Sunday, February 26, 2012

Fools Among Us

Three Fools of Carnival, Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Keith Humphreys has a devilishly funny piece up about a terrible old colleague of his who never seemed to learn to be much of a good person and, regrettably, died a fool.  Pompous and rude, cruel and vain, he apparently took to wearing a toupe late in life, even as his trophy wife mocked him in her affairs with younger men.  For whatever reason, his words brought out in me some cathartic schadenfreude from my own recent tribulations.

   Instead of defining career success in absolute terms, Omphalus had an entirely relative view. Being smart and successful wasn’t enough. Rather, he felt the need to be smarter and more successful than everyone else, and to meet that standard forever. This transformed each generation’s arrival in his field from a source of stimulation to a terrifying threat. Where some saw new colleagues and new ideas, he perceived only a wave of potential usurpers. As he grew older and his powers began to wane, his fear of losing what he considered his eternal throne only intensified....
   Did he die happy? Perhaps he did. His self-delusions may have been strong enough to resist the evidence of his senses, present every time he put his fake hair on his hoary head in the mirror, overheard the increasingly derisive whispers of his colleagues, and saw his young wife wince at his withered body’s efforts at physical affection.
   What I do know though, as mid-life begins to recede in my rear view mirror, is that I do not want to emulate the many Dr. Omphalus’ I have known, whether they are inwardly happy or not. Partly it is because I regard their selfishness as inherently immoral, but I am equally influenced by my desire to have my physical aging be matched with progress in wisdom and maturity beyond what I possessed as an adolescent.
Always wanting to see the best in people (maybe worrying too much that they won't see the best in me), I’ve always had a blindspot for men such as this. I mean, surely I’ve known them, but I’ve always underestimated the extent to which they walk among us, seemingly successfully and capably despite what seem devastating character flaws.

I was just fired by one a few days ago.

Well, as a teacher, I was not “elected” for rehire. I’ve thought long and hard about what it was that he thought I lacked, after numerous observations and reviews, trying my best to divine just what exactly it was that he was looking for, I finally failed to measure up. Sure, I have my weaknesses, and much of the problem may lie in pedagogical or philosophical differences. But in the end it may just be that he is a small man with a chip on his shoulder, and who wants to take it out on the world (in this case, the untenured teacher who has no leverage other than the support of students and staff).

He’s the type of guy who never smiles, wears sunglasses indoors, walks around with his palms backwards (ala G.W.), and spends 10 minutes of every staff meeting regaling his audience with rock-climbing stories. I have no data on the actual size of his penis. It could be quite long. But metaphorically, these are the guys with such fragile egos, so ravaged by narcissism, that one can only assume their life is spent in perpetual unconscious agony over the fortitude of their member.

Sometimes life can feel like nothing but a string of painful reminders. These men (and women) walk among us like moral aliens, in so much as we’ll always fail to understand the root of their dysfunction, try as we might. And every once in a while you get cornered by one, outmaneuvered and run off the road.

Here’s to getting back up. ;)


  1. Very sorry this happened to you. You are my favorite Liberal columnist/blogger. Need I add that I am on the conservative side and just marvel at your utopian/idealistic SEC wishes over these many months. But you express them extremely well and sincerely. No doubt your "dream" column a few days earlier caught the attention of the guy/heads of ed/ short on ego. Keep up the good thinking and writing. BW

  2. I'm honored. And thanks for reading!