Eye of the Chicken
A journal of Harbin, China

Second-child syndrome
Previous Entry :: Next Entry

Read/Post Comments (3)
Share on Facebook
I don't know how anybody else feels about birth order, but I can say with some certainty that it played a role in my life. I'm the younger sister to a much older brother, and there was no sibling rivalry in my family because it just wasn't possible: he was so much bigger and older and wiser than me, there was no sense in my competing with him.

So, for that (and a host of other) reasons, I became a person who's content, most of the time, to play second fiddle. I don't "play to win" in most circumstances; I'll fight tooth and nail at word games or if I'm playing squash with my husband, but most of the time, if you want to win really, really badly, you can beat me. And in a lot of situations, I just cede the contest.

Overall, I don't think this is a bad trait. It made me a lousy competitive swimmer, but a very good swim teacher. I'm often able to maintain good relationships with people that others find obnoxious. I like to think I'm a good team player in situations where cooperation works best.

But this trait causes me problems when I travel abroad as a representative of the world's remaining superpower . . . and inevitably, if someone travels abroad, they represent their country whether they want to or not. I'm not comfortable being in that spotlight; I don't like the role of front-runner at all. There's too much scrutiny, too much to answer for.

For example, when I was an exchange student in Australia (I left as a 15-year-old and turned all of sixteen while I was there), I remember being asked about race relations in the United States. What did I know about that? At that point in my life I had lived in completely lily-white surroundings; the only interaction I'd ever had with a black person was one weekend when my brother brought a black friend (the nephew of the then-head of the NAACP) home from boy scout camp, where they both were counselors. (Oh, my god, you should have heard my parents. "He was SO polite!" they told all their friends . . . )

Well, that was then, and I'm older now, and I can't hide behind my youth, needless to say. But still. I was mortified to meet an Iraqi man in the elevator here several summers ago; I felt so ashamed and embarrassed, I didn't know what to say to him. Finally, the last day before we left, I saw him again, and I apologized to him for the destruction my government had caused in his country (a place he's not seen since he came here, because it's too dangerous to return, in his view).

(That encounter made today's elevator encounter with the man from Afghanistan MUCH easier. But I digress.)

Today I had a similarly unsettling moment in class with my Algerian students. I'd brought in an article about Chernobyl ("Chernobyl, My Primeval, Teeming, Irradiated Eden." which I got from Longform.org). I thought it had a nice mix of scientific information and colloquial English; I figured their knowledge of the science would help them with the colloquialisms. But when we read the article, one of the students (let's call him "Youssef") asked me about a paragraph which read:

Chernobyl had been a mostly peaceful settlement for 1,000 years, and a predominantly Jewish town for the past three centuries, famous for its dynasty of Hasidic sages. Since the Russian Revolution, the Jews have thinned a lot, but even today there are two shrines to the Hasidim where once a year devotees come to light candles and pray. It's incredible what survives a disaster. As Emily Dickinson said, 'How much can come and much can go, and yet abide the world.'"

"Why is that paragraph there?" he asked. "What is its purpose?"

And you know, I had no good answer. Seen in this light, 6,000 miles from home and on the other side of the planet, it looked . . . well, gratuitous: out of step with the rest of the article, which dealt with plants and animals and the people who work in the exclusion zone. I simply did not know what to say to this young Arab man.

What would you have said?

Some days, I wish I was Canadian. It'd be a heck of a lot easier . . .

Read/Post Comments (3)

Previous Entry :: Next Entry

Back to Top

Powered by JournalScape © 2001-2010 JournalScape.com. All rights reserved.
All content rights reserved by the author.