Monday, September 14, 2009

strengths and weaknesses

Like anyone else, there are some things that I do pretty well. For example, I’m a quick learner; I seldom do more to study than quickly review my notes and brush up on one or two of the more difficult concepts covered in class. I also have never had trouble with my weight; Though peers have complained about keeping their weight down or up, and calculated the calories of their foods, the only time I usually notice a problem with my weight is when it’s too low (and there have even been people who have told me that, for a girl, there is no such thing). Things like this, that I do well in, have often earned me praise. And although earning high grades and conforming to society’s standards of body composition pleases me, I don’t actually get a deep sense of satisfaction from earning “easy As” or being skinny. When I’m complimented on these things, I am always uncomfortable; especially about my weight. I know that these things are strengths of mine only because they are exceptional, and through no hard work on my part. Other strengths I possess, such as a loving nature, loyalty, and passion, have much more to do with my own choices and personality. But it is still the things I don’t have to work hard at that get me the most attention from those who don’t know me well.
It’s harder to think of things that I don’t do well. Many things I struggle with, such as paying my bills on time or keeping my apartment clean, I can disguise through compensatory behaviour. Social problems, such as over-emotional reactions and antagonistic speech, are so off-putting that I’ve rarely been approached directly about them. As a result, I take my shortcomings much more to heart than I do my strengths, even those that are self-created like lovingness and loyalty. While I attribute even these things more to my situations and genetics than myself, I tend to attribute my weaknesses to personal faults. Rather than viewing them as challenges, I become anxious when they are revealed and defensive when they are discussed.
Although I know that, in principle, I am the same as anyone else in that I have both strengths and weaknesses, I have a very dichotomic view of them; I rank many of my traits as “strength” or “weakness,” with a corresponding value of “good” or “bad.” And because I attribute many strengths extrinsically and weaknesses intrinsically, I find it hard both to enjoy the first and to conquer the other. Also, the fact that it is so much easier to disguise my weaknesses gives others the false impression that it is possible to be smart, skinny, loving, etc, without having a dark side of faults and struggles.
I don’t think it’s only me that sees things this way. I think this false dichotomy of strengths and weaknesses is the way our society is ordered, and the way we are taught to look at things. While it is true I am able to somewhat hide my struggles, they are easy to be seen by a discerning eye. But the fact is, the eye of society does not want to look directly at weaknesses. Although it is easy to get compliments about positive qualities, people often avoid the conflict that results from talking honestly about negative ones. As a consequence, our society has an unbalanced focus on what it means to be a whole human being.
This focus, which sees strengths clearly and yet avoids weaknesses, sets up an environment that is especially difficult for those who find that strengths - according to society’s standards - don’t come easily to them. I am a victim of this attitude as I squirm under compliments about my looks, but I am also a perpetrator of it as I turn it in upon myself and thus unavoidably tint my view of others. It is no wonder that, in such an environment, those with disabilities have struggled so long to overcome prejudice. When we falsely divide ourselves up by “strength” and “weakness,” we set ourselves up to be unable to see the strengths in our weaknesses, and vice versa. We also set up not only intolerance within ourselves for our own struggles, but with other people as well. We can really only see ourselves honestly, and grow together, when we embrace our qualities - both the ones that make our lives easier and those that make them harder.

1 comment:

  1. I say to you "you have more humility than me", only to read less than a minute later: "It’s harder to think of things that I don’t do well."

    But then again, I agree.

    And why, just night before last we spoke about something you perceive as a fault (unnecessarily antagonistic speech) when it bothered me, and you were anything but defensive. You were so honest and straight forward that I felt defensive on your behalf!

    Its definitely not only you that takes full credit for weakness but attributes strengths to genetics and upbringing. In fact, from people I've talked to, I suspect it is extremely common. I don't see much reason to think its taught though. I suspect it is part of human nature to be discontent. That's the thing that keeps us working for more, and the person who works for more has an (evolutionary) advantage.

    Sometimes its not even a strength in a weakness, but one quality that can be seen as either. Arrogance or confidence? Aspy or math and science nerd?

    I read a quote that "if you judge people, you have no time to love them". I thought, well, if you think someone is just fantastic, that too is a judgment. But perhaps what you are showing here is that even positive judgments can get in the way. You may be onto something there...