Epictetus said, “it is impossible to begin to learn that which one thinks one already knows.” I was reminded of that once again this morning, during a trip to the university.
Overall, things at the university go without any problems – I go there and conduct guest lectures, sometimes help with special events, and sometimes I go and sit in the classes with the English teachers, to help students with certain topics or aspects of language. This morning was the second time in two years that the same two students upset me with their arrogance. They did not listen to me, they insulted me, and disrespected me. Last year, I managed to keep from them just how much they had irritated me with their behavior. This morning, for some reason, I was not able to do so, and ended up leaving the class.
In other words, I lost my cool. I cannot say this has never happened before, though I never intend for it to happen. Nor does it happen often (it happens much less often than it did when I was younger). And when I lose it now, I do not react quite the same as I used to either. In general, I maintain a professional, calm demeanor, and it takes a lot to make me mad or emotional. This is a trait I worked for years on, through some emotional struggles and very difficult lessons. So on the whole, I maintain a poker face no matter how mad I am. But every so often (rare indeed), I get visibly upset.
Interestingly enough, it now happens for the opposite reason as it used to.
When I was in my late teens and early twenties, my mom used to get frustrated with people in their early to mid twenties. They did not listen to others, she said – they thought they knew everything and had nothing to learn from other people. After all, I was in the same age group as the people with whom she was dealing, and also thought I was not being respected for “everything” I knew. I thought I knew so much, so I did not understand or appreciate what she was saying. Now I do.
It is so frustrating to deal with people who, through the arrogance of youth, being male, or whatever other qualities they have, who think they have nothing to learn from a stupid American woman. A stupid American woman who has been to oh, about 20 countries, has two graduate degrees and 20 years of professional experience in a number of industries and with many personality types. But what do I know.
They are not the first ones I have experienced this from – nor is it only Ukrainians that I have experienced this with – I don’t want to be misleading – to be sure, I have also experienced it from Americans. People of a younger generation who think they have nothing to learn from someone older and more experienced. It seems to be a rite of passage of sorts – figuring out your own way, learning your own lessons.
For some reason, though, they really got under my skin today.
In general, in Ukraine, people who are older are valued because they have more experience – in life, in the work world, educationally, whatever. Our culture in the United States does not value people in the same way – the older we get in the U.S, it seems, the less people think we have to offer. Is it because we are still a young country, going through growing pains (as is to clearly evidenced by some of the things happening in the U.S. today)?
Perhaps that is why it got to me so much – most of the time, here in Ukraine, I am taken seriously and respected. People realize that I have something to offer, and that there are things I know that I can teach them, or help them to learn. I guess some people will view that statement as arrogance on my part, but if I did not believe I could help people in some way, I would not have joined Peace Corps in the first place.
Perhaps it was because I got a phone call from a friend yesterday – a friend to whom I had given advice and he had not listened to me, and ultimately, it turned out that I was right in my advice. When he called yesterday, asking for more advice, part of me wondered why he was doing so when he did not listen to me the first time. But it was not self-satisfaction at having been right – I really wish I had not been.
Perhaps that was the trigger for me. I cannot say for sure – living in a country where half the time you don’t understand what is going on is not an easy thing, and any number of stressors can pop up at any time. The lessons a person learns, on a daily basis, are numerous.
Was today a reminder to me to remain humble? Believe me, humility is not something I lack, after experiencing more than two years of unemployment in the U.S. prior to coming to Ukraine. My self-confidence was destroyed. I have people still telling me that I need to do better at selling myself.
So why do these two get under my skin so much? I guess that is my own lesson to take from this – to figure out why and not let it happen again.