I have a terrible habit. I’ve tried to kick it, I really have, but it never seemed to go away when I wanted it to. Some people can’t quit smoking. Some people can’t quit cursing. I can’t quit respect ranking people.
What is respect ranking? It’s the value of respect a person is allowed based on their perceived intelligence level relative to myself and their position. (This is the technical meaning as defined by the crazy workings of my brain.)
I’ve had this problem since college. Here’s how it works: I walk into a new classroom and I’m polite to everyone, and I give absolutely the most respect to the instructor. The instructors have the most experience in the room, they are probably the most educated, they know the most about the subject, so they deserve respect.
The smartest gets the most respect, that doesn’t seem too bad right?
The problem happens if I ever get an indication that the instructor isn’t as smart as I thought. Specifically, if I find out that I know more about the subject than the professor. Then my brain is like, “Hey, you were supposed to be so smart, but you’re just a faker!” I instantly feel so cheated. My respect for the instructor goes from the absolute highest to the lowest in the blink of an eye. I start questioning everything the instructor says, even things that aren’t related to the subject of the class. I stop taking notes during class and sometimes I’ll even roll my eyes during lectures. I go from the best kind of student to the worst, and I can’t seem to help myself. Thankfully, once I finished at university, that bad habit seemed to go away on its own.
But, now that I’m taking writing classes I’m noticing that same bad habit popping its ugly head up again.
Here’s what happened: I was gleefully following along with my editing class, being a good little student, when Bam! the teacher uses an example to show a paragraph that needs to be fixed. At first I didn’t understand, the paragraph looked formal, but otherwise fine. I brushed my confusion aside with the thoughts “Well, I don’t understand because I’m still a student. The much smarter instructor will explain soon.”
Weeeeelllll, not so much.
The instructor said that the problem with the paragraph was that it was “unbearably pompous” and that “no one could get any information out of this paragraph”. I read the paragraph and then read it again. To me it was completely clear what the paragraph was saying, it was a little formal, but otherwise perfectly easy to read.
Then she gave her “fixed” version. I read it and cringed. The paragraph wasn’t fixed, it was just dumbed down. The intended audience was university faculty, and the original paragraph was written at a post-grad reading level, the “fixed” version was written at about a grade-school reading level.
How the heck was that supposed to be better?
Then I realized the horrible truth, the instructor’s reading comprehension level was much, MUCH lower than mine.
Can you hear that? It’s the bubbly sound of my respect for the instructor fizzling away.
Now I struggle to drag myself through my editing class. Trying to pay attention in class is so hard!