New year’s old resolutions

For the purpose of this post, see: Two Sides of a Same Coin
For the ‘other side”s take on this topic, see: 2014 Resolutions

Warning: I was too lazy to call for the usual help to my good friend Thesaurus.

2014. A new year. A new beginning.

There’s always something exciting about the end of a semester, a year, a job, any significant period of time, because as good as those may have been, you somehow expect and hope that even better things lie ahead for the new semester, the new year, and the new job. Stupid human beings that we are, always hoping, always being positive, even when nothing rational tells us it is actually going to be so. Even in the most mundane and daily situations I am hopeful. I am hopeful that after I work out and take a good refreshing shower, I will somehow open a text book and study. Yeah well, what usually happens is Thank you shower, Hello again Netflix. So it is not surprising that for 2014, a whole new year, 365 brand new days, I set myself some pretty high expectations and a goal I had never before even thought of. No more the usual “I’ll stay fit” or “I won’t procrastinate”.

The year of 2014 would be the year of KINDNESS.

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My obsession with Kindness began with this article: The Difference Between Being Nice and Being Kind.

I think I’m a rather nice person. Yes I said it. And did I also tell you that modesty and humility are two other qualities of mine? I know, I’m full of surprises like that. I had no problem with being nice (why would anyone?), until I came across the aforementioned article. And it hit me. I am nice, not kind. This was a problem, since clearly, the article was telling us that as decent human beings, we should focus more on the latter characteristic. I have difficulty saying no when people ask me for favors and I have a hard time letting annoying people know that they are terribly annoying. “Sure, (smile) I can translate that 200 word text for you for tomorrow (smile), no problem, my pleasure”. What I don’t add is the cynical and sour “for no fee, when I have tons of things to do for myself, but well, that doesn’t matter, does it.” What is worse, after I’ve smiled my face off, I’ll probably go bitching about it to someone else. I may not like you, but I certainly want you to like me.

Genuinely kind people (…) aren’t concerned with whether or not other people like them. Kind people can be assertive and set good limits.” Everything I’ve said so far contradicts this. I am very concerned with whether or not people like me and I am definitely not good at setting limits.

The nice person is careful not to offend anyone and wouldn’t dream of expressing a “negative” emotion. (…) Nice people stuff down their feelings, not wanting to be a bother to anyone, but the problem with this is that emotions can’t be kept down indefinitely. Feelings and needs are meant to be expressed and when they’re repressed, they find another outlet.” And for me, I think that ‘another outlet’ has been Facebook, not in the sense that I pour down all my feelings online (at least I don’t think I do), but in the sense that I’m easily annoyed by what I see on Facebook, and go into irrational rants about what I have seen.

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Yup, been there, done that. If I blocked more people than I already have, my FB wall will probably show nothing but Huffington Post News and Buzzfeed posts, along with TV shows.

I have only myself to blame because if I really wanted to avoid being annoyed, I would simply quit Facebook.

What could possibly be so annoying on Facebook? Well, what isn’t, I ask in return.

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Ring a bell?

People constantly feeling the need to show off and remind others of how tired they are, how hard-working they are, how misunderstood they are. People desperate for attention, for love, where there is none. The list goes on. I’ve been so annoyed that I dedicated two posts to this ‘disease’ some time ago (here and here).

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Oh yeah, ‘those’ people…

I thus realized that I was not being kind, not trying to understand why people would behave in such ways, and just discrediting them for being stupid and… well, annoying (how many more times can I used that word?).

If I were genuinely kind, as the article said, it would “be in my nature to care“. I wouldn’t for instance, “let my emotions leak, in the form of snarky comments, whining, needling, sarcasm, passive-aggressive behavior or even outbursts of rage.”

So I decided to be kinder, which essentially for me meant not being easily ‘disturbed’ by the general Facebook population.

2014 was going to be the year of Kindness.

But then…

Do you actually know how many different types of annoying people are on Facebook? Do you really, like really, realize how annoying these annoying people can be?

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Yes, why? why?

And…

Do you know how much fun I have talking about these people? Why, I asked myself, would I deprive myself of this pleasure and fun pastime, which, technically, doesn’t harm anyone, when I’m already depriving myself of Twix bars at 10:00 pm or a whole half a pound of truffle brie with some good wine? Why would I quit Facebook when it provides me with my daily dose of joy?

