03 May 2009

Justifying Our Actions

Warning: I am going to bitch in this post. You may wish to skip it, but I have to get it out. You have been warned.

The world is a difficult place. I am the first to admit that sometimes life forces you to make difficult, morally questionable decisions. Forced into a corner, we all have made decisions that we wouldn't have made otherwise. Or if you haven't yet, it's because you haven't lived long enough. You will. Decisions that no matter how you look at it, you just have to live with it, because, in the end, it was the best choice available at the time. But that's not what I'm here to talk about today. Today I am going to talk about those little discussions we have in our heads to justify to ourselves when we fuck other people over.

And, oh yes you have.

Sometimes they are big. Take for instance, my brother. He drove drunk. He was involved in an accident. Someone died. I saw my brother shortly before he went to prison. (Oh, yes. He is paying for this one. He's not one of those who got off easy. Unless you call 15 years in the penitentiary easy.) But before he went in, he spent an extraordinary amount of time talking about the injustice of it all. After all, had worked hard his whole life. He had young kids to raise. This person who died was unemployed. Older. Kids were raised and gone. I watched in dismay at the development of a skewed logic in my brother's mind. What he was working on telling himself was that her life wasn't worth as much as his. She was gone. He had the concerns of the living to contend with.

He just didn't get it. I think after 5 years in prison, it is starting to sink in. His kids haven't spoken to him since he went in. His son graduated from high school. His daughter graduated from college. He turned 50 inside. He has gotten alcohol treatment and begun teaching math in the GED program in prison. He hasn't written me a letter ranting about black people in more than three years. I imagine his logic has changed. I haven't heard him explicitly take personal responsibility for his actions, but I think he may be getting there. Understanding that you took someone's life who didn't deserve it is probably the hardest thing to just have to live with. I feel extraordinarily sorry for him. But all in all, I feel sorrier for the family he destroyed.

Sometimes they are small. I had plans for saving money on my research this summer that involved sharing a ride to my research region. Sure, it was probably something along the lines of a $200-$300 savings, but as any grad student knows, that kind of money sure means a lot when I am paying for my research out of my own pocket. I was forced out of this cost-savings arrangement by someone panicked about their career. This someone is supposed to help guide the course of my training. And given a choice between their career and my degree, their concerns trump mine for no other reason than they are in a position of power over me and are willing to use that position to fuck me over.

There is no doubt in my mind that the purpose of this person's travel is NOT to assure the success of the other student's research. It is to gather preliminary data for subsequent grants and research projects that the supervisor wishes to pursue. This person has justified the "trumping of the car ride" by maintaining that the other student's research objectives have a high possibility of failure and that this person has specific expertise that will lower that chance of failure. I maintain that the other student is embarking on a risky, completely novel procedure, and that neither the supervisor nor anyone else has any specific expertise that is going to contribute in any way to the success or failure of this project. I wish my fellow student the best of luck, but it's a crap shoot. But, the supervisor has managed, quite successfully for the ongoing cluelessness of their behavior, to convince themselves of the rightness and justness of their actions and refuses to give it another thought.

I have to say, I have given it a great deal of thought and I can not manage to get past it. I have tried. And tried. And tried. But I am tortured by logic. My mentor probably makes about 4-5X my salary. Why don't they use their personal vehicle, which is larger than the student's vehicle and that we ALL could fit in? (My understanding is that the supervisor's spouse won't allow it.) Why don't they rent a car and follow behind? Why, when it comes to costing someone, anyone money, is the mentor ONLY concerned about what it is costing her? Why am I the one left holding the empty bag?

I have to mention the incredible irony I felt when this person mentioned ongoing concern over how my fellow student was going to pay for the remainder of her research given that her fellowship was ending and there was no grant money to support it.


Have I not been waiting for 4 years for some assistance or grant support for my project? I don't recall there ever being any kind of concern for how I was going to pay for my research.

So after trumping the seat I had hoped to share and the money that I had hoped to save, my mentor (oh, you are going to love this) has asked me to proctor the final exam for their class and to borrow my expensive tent. My question is how does someone fuck over a person they are supposed to support, completely eliminate any sense of betrayal in their own minds, convince themselves that all is forgiven (when trust me, nothing is forgiven), and then ASK EVEN MORE?

One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone doesn't say, "Would you mind proctoring my exam for me next Tuesday?", but rather says, "Are you busy next Tuesday?" And when you say you are free, THEN they say, "Then would you mind proctoring my final?" The latter is manipulation. The former is courtesy. Guess which of these two scenarios was played on me?

Un huh.

And in the same f****ing breath was, "I heard you are getting a new tent. Can I borrow your old one? That would really help me out."

Does anyone hear a choice in there?

How do you think honesty would go over?

"No you clueless so-and-so. You have cost me hundreds of dollars in gasoline money by taking my seat in that car, why don't you crack open your fucking wallet and buy a tent yourself? After all, I HAD TO DO IT. Do you think I go camping every weekend? No, I go camping when I do research. Here's a little tip for ya. RESEARCH COSTS MONEY."

I have been asked to take a lot of crap in my life, particularly in marriage and graduate school, but this may well win the "I've got brass balls" award.

I carry on despite the fact that my mentor has betrayed me, manipulated me, and treats me with a general lack of respect. I carry on because it is MY future I am concerned with. But I will never forget these things and I guess I will just have to live with them.

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