html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Cut that out, perverts. We were <i>friends</i>.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Cut that out, perverts. We were friends.

In junior high, high school and college, I followed two years behind the smartest guy I’ve ever met. Our families were friends, so we were closer friends than we might have been with that age difference. He’s a kind and good person, in addition to being smart on an entirely different scale. I haven’t seen Alan in probably ten years, but Alan said two off-hand things that I live by now. I should have paid more attention to all the other things he said; no doubt they were just as valuable.

The first thing I kept from Alan came in response to some self-denigrating comment I made. “Never do that.” he said. “Don’t ever put yourself down.” In the first place, you are probably wrong about being stupid or careless or thoughtless. Even if you are right, maybe no one noticed or maybe they love all of who you are. If your flaw was truly worthy of notice and comment, he added, someone else will jump in. There is no need for you to show them how.

The second thing Alan gave me took more time to process. I think I was upset over how I acted in a break-up when Alan looked over and said “You did the best you could with what you knew at the time.” He had no stake in the break-up, nothing to forgive me for, but that phrase was all the forgiveness I needed to stop racking myself. I had done the best I could with what I knew at the time. That is all you ever get.

My relief from that concept was instant, but it took me longer to understand the rest of it. “You did the best you could with what you knew at the time” is sweet comfort in retrospect, but it carries quite an obligation in the present. You only get to use that phrase to feel better if you do, in fact, do the best you can with what you know. I use that to motivate me sometimes, when I know what I’m doing isn’t my best. ‘Step up, Megan, be brave. You might need to know later that you did all you could. Regret would suck, don’t do that to your future self.’

You know, writing about Alan reminds me of one more thing. Our families were at our cabin and we were figuring out what to do, when Alan said “Just talk to me.” I remember being shocked. It was so direct, back when we were in high school, to just want to talk to someone with no overlay of jaded boredom. He was sincerely offering himself up for a comment at his expense, and I think my high school crowd was usually snide and jokey to each other. Now, of course, I often say and hear things like “tell me how you are” and “are you whole and happy” and, with some friends, “tea and talking to you is all I need”. Alan always was ahead of me.

17 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pfft, don't put yourself down? How are you supposed to improve at anything if you're not willing to jump on yourself for your own failures?

Justin

12:31 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Don't know. Maybe if I had the right gear, or pictures of the gear I need, I could improve at things.

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's ridiculous Justin. People don't improve at things because they put themselves down, they improve at things by first realizing they can do better. It's not nearly the same thing.

s.

12:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alan's two statements actually tie in pretty well. Part of the reason why people put themselves down is because they made what now are apparent as bad decisions, even though - you guessed it - they made those decisions using the best information and intentions available at the time. In other words, if you follow his second maxim, the first often will follow naturally.

Peter
Iron Rails & Iron Weights

1:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Exactly. It's all about having the right equipment.

Ok, that's not really true. I'm not THAT into gear. It just seems that way because I'm picking up new hobbies, so I have to stock up on stuff I've never owned before. I've only been doing the rock climbing thing for about 2 years now, 1.5 very seriously.

Keep in mind, I used the same ski jacket for something like 15 years. My bike is somewhere near as old, but it's still a pretty decent bike, though it could use a tune up. The very few things I replace regularly are shoes, and gloves, they just wear out fast.

And, maybe it's just the people I know, but the ones I know who are very competitive tend to get really angry at themselves when they make stupid mistakes, and don't perform as well as they know they should.

Justin

1:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah, and the other reason I'm obsessed with gear is I'm learning a lot by experience now. For some reason, no one is ever willing to give a straight answer about what you should use.

Example: I bought a 0 degree synthetic sleeping bag just about 1 year ago ($300). No one would give me a straight answer as to why I would want to spend $550 for the same thing, but with 800 fill down. About 4 months later I found out, when I realized I couldn't reasonably pack for a longer trip. So, I gave the synthetic to my brother, and got myself the down version. $300 to learn the lesson.

Same with climbing ropes. The best advice I could beat out of anyone when I bought my first rope was, "Get which ever one looks the prettiest." Ropes aren't cheap either, around $200. The one I got is WAY too stretchy for most people's comfort. But, no one would tell me what a reasonable amount of static and dynamic stretch on a rope was.

Same with carabiners, I bought 6 of 1 type at $10 each. You need 6 to create a basic anchor. Turns out there are much smaller lighter carabiners that you should buy. Then later I learned about key lock carabiners that don't get hung up on bolt hangers so easily, very nice when you're trying to unhook yourself from an anchor you've got at least partially weighted.

All these stupid things I've gotta learn by doing the wrong thing, and spending $100s to correct. I have very srong opinions now, and I'm happy to tell my friends what I think very unambiguously.

Justin

1:55 PM  
Blogger Pandax said...

A wise friend you had there. How is it that some people are able to pick these up early in life and others learn late?

2:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Justin at 1:27:

Ah, well I wouldn't call that putting yourself down, more like what I said about realizing you can do better. Putting yourself down is more about commenting on your capabilities, not your performance today, say. If you keep doing it, you can start believing it.

`I can't do X.' is a lot different than `I sucked at X today --- tomorrow I'm going to focus better'

s.

2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Same with climbing ropes. The best advice I could beat out of anyone when I bought my first rope was, "Get which ever one looks the prettiest." Ropes aren't cheap either, around $200.

I'd think that climbing ropes are one thing where you definiely want the best quality!

Iron Rails & Iron Weights

6:19 PM  
Anonymous ptm said...

It strikes me that you describe your friend as smart, then give anecdotes showing him to be wise and thoughtful. I think of smart in terms of horsepower, but wouldn't be remotely surprised if you had a more holistic or sophisticated model in mind.

7:01 PM  
Anonymous ptm said...

Also, I don't see why being a gearhound is a bad thing. But I own 4 pairs of skis (after giving away 2) and 3 bikes (after giving away 2 of those).

7:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ptm: if you're a snooper like I am, you might look at his CV and note that he's probably got a fair bit of horsepower, too. -K.

9:16 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

There's nothing wrong with being a gear person. I'm not, though, so I watch and laugh at it the the way you would probably watch and laugh at me if you saw me transfixed by plants (which, unlike gear or gadgets or computers or cars or clothes, are infinitely varied and interesting and do different things at different times, and have different features, and require a lot of thought to know exactly which one you need in every circumstance).

9:34 AM  
Anonymous shannon said...

Justin,

You need a better store to buy your gear.

12:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I can ask, how is he doing now? I had two people like that in my life both of whom were very wise very early and both seemed to struggle with it as time went on. Hoping the same did not happen with him.

Both pieces of advice were great by the way, even if much easier said than actually done (like most advice I guess).

12:43 PM  
Blogger srchngformystry said...

i love alan.

and someone gave me that same advice about never putting yourself down.

12:19 AM  
Blogger J said...

Your friend Alan's comment about doing the best you could with what you knew at the time also implies that you have since learned more about the situation since then. Perhaps it goes without saying, but one of the few positives you can get out of a breakup is you often learn something about yourself in the process. In a way, he sounds like he's challenging you to always learn something from negative experiences. Wise words indeed.

7:46 PM  

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