Thursday, December 2, 2004

Second Best: When My Best Isn't Good Enough

Weekend Assignment #37: We all know what our best personal quality is. What's your second-best personal quality?

Extra Credit: Note a personal quality you wish you had more of.

I'm not sure I agree with the first sentence of John Scalzi's assignment. A number of people responding to this assignment, myself included, seem to have trouble picking a best personal quality for themselves. Is my best quality my intelligence, creativity, kindness or gentleness or something else?

So what? Big deal.It's not particularly to my credit that I'm smart. I've met people who are smarter than I am. Furthermore, I haven't used my intelligence to cure cancer or solve world hunger or accomplish anything really wonderful. So is my intelligence my best personal quality, or is it merely evidence that I have not used my talent to fullest effect? Hey, is that what Maslow's "self-actualization" is supposed to be about?

And what about the creative part of my brain?  It means a lot to me, but again, what have I accomplished with it?  I've edited a few fanzines that people may have enjoyed, and written a few articles for Starlog and Relix magazines, and done some journaling that some people seem to like. But my masterwork, the Mâvarin books, sits on my hard drive, unpublished. Even my Joshua Wander installments typically draw comments only from one loyal online friend.

If the two things that most define me--my intelligence and my creativity--represent unfulfilled promise, can either of them be my best quality? Well, for the sake of peace of mind, I'm going to say that they are, at least if I lump them together. I like the way I think. I've done some decent writing and edited some successful team papers, gotten some good grades, and figured out some useful procedures at the office. If I haven't done my best work yet, then that means I still have the potential to do something wonderful in the future.

So. Second best. When asked for my best quality, John said, "Your sympathy."  I guess he likes that I've listened sympathetically to all his rants over the years about employers, his nutritional explorations, his frustration that after 110 or120 pounds of weight loss his body refused to shed any more, his writing process, and other concerns he's expressed over the years (aside from the ones about my faults, which I don't take well). I suppose that goes along with the kindness and gentleness I mentioned earlier. I hate confrontations and arguing, although I engage in both from time to time. I can honestly say I don't hate anyone. I try to make peace between people, and get upset when it doesn't work. I try to praise more than I criticize, and do so sincerely. Okay, so let's call kindness my second best quality.

Incidentally, John said that my second best quality was that I was "reasonably intelligent."  Gee, thanks, John. He went on to say it would be much easier to discuss my faults. Yes, I know. [Grumble, grumble.]

I'll tell you why kindness and sympathy aren't my best quality, despite my lack of success in the areas of intelligence and creativity. It goes to that extra credit question. The awful truth is that although I'm kind, I'm also terribly selfish and insecure. I care too much about myself, and not enough about others. So the actual giving part of kindness--the part that leads people to go out and do nice things for others, to feed the homeless and march for human rights and call lonely friends on Sunday afternoons--that's the part I'm not so good about. I need more of the quality of kindness, and a lot less selfishness and fear and insecurity.

Don't we all?


"Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, 'In this world, Elwood, you must be' - she always called me Elwood - 'In this world, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.' Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. And you may quote me."- Elwood P. Dowd, Harvey (1950).


daephene said...

Wow, suddenly you are me.  From valuing your creativity highest but realizing you haven't used it to its full potential yet, to being generally considered a nice person but knowing you don't go out and actively do nice things because you're often selfish with your time... sounds exactly like me.  Weird.

alphawoman1 said...

I read his assignment and though "Heck, what's my first!"  I would have to ask someone too! Isn't it odd that the person we spent the most time with (ourselves) we know the least about?

ryanagi said...

Yeah. I don't need to do the assignment. You just wrote what I would have (more or less). LOL So tell me...why will I spend $300 to send a friend a TV because I just found out her old one broke, but I can't be bothered most of the time to call or send birthday cards to friends and family? LOL I think I am a good friend. I'm just not the phone call/letter/birthday card friend. And I'm not a protester, feed-the-homeless, donate regularly to charity, or change the world type either. I'd like to, in principle. But I'd prefer to spend my time on me (and my family) and my money on friends. *shrug*

justcherie said...

I had to consult MY John on this one, too, and like you, I picked what he said was my best for my second best!  :)

sakishler said...

Hey, I quoted that exact same thing from Harvey in my Livejournal on February 23.

I love Harvey, but that quote always gave me pause. Why smart OR pleasant? Why not smart AND pleasant?

dancingwithivory said...

I love your writing.  Your very good at it. But I'll bet you've heard that before. :)

danielled1 said...