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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

You Are What You Say

A propos group formation, I remembered this fun story from the times I was learning Spanish.

I didn’t learn my Spanish in class. The only language class I took did nothing for me. Instead, I joined a language exchange program. The program was organized by the university. For $50 a semester (which was a huge amount of money to me at that time), you could attend meetings in an enormous room where people would exchange their language skills. For instance, English-speakers would sit with Spanish-speakers. For the first hour, we’d all speak English and for the second hour we’d switch to Spanish. If you met people you liked, you could take your meetings outside and practice as much as you wanted for free.

Of course, everybody wanted to be part of a large group because there are more opportunities to practice. Initially, I was part of a tiny group of 4. But one of the 4 was very smart, and shockingly, that was not me. Within a week, he turned our tiny group into the largest group that everybody wanted to join.

The way he achieved it was absolutely brilliant. He started to address one of the guys in the group as “President.” Whenever the fellow would appear, the smart guy would loudly announce, “Hey, the President is here! Hello, President!” and we would all clap, greeting “the President.”

Immediately, everybody noticed. And of course, many people wanted to join the “it” group that had the President in it. Our group grew. People started approaching me to ask me in respectful, awed voices if it was OK to join the group.

To say that I had been an unpopular kid in high school is to say too little. I was the definition of unpopular. I was where unpopular goes to die of loneliness. So to become all of a sudden a member of the core group who had been with the President from the start was huge.

This was when I learned that you are what you say you are. Nobody ever asked us why the President was the President and what he was President of. People just accepted it. Nobody wants to invest too much effort into finding out. This is why people will accept your our narrative of yourself gladly.

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