Prelims are coming. The first paper starts tomorrow, to be exact. “Let’s go!” is my chief attitude towards it, I mean when you’ve prepared as much as you have, I think an attitude of enjoyment is the best way forward.
Not so for a lot of my friends, though. I have sat through 4 major exams with my peers, and with the benefit of hindsight I think I can safely say that this phenomena still exists, and still confuses me. The phenomena where people cry about how un/underprepared they are, moan about the tragic state of their exams, and end up doing so brilliantly well. I remember coming out of a paper once, pretty happy, only to see less than pleased faces. In the end if I recall I scored a decent A (or even a high B) (even a B? Why is the word ‘even’ there); they made the Dean’s List. What then, could explain our disparate responses immediately after paper? Perhaps we only remember our mistakes, and they get magnified a hundred times over till it seems like the only thing we did in that 2 hours was go in there and did one questions and made a mistake. That’s scary. What I’m curious about is:
Why not have the confidence that you can do it? Not the haughty brand of overconfidence, but maybe – hopefully – the quiet kind which inspires one to have faith and just… be happy.
Because in real life, I don’t think we’ll be getting such clear signals all the time, such clear distinctions of academic or even non-academic ‘excellence’. How do you qualify for the Dean’s List of Life? And if you rely so heavily on those for your sense of self, I’m honestly not sure how that works out in real life.
I remember my friend commenting once, probably in the height of pre-exam stress and in a moment of melancholic, over-exaggerated drama, “Everyone here’s gonna end up getting straights As anyway, right?” He looked around for reassurance, then plows on regardless, “We have to. If not, dieeeee.”
Die? How can we bear to use such a word so lightly? (Because by any standard, I think an exam grade is ‘light’). It almost makes me angry. Without going into the details of how people do die, under far more complex circumstances, and how an equal number survive such difficult times, I think its fair to say that while we should all strive to do the best we can, ‘the best we can’ is the accomplishment in and of itself. Because if you believe that straight As is a measure of how ‘alive’ you are, I think you’ll be very very regrettably living in a life surrounded by living zombies on all sides. Zombies who are far kinder, far sweeter, far wiser than you. People who are my friends, even if they are not yours.
Would you rather be a genius human in the midst of what you see as zombies, or an unremarkable human enjoying the warm company of other humans? Surely you see how ludicrous these 2 extreme scenarios look. We can strike a balance, but it starts from respect. Because I think that’s what the crux of this issue is: Respect. Respect for differing abilities (Biology’s our favourite topic right? Genetic variation!), different strengths, different weaknesses, different ultimate aims in life, even. Why isn’t living under the coconut tree a fair goal?
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry– that such people are actually my classmates, my good friends; that the people I read about in the news, those “elitist, book-smart-above-all” people are people I know all too well. It’s actually no laughing matter, but I refuse to cry over it either, maybe that’s why I’m here writing this on the eve of prelims.
So please, please the next time you say something like that, even if you only mean it in jest, think about it. Because I know we are far more than grades, and by ‘allowing’ others to score what they can, and according them the same respect…
We are in effect allowing ourselves to be defined by far more.