Robert Burns said,
"O would some power the gift to give us
To see ourselves as others see us."
Your real friends will be honest with you, whether it has to do with your training, your career or your love life. We think that is what friends are for. There is natural human tendency to look at ourselves in the best possible light. Our company received a grant from the USDA to develop an on-line ethics course and my partner commented to me, "It's going to be difficult to change when everyone is going to think that he is the most ethical person in the room."
The hangers-on, the people who are only around when you win a gold medal, will tell you what you want to hear,
"Oh, no, you don't look fat. You look great. You are training plenty hard enough. Come on out with us and have a drink. You deserve a break."
True friends are usually set to burst your bubble,
"You know you have to make weight at the U.S. Open in two weeks. Really, you don't want to be running in the sauna that morning. You need to get up and run tomorrow. Let's just have water. I'd rather have beer, too, but we can go out and celebrate together after you win the U.S. Open."
Your real friends are also there for you when you are down. When, and we all get this way, that you think, as my daughter says, that 'My judo sucks worse than a naked mole rat," when you feel like a six-year-old with a crayon can write better articles than you, those same people are there to remind you of the successes you have had in the past and will have again.
For better or worse, though, most of us have friends who are similar to ourselves. They think the same things are funny or rude, annoying or harmless, reasonable or completely out of line.
Recently, though, I had two experiences that were quite the opposite. First, someone commented that for a new program in Los Angeles to succeed, we needed to find someone competent to run it. Since I was proposing to run it, that really hurt my feelings. I told him that while there was no doubt he is very, very good at what he does, I found his attitude that the only capable person in the world was him was to be unbelievably arrogant and offensive. He tried to say we just had a difference of opinion, and I responded,
"No! You're not getting out of it that way. Your opinion is that I'm not good enough and the fact is that I am. That doesn't just make you someone with a different opinion. It makes you a jerk!"
The very next day, someone emailed me about my blog and told me that I was arrogant, that having a Ph.D. neither makes me more creative than other people nor better than they are. When I wrote back that I was sorry he took it that way. it was just supposed to be funny he responded,
"It is not just me. I did not see the humor in it. And when you put yourself up as above other people, they will look for every opportunity to tear you down."
This is what is referred to in education textbooks as "a teachable moment". The temptation was to hang out with my friends who would tell me that the writer was wrong, that I am a good person, if he just knew me he would understand that and besides, who cares what people who don't know you well think about you. Okay, I admit I gave into that temptation temporarily.
But, then, I thought he had actually given me a very valuable lesson, because the truth is, I do realize that, as Will Rogers said,
"Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects."
It's become fashionable to say that one doesn't care what other people think, but that is really a pretty antisocial attitude. That's not to say that our whole lives should be dictated by a public opinion poll or that I am going to quit wearing those pumpkin-orange tennis shoes I have just because my daughters hate them.
I do care what people think. I care if they feel put down or disrespected by me, because I know how I felt when someone treated me that way. Seeing how other people see us is sometimes painful and humbling. Still, it can be a learning experience which is, as my grandmother explained it, what you get when you don't get what you want.
What do I honestly think about education, achievements, life, the universe and everything? Since it is 1 a.m. already, that will have to wait until tomorrow.