Some time ago a student of mine wrote me with a request to respond to a personal survey. They were upset that “someone” they cared about had called them vain, conceited and self-centered, so they sent a short survey to a few people whose honest feedback they could trust. The survey asked, “Am I vain? Am I conceited? Am I self-centered?” – with a request to answer yes or no to each of these questions. Ever my philosophical self, I replied:
“It’s not clear to me how the results of your survey will help improve your relationship with this other person. Keep in mind, I don’t have clue one about who this “someone” is – and I prefer not to know! – so that my remarks can at least attempt to be as objective as possible. Whoever this someone is, ask yourself: “Will this survey and its results improve my relationship with this person? Will it help bring us closer together? Or will this survey only worsen that relationship? Will it only drive us further apart?” The kind of relationship YOU want to have with this person has everything to do what your survey means for that relationship.
“To be human is to be vain, self-centered, conceited, spiteful, nasty, mean, ruthless, disgusting, ignorant and rude. To be human is also to be valuable, nurturing, humble, just, pleasant, joyful, caring, appealing, curious and polite. And to be human is to be all of this, a walking, incomprehensible bundle of contradictions, and much more besides. If we are human, we have to keep in mind that the shadows of our existence highlight, emphasize, and “make stand out” what is truly outstanding about this same existence. In other words, until we can acknowledge and accept the failings and frailties of being human, we can never appreciate how human beings manage to overcome such obstacles again and again. Our efforts, our struggles to prevail, give meaning to our lives and make them worth living.
“Clearly being out of the classroom for so long has caused me to preach endlessly! Thanks for letting me ramble on. As always, know that you have my care, concern, and support. I look forward to hearing from you.”
I never heard back from them.