After all, “kind people have good self-esteem and because they love themselves as much as they care about others, they expect to be treated with respect“, the article also says. And gawd do I love myself. And so far, I’ve been treated with respect by people I’ve been nice to. “Kind people are happy people to begin with” and yes, I’m a happy person. “Nice people are needy people who inadvertently create more and more unhappiness for themselves.” – nope, not me. I absolutely abhor neediness.

So I concluded I was both a kind and nice person (I already warned you and made clear that I did love myself) and that if I was easily annoyed by Facebook, there was an absolutely rational reason behind it: some people are just annoying and it is only natural for me to be annoyed.

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It’s you, not me.

So screw being Kind with capital K. I’m kind with small k and am happy with it.

And here’s to my never-changing new year’s resolutions: work out regularly and be fit, try to wake up before 8:00 am, focus more on my studies.

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2014 is going to be awesome.

Disclaimer: Clearly I was just having fun with my own silly interpretation of Marcia Sirota’s not-so-silly and serious article.

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Dear Americans: Stop being nice

Daily Prompt: Community Service

I was grocery shopping yesterday and saw a woman in her power wheelchair coming toward my way on my right. She seemed to stop at some point, so I decided to walk my way to the aisle in front of me, when I heard “Excuse me” coming from her. Having been long enough in the States and in Boston to learn that people are generally nicer and less rude than the ones in Korea, I was all smiles and said “Yes?”, in the eager hope that I might be of some help. Instead, what I got in return was a cold and stern look and a “You shouldn’t look in the air, you’re in my way”. I mumbled a barely audible “Sorry” and quickly disappeared behind the stack of merchandise. I wanted to tell her that I had seen her, and had decided to cross because I thought she was stopping for something. But I was left too disturbed, even for just a moment. This small incident totally bummed and upset me, to the point that even as I was feeling this enormous discomfort in my heart, I knew it wasn’t normal to feel this much hurt by something this banal.

And then I realized, the nice Americans had totally spoiled me.

Had it been in Korea, I would have shrugged and gone my way without thinking twice about it. When you have middle-aged women shoving you in the subway or in the bus so that they can get the seat you didn’t even want in the first place, without a ‘Sorry’ or an ‘Excuse me’, you get kinda numb to the lingering disrespect in the air. When a well-dressed girl with perfect make-up overtly looks at you up and down with obvious disgust (or something else I couldn’t decipher) because you’re carrying a gift bag that says “Sexy Cookie”, you just think “Oh, it’s one of them” and look away (in my defense, it was a birthday present and Koreans do have a knack for coming up with the cheesiest names for their products – in this case underwear). So once in a while, when a stranger on the bus offers to hold your humongous English Literature Anthology book when you’re about to collapse from a long day at university, you feel immense gratitude and stop yourself from hugging the person. When the stranger you just shared a cab with coming down from school because the bus just wouldn’t come kindly offers to pay for the ride, you give a bigger than average smile and you continue the rest of the day feeling this world is indeed beautiful.

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Korea makes the simplest nice gestures count, because they do happen oh-so-infrequently.

But when you have people waiting for the bus with you compliment on your shoes and engage in conversations, when you have people opening and holding doors for you, when you hold the doors in return for others and they always say thank you, when you hear some “Have a great day” that do sound genuine at least once a day, you eventually get spoiled. You take kindness for granted and expect the whole population of Boston to be the same. And a simple, ordinary, not-so-nice-yet-not-totally-evil remark that you are standing in the way nearly draws tears out of you.

So please, before you break my fragile heart again, Americans, stop being nice.

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Professing

With the thought and plan to one day become a professor in mind, and being back in the settings of a classroom a year after my graduation from GSIS, I ponder quite often about what it would mean to be a ‘good professor’.

Yes, this is my 'dream carrier', despite many of this being true most times.

Yes, this is my ‘dream career’, despite many of this being true most times. Although I would never wear the same outfit.

Whereas I had often focused on ‘what not to do’ as a professor up until now, these days I try to think more about ‘what to do’ and ‘what to be’ (which doesn’t mean it actually works).

I do think that teaching and ‘professing‘ are different from being smart from an objective point of view. Of course, usually, and hopefully, it is the smart ones that become professors, or rather, you have to be kind of smart to become a professor (I just implied I may somewhat have a chance at being qualified as smart). But when it comes to passing along what you know and the things you are smart about to others much younger and much more inexperienced in all facets of life, that’s a different matter.

