Wednesday, October 26, 2011

People. Words. And Self-Centered Mumbo-Jumbo.

It is not easy to go up to someone and ask for them to describe yourself in ten words; even people who you know are not going to see this as fishing for compliments. I found myself floundering, more often than not, wondering whether one of my friends would be bold enough to pick on some of my numerous flaws. Two of my friends, Mig and Washington, both pointed used a word that good be classified as negative, and both times, I predicted the very word, because it was not so much a derogatory comment as it was an inside joke. This project scared me, because out of sixty total words that others used to describe me, none of them were truly negative. What does this say about me and my self-esteem? What does this say about my friends and parents? I do not know; I suppose that was what this project is designed to determine. No matter where the results lead me, I have learned one very specific detail about myself: I would much rather have someone point out my faults than have free reign to describe me.
My father was easier to predict than my mother. Still, only three of my predictions were identical to words that Dad used to describe me. I predicted only one of my mom's words. There's a simple reason for this: I spent more time talking to my dad than everyone but my closest friend. I found it fascinating that the only identical word that both my parents used was “intelligent.” Most of their words had very little to do with the other's list of words. This made me realize that I am two different people around my parents, and I have been ever since they separated almost two years ago. Would their lists have been more similar had I done this before that separation? I do not know, but I think it would have been. Predicting my mom's words, I touched on few of the themes of she said; the only time I really got close was when I predicted “special” and she said “unique.” Some of the words my mom used were especially difficult to predict, because she had never described me as them before. The only way I could hope to predict what my parents and friends were going to say was through past conversations with them, side comments, or various praises they had given me. The more time I had spent talking to a someone, the better than knew me, the closer I got to guessing their words. Given the greater amount of conversation that I have exchanged with Dad, I am not all that surprised that I found it easier to predict what he would say than what Mom would say.
An interesting comparison is between the lists of my Dad and the lists that Kevin, an adult from my church who has become like a mentor to me, had. They shared one specific word and a numerous amount of similar themes. Again, Kevin's words were completely different from that of my mother's. This showed me that I act very similar around my father and Kevin, as opposed how I act around my mom. Both Kevin and my father double checked to see if the words had to be in a list format, and could not have been in the format of a phrase or even a full sentence. They also agreed about how ultimately self-centered this assignment could turn out to be. I found Kevin particularly difficult to predict, even though I correctly predicted two of the words he ended up using. Out of all the people I asked, he and I have spent the least amount of time talking to each other, and in general, most of our conversations was about either my writing or some other work of literature. Kevin, out of everyone, used the most glowingly positive words. This was not something I would have predicted, although, in retrospect, it seems almost likely, because he has interacted with the fewest of my flaws.
Adults aside, I had the most fun doing this project with the friends I asked who were around my age. I asked three of my four closest friends, and attempted to ask the fourth member of that friend group, but he was unavailable. My friends were the easiest to predict, as our respective lists of words were rife with inside jokes such as “oxymoron,” “lion,” and “pest.” My friends were also the hardest to predict, because I had no idea which of the myriad of options they would pursue. I told each of them that any type of word would be allowed: adjective, noun, verb, etc. Mig was the only one to use verbs. Washington consistently stuck to adjectives, although, two her of her adjectives contradicted, creating the oxymoron that Sandy used to describe me. Yeah, this group of friends knows each other too well. Sandy included many words that you would not normally think of for such assignment such as “sound” and “there,” but as I considered it, these were staple in our relationship. I often overshot on the amount of inside jokes they would use, or predicted the wrong inside joke. I would capture the wrong moment, miss a key word by inches, and overall predict the wrong words for what my friends would say. However, it struck me that while only three of my four close friends participated in this particular project, if we were all asked to describe each other in one word, there'd only be one word throughout all of us: hevvratioussontackl. I believe the ability to predict that we'd all say the same thing about each other, is part of what bonds us together into a group of the closest friends I have ever had.
One of the interesting things that I noticed while conducting this experiment was how people reacted to being asked to describe me. My mom wanted to know what the assignment was about, what the words were for, and did she absolutely have to fire them off at the top of her head? She wished that I had asked her twenty-four hours earlier and let her ponder the words. This would have certainly changed the results of the project. Dad rolled his eyes, muttered a comment on the self-centered attitude of high school social psychology, and asked if I was enjoying the course. At my affirmation, he proceeded with the project. Kevin just asked whether or not the words had to be a list and then listed out ten words. Mig, as usual for the two of us, teased me and did the assignment with a grin and a chuckle. Washington and Sandy hesitated a little, both struggling to reach ten words. Sandy said she needed the perfect ten words, and no matter what she said, there would always be some other word that would describe me better. Washington had a similar reaction. These reactions were almost more predictable than the words themselves.
So where do these results leave me? Now I've got a minor project to hand in and a heavily stroked ego? I don't think so. I guess what I've learned from this project is never underestimate yourself from someone else's viewpoint. I'm positive that each and every one of the people who participated in this would be willing to rain down a whole list of faults upon my head, if they viewed it to be a necessity to my growth as a human being. But it is not a necessity, at least for right now. And we, as humans, do not find the need to tell our friends how we find them to be at fault. Friends would rather support than tear down, build rather than destroy; the hesitations within my mom's, Sandy's and Washington's responses support this fact. Hurt happens in the world when people do not take the time and the energy to support and build, finding it easier to be negligent and destructive. With this in mind, I will seek to give an extra amount of energy to the process of building up and supporting the other people in my life.

((What can I say? I SAID it was self-centered mumbo-jumbo!))

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