Monday, September 07, 2009

Situational Intelligence

I frequently joked when I worked at Sears, a time of my life I prefer not to discuss if possible, that whenever someone entered a retail or service space they lose 50 IQ points, and I very rarely received any arguments to the contrary. This has led, in various places and with various people, to amusing situations such as:

'Should I take my car to the pedestrian mall?'

An argument where I vigorously tried to dissuade someone from believing the 1 1/2 carat gold connectors at the end of a 'premium' HD Cable did anything.

Having to explain approximately 4,754,422 times that if you had cable you did not need a digital converter box. Note that for those of you who know the Sears I worked at this is approximately four million seven hundred and fifty four thousand more customers than we actually had, but sometimes we had to explain it twice.

Dad being told that a woman didn't want a book on Taoism (pronounced correctly), but a book on Taoism (pronounced incorrectly)

Every Sears Protection Agreement sale ever (although this usually requires 75+ points of IQ loss).

And Nathan once attempting for a half an hour to make someone understand the difference between a digital converter and a DVD in the ultimate absurdist take on 'You can't get there from here.'

I thought, as I am want to do, that surely there could be no greater example of situational or locational intelligence loss as the shoppers at Sears and other retail stores experience. And yet, as happens so frequently in my life, I was proven wrong simply by continuing to exist, as if nature went out of it's way to provide further examples. Two things challenged this assertion.

First off, I began teaching. The whole world of education must be insane if the rest of it is anything like some of the environments that we run in to at Glory. I have received so many weird and unusual complaints that I have felt the need to make several blog posts and Facebook updates on the subject. Parents who are totally reasonable in the outside world who lose it when you start dealing with their precious little flowers.

And secondly I read an article stating that based on the total number of deaths per year, Thailand is the most lethal tourist spot for Britons. Accompanying the article was vox populi commentary weighing in on why this was so. The general consensus was that more than anyone else in the world or anywhere else in the world, when British people come to Thailand they just totally lose their shit.

Drunk driving, blithely wandering around bad parts of town, starting fights, buying drugs...the commentary section was this litany about the sins of Brits when they come to Thailand. Now in their defense this same litany could be given for any nation that visits Thailand, and it is easier to visit Thailand from the U.K. then from America, but it made me think.

The most dangerous state of mind for your IQ level is not 'I need to buy a plasma tv', but apparently 'I'm on vacation'. It is one of the fascinating things about living abroad, is getting to see just how many people do come out and throw away any standards of politeness or etiquette. My first week here with Nathan we were eating at a burrito shop in a mall, with a woman yelling at the serving staff because they brought her a smoothie not a Daquiri, and where the hell was her Tequila.

Important to note above and beyond the fact that she was using the same tones for a lack of liquor that people use when McDonalds gives them a fried chicken head in their McNuggets was the fact that it was 11:30 AM, and she was there with husband and more importantly child.

This ties in to my commentary on me-generations, but apparently the modern western world has decided that the moment you are on vacation the wheels of the universe exist only to supply you with a constant stream of entertainment, food and alcohol. I have seen just staggering displays towards local culture and people by tourists in my time, a distinction that you only really get to see when you live in a place versus visiting there.

Vacation is about enjoying yourself, I don't deny that. My Mom and Step-Dad like going to lighthouses. I personally find that terminally boring, but I don't deny them their dubious coastal pleasures. But that light-bearing enjoyment doesn't come at the expense of anyone who has to deal with them, except maybe Sean if he doesn't learn to love the lighthouse. Why have we decided that when we travel we get to be stupid, lazy and indolent?

I remember arguing when I was in France with someone on the trip, can't remember who, why it was unreasonable for them to expect all the signs and people at the Eiffel Tower to be in or speak English. As much as you'd think common sense would make it a cliche, I have heard many a farang out here using the 'speak slowly and loudly' method of translation.

And we wonder why people think we're stupid?

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Somewhere the Greatest Generation is Weeping...


When the next generation makes me look like a hard-ass, there is something wrong here...