But being a professor also implies that you are in constant interaction with the ‘young’uns’. At some level, you have to be open to their new ideas, enough to nod along and encourage the creative yet ‘viable’ ones but strict enough to put a stop to the ‘crazier’ ideas before they get too big in their heads. And believe me, university students, both undergrads and grads (especially grads actually) ARE big-headed (here is a very plausible explanation as to why I could have possibly made the previous implication that I was smart so casually). You don’t necessarily have to join their ‘fun’ activities all the time (actually, make sure you DON’T join them all the time after class hours, even if they tell you they would *love* to have you there), but being a nice person before being a good professor does count a lot from the students’ point of view.

I have concluded there are four types of professors. Picture a graph with four different parts, divided along the spectrum of ‘Not nice’ to ‘Nice’ in one axis and ‘Not teaching well’ and ‘Teaching well’ on the other. Got it?

The most ideal would of course be professors who are both Nice and Teaching Well. Hopefully, they know enough about their field of study, and on top of that, they inspire students to learn more and to make their subject interesting. They are jolly enough to take on their jokes and casual pleasantries, but they also know when and how to be serious. Their classes are a delight to be in because not only  do they convey their knowledge with a pinch of wisdom in an organized manner, but they also inspire their students to want to know and explore more, and take their class again next semester. I have been fortunate enough to have met teachers who did belong in this category, and I think in a way, they are the reasons that pushed me to pursue a PhD.

The worst type is obviously the ones that are at the end of the ‘Not nice’ and ‘Not teaching well’ spectrum. Unfortunately, I have also met people belonging in this category (especially one comes to mind… still haunts me in my dreams sometimes) and he/she is the main ‘model’ I would refer to to find everything I ‘should NOT do’ as a professor. So in a way, he/she has been helpful, I guess, because sometimes, knowing what NOT to do is just as helpful as knowing what TO do. And at least, I have the sweet relief that I already hit rock bottom in this area and everything will only be better from now on. They’re those professors who have the nastiest personality upon which many caricatures are based on, they don’t feel connected to students at any level (Why the choice of job then? I don’t know, prestige, security, intelligence, pick one), and they basically make everyone’s life miserable. That doesn’t mean they are not smart, in fact, most of the professors who belong in this category ARE smart, even very smart, and I guess that’s what makes them even worse. And on top of all this, they make their classes the most boring thing one would ever experience.

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Before this worst category, there is one just as bad, but a bit better, those who are Not nice but Teach well. Unfortunately, this category is often the ‘realistically impossible’ one, that people just say there is, for theory’s or methodology’s sake. It is my personal experience that if you know and believe that a professor is not a nice person, there is no way you will like his/her class. Of course, he/she may be a great professor who really knows his/her stuff and also knows how to convey it to you… in theory. And in theory, you can objectively judge him/her based on his/her professional capacity as a professor and give a positive assessment. Unfortunately, in practice, it is rare to have any kind of ‘objective judgement’ (the combination of these two words already being an oxymoron) and your head will think what your heart feels. You would only rarely hear (I want to say ‘never’) “Oh my god I HATE this professor but gosh I absolutely LOVE his/her class!” You would have to be someone EXTREMELY fair to find someone who fits in this category. And then, well, respect to you.

Probably a good indication that you belong in this category.

Probably a good indication that they belong in this category.

The one category that is left is the professor who is Nice but unfortunately doesn’t know how to Teach well. This is the saddest category I think, the one I feel most sorry for, because, besides the fact that my fear is that I will belong in this category, I have noticed that many professors who do belong in this category actually love teaching. They enjoy the interaction with the students and they are passionate about their fields of study. It’s just that… some people are just not born to teach. It’s as simple as that. And because it’s so simple, it’s sadder. Of course you may try, since teaching is also a ‘skill’, but well, I don’t know if success is guaranteed. But you get at least sympathy points from your students. “Well, I don’t know about his/her classes, but he/she is a great person, and smart”. And I don’t know, sometimes, I feel that if you had a choice to make, being a good person would be better than being a good professor.

Of course, “O Captain, my Captain” would be everyone’s dream, both in terms of becoming one and knowing one.

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I do hope I will be inspiring enough as a professor and kind enough as a person. And maybe I will be one of those who are Nice but do Not teach well at first (for lack of experience, not for lack of natural propensity, hopefully). But with time and experience, maybe I can at least get a hint of the taste of the satisfaction, pride, inspiration and rewarding feeling of belonging in the ‘ideal category’.

And because, despite the frequent equation of “nice = incompetent”, I do believe that many horrible things in this world are due to a lack of simple genuine kindness and niceness, no matter what happens, I hope to remember to always be a “nice person”.