Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hello, My Name is Ben and I Would Like You to Think I'm Special

on pop theology, philosophy, theology, culture, pop culture, christianityby Ben Howard

Those of you who know me personally know that I've been working on my Master's in Theological Studies since I moved to Nashville in 2009. This past weekend I went online to register for my fall classes and made an interesting and unexpected discovery: I might be done.

This requires a little bit of an explanation because graduation really should be a definitive in or out proposition. The pomp and circumstance of head to toe black gowns doesn't really offer much room for uncertainty. Technically, I have one class remaining, but through a series of misadventures and other gratuitous whatnot that isn't that terribly important, I may have accidentally just finished my last class of graduate school.

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

This was my first thought. At this supposed cathartic moment of completion, my mind intuitively went to The Hollow Men. Curious.

I've spent the last day or so reflecting on what graduate school meant to me. It became obvious quickly that above and beyond any aspirational desire to learn, or achieve, or better myself, or pursue a career, graduate school was my identity. To be more specific, it was the crutch of my identity.

It was the tag I added to any sentence where I felt my self-worth was lacking.

I work at a bookstore, ButI'mInGraduateSchool!

I live in a cheap duplex, ButI'mInGraduateSchool!

I haven't been on a vacation in two years, ButI'mInGraduateSchool!

It was my way of reminding the world, “Hey! Don't forget me! I'm still special!”

Now, don't get me wrong. I learned a lot, I love my professors, and I don't want to undo the last three years in anyway. I've matured and I credit grad school for a lot of that, but if you ask me if I spent tens of thousands of dollars out of insecurity and vulnerability, I just might answer yes.

I don't know if this is a common experience, I haven't done the requisite research. I'm not even certain that it's a bad thing. Can you put a price on self-worth?

What worries me isn't the source or cost of my personal identification and worth, it's how tied that worth is to outside expectations and valuations. I find my value in what you say about me, what you think about me, how you make me feel valuable. Guess what? All protestations to the contrary, I'm pretty sure you do too.

I wonder how this plays into the cultural and social issues of identity that divide us. I've always felt uncomfortable with that dismissive “You do what you do and I'll do what I do,” attitude in politics and religion. I don't want to do what I do, I want you to join in, or at least appreciate and value what I do. And I'm pretty sure that it would make things better if I valued what you did too.

We pretend we're a society of individuals and neglect the feelings and emotions that arise out of community. I spend all my time trying to make you remember that I'm special, and I forget that you're important too.

Maybe we're too sensitive. Maybe our priorities are in the wrong place. Maybe I'm totally wrong about all this (totally possible). I'd love to hear your thoughts and feelings, and not just because I'm curious, it makes me feel special too.

When Ben isn't talking about himself here, he's thinking about himself somewhere. Even when you're talking to him. You can follow his self-indulgent ramblings on Twitter @BenHoward87.

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