Friday, October 24, 2008

Pied Beauty

Several months ago, I posted an extended complaint about a senior scholar in my field who was behaving, I thought, less generously than someone of his/her considerable stature ought to behave. (I am reluctant to link back to that post now, for reasons which will become clear in this post.)

I just returned from a conference at which I spent a good deal of extracurricular time with this scholar. I admit that I went to the conference steeling myself to meet him/her, as I knew I must, and fully prepared to loathe this person from the top of the head right down to the shoes. I continued (and frankly, continue) to carry a grudge about one particular act of professional discourtesy and self-aggrandizement that this person committed. But, owing to the high academic stature of the scholar in question and to our having some professional reason to spend time together, now and probably in the future too, I knew I'd have to fake some graciousness and good nature.

To my surprise, this person turns out to be a delightful, engaging, and charming individual. We consumed a meal or two together, during which this person proved to be a lively and selfless conversationalist, reached out to members of the dining party who might have felt less "authorized" to be there, spoke on a wide and interesting variety of subjects, and was gracious and generous to the junior scholars at the table. In email conversations since the conference, these same qualities have been abundantly in evidence.

Now, I don't usually need to learn the lesson that people are complicated, that no one is really totally angelic or totally rotten. I'm grateful to have had the chance to get to know this person better, to have tempered my earlier impressions, but I wonder if I'd be so appreciative of this scholar's comportment if s/he hadn't been such a jerk in the past. Perhaps I'm thinking this way because I'm teaching 1 Henry 4, and because I had a historically, epically bad day yesterday in which I yelled at my classes and threw a full-blown tantrum once I'd left school, but maybe we'd all be wise to behave really badly from time to time, so that folks can appreciate in the contrast how great we can be when we decide to behave well.

2 comments:

Dr. Write said...

Ah! So true! I, on the other hand, am routinely bitchy so that when, infrequently, I find it in me to be kind, people appreciate those moments for the rare treats they are. But perhaps I should switch these traits...
I also like the part where you yell at your classes and then throw a tantrum. I've felt like yelling...and yet haven't. So maybe I should....

Lisa B. said...

Now what will I do? I didn't realize it, but I have been using this person, someone I do not know, not even remotely, to represent bad, petty academic behavior. Do I have a substitute? I will have to draw upon memory.