Attitude of Gratitude, Yo

Posted: August 4, 2012 in General Musings, Uncategorized
Tags: ,

A couple of weeks ago, the novelist John Scalzi wrote about his self-made-ness—or, more accurately, about how much he owes to others, both known and unknown, for his success in life. Earlier that week, I’d had my parents over for dinner, during which time my father took the opportunity to harangue President Obama for being so stupid as to remark that entrepreneurs didn’t build their own businesses and success. I took that same opportunity to start doing the dishes.

Now, I didn’t exit the conversation because of a political difference. It’s true that my father and I are about as opposite in our political views as you can get, but I’ve never had any qualms about squaring off with him when it comes to something about which I have an educated opinion. No. I started to clean up because if I didn’t, I would’ve laughed rudely in his face and said some very disrespectful things that I think would’ve made me a worse person for having said them.

Specifically, I wanted to ask him if his indignation over Obama’s statement meant he’d never take credit for my accomplishments again. Because, you know. Hypocrisy and all.

I think just about anyone who’s graduated from college has had to bite their tongue as some speaker or parent very publicly smugly belittles their achievements by insisting it was due to someone else instead—usually to the speaker or parental figures. As far as I’ve seen, the same people who’ve been outraged by Obama’s out-of-context statement* are the same people who nod their heads uncritically at the sentiment that the children of the world owe all of their accomplishments to their parents and whoever else could be considered a network of support. A sentiment that isn’t essentially unfounded.

No one succeeds in a vacuum. I can’t imagine a single substantial accomplishment that wouldn’t need a pit crew of some kind behind it. Hell, a proper college education would be next to impossible without a lot of help from a variety of people, both seen and unseen. In Scalzi’s piece, which is something of an extensive thank-you letter, he demonstrates this concept pretty thoroughly: the taxpayers made sure he could eat when he was a child, someone said something to recommend him to important people, someone else took a completely undeserved chance on him, etc. All of this resonated with me because I have had similar experiences that allow me to relate.

I don’t take issue with the fact that we all owe something to other people. I do take issue with those people insisting publicly that they have a controlling interest in my accomplishments. Perhaps it’s because I’m still fairly young, but my emotional reaction to these occasions falls right around the feeling of, “Well, fuck you, then.”

I want to be sympathetic to the kind of person who would make these claims: they’re insecure, they’re just proud and want to be associated with my success, etc. But when they take credit for my accomplishments, they are glibly choosing not to understand or acknowledge that I also worked my ass off.

My college education? An 11-year marathon. It started when I was 12, when I decided I wanted to go to college. It persisted through my middle and high school years, when I studied and worked myself into a few breakdowns in an effort to earn the grades that would merit a full scholarship—the only way I’d ever be able to afford going to a university. It continued through my college years, when I frantically climbed to the top of the GPA scale so that I wouldn’t lose my scholarship and have to pay the whole thing back. And it culminated in a degree that opened future economic doors for me. I made that decision. I did that work. I lost that sleep—possibly even years of my life. I looked for the opportunities I took. I engaged in and took responsibility for my education. I worked the entire time to pay for everything my scholarship didn’t cover. I think it’s fair to say I did the heavy lifting on that one.

Imagine my surprise when for every “Congratulations!” there was a “Don’t forget who you really owe!” Was it really so difficult just to leave it at the former and trust I’d also do the latter because, hey, I’m an adult and can recognize where credit is due all on my own?

That’s what it comes down to, really: being treated like you’re 5 and still need to be told when to say “thank you,” regardless of your age or accomplishments. If you have to ask for someone’s gratitude, can it ever really be trusted? The gratitude and humility that I genuinely felt toward my various benefactors was unfairly cheapened. All I required was the opportunity to express my feelings on my own. Taking it from me poisoned that well. And now my gratitude is tainted with resentment**.

I owe a lot to my father, indeed to everyone else who has claimed responsibility for my successes as well. He always kept us clothed, fed, and housed, which are essential to, well, living at all. I just would prefer to say so in my own time and in my own way***.

*Shameless self-promotion: A good copy editor, folks. You needz one. Romney was able to spin Obama’s message because of the tiny matter of a carelessly used pronoun—which is ironic, considering Romney’s own copy gaffes this year.

**Any resentment I feel, btw, is my own problem and my own responsibility to address, no one else’s.

***None of this is meant to be a commentary on Obama’s statement. I think the whole kerfuffle is ridiculous. It also exposes Romney to be academically and intellectually dishonest and manipulative—or deficient, but I think that’s a lot less likely. But, you know, politicians and all. Par for the course, really.

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