Sinister Self-Satisfaction


I recently auditioned to become the St. Norbert Class of 2014 Student Commencement Speaker. Despite my best efforts, the panel of judges ‘went in another direction’ and my piece was cast aside (for the curious, it can be found here: ‘’).

Perhaps they found it too radical for what will surely be a highly conservative graduation day audience. The opening line reads, “Class of 2014, we have failed,” and the phrase “adult underwear” appears at least once throughout the piece. Indeed, my failure to mount the podium seems fitting in respect to the subject matter.

Failure is a far more effective professor than success. It navigates agilely around pride, revealing instead the stark reality of our own naked maladroitness. Prior to presenting, I thought I’d purged the speech of error, but my failure suggests otherwise. The fine-tooth comb should have been finer; my wording should have been less esoteric, fluffy, clunky. I do not deserve the podium.

I’ll continue to light fires under my own butt, though. I seek out shame like a coke-addict seeks his dealer. We all deserve a bit more shame. “If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn,” barks a wise Faber in Fahrenheit 451. “Pride only hurts, it never helps,” coos a cool Marsellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction.

Whatever we think we’re doing well, someone’s doing better. To pleasure over the glory of one’s own accolades is a sort of “sinister self-satisfaction.” A child’s fascination with its own feces hardly guarantees the public’s declaring it the next “The Thinker.” When we become too proud of ourselves, we forget that we haven’t done anything.

Maybe I’m spiteful. Perhaps a bit narcissistic as well. I’m convinced that every vice I have ever chastised in this newspaper is one I personally embody. I am a habitual compliment-denier who takes everything personally.

It is extreme, some nights harrowing, but growth requires self-criticism.

Four years ago I entered St. Norbert to play football. I mingled with jocks, drank Keystone Light and rocked a military buzz cut and big biceps. Nietzsche revealed to me my own scummy existence, and I began to truly loathe myself. I began loathing the escapist charades of alcohol and ogling girls’ butts. My bathroom mirror housed an unforgivable pig.

I despise that image. Old pictures, memories of crass and juvenile shenanigans. I’m not saying I have shed the skin of that wretched creature, but my flaws are no longer invisible. Every groggy morning I make ardent attempts to shed the weighty troglodyte-bro-skin.

My path of choice is failure, and I relish every step. We should all relish it. On June 23, I’ll be flying to Tokyo for a one-year contract to teach English. I know nothing about Japan. I’m afraid and clueless but that makes me all the more giddy. Better to face fear now than spend the next 40 years with a buzz cut, reminiscing about some arbitrary party with my son who I know doesn’t find the story interesting, but I have nothing else to offer.

The thesis here is certainly unclear. Maybe I’m saying we should all be more cognizant of our own flaws. Maybe this is a disguised shot at the panel of judges. Maybe I’m still that freshman pig and this word-fortress serves as another distraction. I don’t know.

I do know that we have the capacity to change. To go from buzz cuts to Fabio-locks and from thoughtless white boy chatter to debates regarding the Humean analytic-synthetic distinction and whether the Kantian “Copernican Revolution” successfully synthesizes the rationalist-empiricist parties.

To follow failure toward growth is to embark on an endless and often demoralizing trek. But this path feels more exhilarating than jogging in place. To quote a fed-up Andy Dufresne, one can either “get busy living, or get busy dying.” I choose life.


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