Sunday, September 04, 2005

Origins of Conceit

As a child, I was granted by my peers the cruelest title they had available: Different. There were of course many appendages to this in the form of the classic Nerd, Geek, and so on. I must also admit a great deal of accuracy in these observations: received my first pair of glasses (thick black plastic rims) for myopia in Kindergarten, had a much greater than average interest in the exactness of all things and accuracy of statements, and diminished physical capacity. Orthodontia starting in grade 2 represented no small contribution (before the onset of which I was also the proud owner of an extra and malformed toot - perfectly conical fang, dead center). I would also rather read than play, and carried sophisticated (for the age) discourse with adults rather than my immediate peers.

This does not in any way presume maturity since the emotional development was not apace with the presumed intellect, nor could it be - the amygdala, the portion of the limbic system of the brain responsible for the formation and execution of both complex and intense emotional and social manifestations, does not achieve significant development until adolescence - also the reason teens are so volatile, generally. My behavior then was in part a shadow or a mimicry of those whom I desired to emulate - given that I was incapable of forming the truly deep connections from the activity (which is not to say that children cannot, as they do with their parents, but without the time and context required the bonds are incapable of forming as a matter of daily course). Despite this I called the behavior distinctly mine and began to accept the nature of the differences.

The simplest path to accomplish this acceptance was to assume I was smarter than everyone else. Add to this the general counsel as applied by parents consoling their bully-saturated child (something to the effect of non-retaliation meaning "you're better than they are") and the environment easily skews to reinforce the artificial superiority.

Pride can be damaged, or forced to be abandoned or swallowed. Ego can be bruised. But conceit - no, conceit transcends these self-inflicted inflations to become a shielding neurosis. Epithets are easily deflected by assessing their slinger as inferior, knowing that the naive moron is surely missing the point of it all and must be pitied. Or, that their incapacity is so great, they must simply be ignored as there is no hope for them.

None of this heals a bruise, mind you, or retrieves instrument cases from ditches or scattered papers from a hillside. Or un-bends orthodontic headgear - that was a fun one.

Owning these differences also created a very real chasm in association with others. Pride and boasting in nerdliness is simply the adoption of a form of identity like any other, but as one of the social outliers it denies familiarity - reduced though it may be in children. This hurt a great deal and led to aberrant actions. So great was my desire to connect with others that I would go to great lengths to impress the few who I considered my audience. In the same month I won the school-wide "Student of the Month" I had also unscrupulously acquired much of the combined display of crystals and geological artifacts the class had assembled as a companion to recent lessons (this at age 8).

This did not improve over time, no affection was won, and the social distances increased as did the violence visited upon me. The intellect was recognized and fostered and blossomed, but the awkwardness was simply dismissed as a typical attendant of my disposition.

Eventually I did pull out of it all and put myself on a track with which I was satisfied and left no great unsatisfied drives which could would to inappropriate action. I worked to bridle my ego and removed conceit by striving to understand my fellow man in all circumstances, assuming equal footing as a baseline in my relationship with all - both elevating the repressed and diminishing the haughty to a common level of assumed humanity. This outlook started to take hold in mid High School years, and has been cultivated since through my studies of psychology and my own self exploration.

I treasure where I am now and feel well served by my attitudes and the precepts which guide me. But for many partially wasted years I insisted on both maintaining and suffering the chasm of my early youth in autoimposed (not that I could see it that way) imprisonment. While I do feel pangs of resentment and regret (the deep bitterness tempered by time and the aforementioned understanding), one must always ponder when looking back - would I be the person I am today if not for these things? Could I have achieved the wisdom I may hold now without the challenges and trials, failures and successes, unique to these experiences? Probably not - I'm not that smart. What will I think in successive decades of similar review of where I am now?

Sorry to wax semi-nostalgic here. These are musings for now - action is still in ponderance; especially as I now watch the growth of my own children.

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