I posted on my Facebook a while back that I had been told by the school that I was no longer allowed to cross out student's wrong answers, but was instead to circle them, because seeing a page with lots of crossed out answers would make the children feel bad. My question of why our response should be 'I'm sorry that seeing 9 out of every 10 questions crossed out made you feel bad, I'll circle them next time' as opposed to 'Well, if you don't want to see so many things crossed out then you should study more' went largely unanswered.

My first response to this was of course disbelief. I think that if I had told my teachers that they should not cross out answers because it made me feel bad, they would have responded exactly as I was want to; that the responsibility for their being so many red marks on my paper was not their responsibility but mine, and only I had the power to change it. If my parents had done the same, the answer would probably have been a more polite version of the same.

But here's the thing I realized: My parents wouldn't have gone to the school to make that complaint. With all the love of good parents they would have told me to study more if I wanted to see fewer marks on the sheet, and that it was the teacher's job to mark my answers wrong. And more importantly than the realization that my parents, who would go to bat for me for anything major that I needed, wouldn't have considered this a real complaint was this realization: That among all of the silly complaints I did have about school, this was never one of them.

I was never exactly a big tough guy during school, physically or mentally. The most common appellations I give to myself in conversation are 'doughy' 'pasty' and 'Jewboy', the last one not indicating lack of emotional toughness as much as a lack of ability to be a professional sport's star (because that's all that stands in my way). I've learned to have a pretty thick skin about a lot of things, but for a lot of years that wasn't true. I was very much desperate to be accepted, and totally retarded on how I went about it, while at the same time trying to hide that behind my (self-inflated) brilliance.

So what does it say that I apparently had, at my most emotionally frail, more emotional resilience than the kids at my school?

When I posted that Mom said that she was told the same thing, with the additional caveat that she couldn't use red pens any more for the same reason. I did not have one person comment to me that they supported this, and yet if it is infecting both Bangkok and Denver (not known for similarities or closeness), it must be fairly epidemic.

I think it's sad that the next generation doesn't have any appreciation of work or sacrifice, and I think it is sad that someone from the first mega-Instant Gratification generation is the one saying it. It makes me feel incredibly old to say, but how have we come to a generation that seems to have no concept of sacrifice for gain or reward for effort?

I realize that it is the fault of my generation and the one immediately before me. For a long time I was very self-centered and spoiled in that way, but I went to college and kind of mellowed the heck out (although I still blog, which seems to be the ultimate act of net vanity). If I hadn't had that mellowing out and space to examine myself, I can easily see me passing on virtues to my theoretical children that would lead to situations like this.

Add to this that Glory does not serve a poor demographic in general, given that our base cost is 60,000 per three month term when a lot of the people in the city live on 6,000 a month, and we are serving a solidly upper middle class group of people. The upper middle class and the lower upper class (confused yet?) have not traditionally been known for their restraint or humility, and between sports classes and private tutoring and easy to get out of mandatory military service and not seeing anything crossed out on their paper any more, I don't think there is a lot of time for these lessons to be imparted to the kids I teach.

I never had a great work ethic, and I still struggle with a finely tuned tendency towards procrastination, but at least I'm self-aware enough to recognize that I am not owed everything in life for nothing (although I'd like to be), and that the hardships I suffer are generally of my own making (although I'd like them not to be). While I did get the chance to move to Thailand and go to various Asian nations because of it, I recognize that I didn't work hard in college and so I ended up working at Sears, and had to pretty much leave the country to get serious professional experience.

I know I'm not the only one who cares that we are training a generation of whiners and sissies, and I'm not sure what I can do about it. I just know that every time we've needed to pull something major out in the USA, in the World, in the whole of History, it has come through hard work and sacrifice; nothing is ever given to us on a silver platter. And maybe it's just that I'm in this now; maybe the Greatest Generation were whiners before World War II and just got their shit together for a couple of years there. But I just wonder what we'll be willing to sacrifice in 40 years, when all of our leaders had to be protected from the evil of crossed out wrong answers?