It might get painful after awhie, depending on what news story you’re looking under.

What’s the goal of these comments? Do you feel a sense of accomplishment or resolve after reading through the entire thread? Absolutely not. In fact, you might feel a disdain for the human race after reading what people can come up with to bring down people they barely know.

They’re trying to get their opinion out there, but refusing to listen. It’s something you and I do too. It’s just easier to do now because of technology. It’s easy to shoot arrows at a straw man than a real one – and there’s a lot of straw men on the Internet. Eventually, it all turns into noise, and people stop paying attention.

Our greatest problem is that every person wants so badly to be heard that they forget to listen.

But it’s not only the Internet, friends. An Australian pastor spoke at my church shortly after the American election. The focus of his message was apologetics, something he feels strongly about since being converted as a teenager. He told us about how he was out with a non-Christian before a speaking engagement and found himself arguing with the non-Christian. He left the table feeling like he’d definitely won the argument and shown the other man his place –

But he felt no sense of accomplishment. Because “winning” isn’t the point.

He’d won the argument, but not the person. In fact, he might have turned that guy off to Christianity altogether. “Man, if they’re all like that pompous, self-righteous guy, I want nothing to do with that.”

This doesn’t just apply to Christianity or religion. Take a look:

“If all Republicans are woman-hating white guys, I’ll never listen to them. I want nothing to do with that. I hate them all.”

“If all Democrats are lying despots, they have nothing good to say. I want nothing to do with them. I hate them all.”

“All pro-lifers have no idea what womens’ rights even means. They’re all evil. I want nothing to do with them. I hate them all.”

“Conservatives all hate gay people. I don’t want anything to do with them. They’re all racist bigots. I hate them all.”

Just a few examples of the straw men we make for ourselves to feel better about our own beliefs.

If you think I’m pointing fingers, I am. I’m being blunt with you because most people are too afraid to be blunt these days. You could spend all day on the Facebook comments trying to win arguments. You won’t, even if you feel like you have. And worse than that, you won’t win the person either. You’re going to make them angrier. If you can’t win the person, you’re not going to win anything.

Hatred, name-calling, or questioning someone’s intelligence isn’t going to make them – or anyone else – listen to you. You’ll be heard, but you won’t be listened to. And you’ll cause deep wounds that breed more hatred. More retaliation.

In this life, you’ll come across people who disagree with you – vehemently. People who think they are right and will make sure everyone knows it. They will beg to be heard – “I have a voice too! Let me talk! Let me talk!” They’ll squelch anyone else who wants to add input – you’ve probably seen this before. (You might have done it before. I know I have. Most people have once or twice…or a lot.)

When this happens, it’s important to extend grace, not to try to talk over them, or insult them. That feeds their fire and gives them more arrows for their straw man. If you do, the cycle continues, and everyone starts shouting again, and progress screeches to a halt.

It’s okay to want to be heard. It’s okay to have a voice and to speak an opinion, even if it’s unpopular.

It’s not okay to step on other people or their views in order to do that. I don’t care if you’re Republican, Democrat, gay, straight, Christian, atheist. It is not okay. 

I have a challenge for you: The next time you’re sitting with someone – be it a friend, colleague, acquaintance, it really doesn’t matter – I want you to listen to them. Actually listen. The minute you start formulating a response in your head before they’re done, stop yourself, and keep listening. Actually hear what they’re trying to tell you. Then respond. That’s one step toward both listening and being heard – two birds with one stone.

And if you use both of them together, you’ll create something we all desperately need right now: Understanding.

The Perfect Body and the Impossible Ideal

I probably haven’t been around long enough to say this with much authority, but America (or maybe the West in general) is more obsessed with dieting and exercise than it’s ever been. And not even for the purpose of health, but just to look like Marie Osmond or some other “success story.” Advertizers tout a product’s “slimming” benefits before it tells you what it does to your body (like how a no-carb diet causes your body to burn protein, which is no bueno.) People want a quick fix – “lose five pounds in ten days!” “You don’t even have to leave your couch!” Healthy? No. Appearance-changing? Yes. In my humble opinion, it’s an issue when society as a whole craves aesthetic over well-being.

“Well, duh, Audrey. You can talk about this subjectively because you’re skinny. You don’t have to worry about pinching yourself in the mirror every morning. No skinny person does. You’re healthy, because thin = healthy.”

I’m gonna stop you right there.

At my lowest, I was 100 pounds. That is not super healthy for a five-foot-five young adult. I’ve always been on the small side, but my weight dipped during my freshman year of college for a number of reasons, mainly because it was a side effect of medicine I was taking. I was also under a huge amount of (mostly self-imposed) stress and was so busy I’d often skip lunch and just eat a granola bar.

“For goodness’ sake, eat a cheeseburger!” is something that more than one person has told me (Haha. So original. Very funny.)

I have never been a health freak. I exercise and try to eat healthy between Hershey bars, but I’m not mega obsessed. But I’ve always been pretty conscious of my body and what it looks like, especially in comparison to other people’s. In my health class in high school, my teacher talked about the dangers of fad diets, especially on young, growing bodies. It made sense when I was that age, hearing it from an older, wiser adult – but it’s amazing how quickly we forget that knowledge when we see pencil thin celebrities – or even just see friends who are smaller than us – and start pinching and prodding ourselves in the mirror. Then we see a commercial for SlimFast or Atkins and we think “It worked for them, so why not for me?

I’ve done my share of poking and prodding in front of the mirror, believe me. I’m reminded almost every day by well-meaning friends that I’m “a stick,” but that doesn’t stop me from doing it. It’s amazing what imperfections we find when we do a thorough examination of ourselves in the mirror. Oh gross. My face looks so swollen. I look like I’m hiding two apples inside my cheeks. My butt is the size of Canada. I’m so freaking fat. (Even skinny people think these things.)

It’s a perception. An ugly one, but a perception nonetheless. Some of us would do anything to look like an Audrey Hepburn or Keira Knightley – cut carbs, do a “juice cleanse” (I still have no idea what that is or what it does), or literally starve ourselves. Just to look like what we percieve as a more “desirable” person.

But guess what? It’s never going to stop.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that skinny people have it awful. I’m really okay with being thin, and I know a lot of people are fairly comfortable and secure with their bodies. The problem is we’ve created an ideal – the ideal body that’s flashing on the cover of every tabloid. An ideal body that most people simply cannot attain.

I’m saying that even as a thin person whose weight has fluctuated fairly drastically in the last few years, that feeling doesn’t stop. When I was 100 pounds, I was still picking at myself in the mirror, sucking in my gut, turning my back to the mirror to see what the south side looked like. I’m back to a (reasonably) healthy weight, and I’m still doing it. Still pinching, pulling, tightening my belt, sucking in, flicking the “grandma flab” on my upper arms.

What I’m trying to say in 600 words is there’s no such thing as an ideal body. Because one person could tell you size double zero is ideal, while another could tell you size 16 is. A Victoria’s Secret angel will tell you something different than your own mother, or grandmother, or aunt. (Note: I’m not excluding guys from this conversation, but I’m not as familiar with your body struggles, for obvious reasons. Feel free to chime in at any time.)

I won’t say that the ambiguous shadow of “society” or the giant blob that is “the media” are feeding us this need for “ideal.” It does play a significant part, but it’s actually feeding something inside us that we already have: Need. A Need to finally feel loved, to finally feel accepted, to finally fit into a size 6, to finally walk into the office and hear your colleague say, “Hey, something’s different about you! Have you lost weight?”

That need can cause deep holes that get filled by superficial things. Fads, corsets, binge eating, excessive and dangerous amounts of exercise. But it’s something you can never fill with those things, whether you’re a runway model or a service clerk. There’s no such thing as Ideal, no fast fix to become that.

The only thing that can fill that hole of Need is acceptance, the realization that there is no Ideal to reach, because when you reach it, there will be another one around the corner. You’ll just continue starving yourself physically, mentally, emotionally until there’s nothing of you left. You’ve sacrificed yourself to the Impossible Ideal.

I don’t want to end this on a downer like that. I applaud those of who who fight with self-esteem every day, who feel marginalized or looked down on because of how you look. People are going to say things and do things that hurt because they’ve fallen victim to the Impossible Ideal. When you see those people or hear their berating comments, I hope you feel sorry for them and not for yourself. They’re not confident enough in their own image that they have to compare you to the Impossible. And that’s just sad.

Maybe, one step at a time, we can change the perception and erase that ideal. No fad, food, book, or barbell will be able to do that.

Only you can.