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Preparing for disappointment



My grade school was Catholic. But I was lucky. Unlike some of my peers, I escaped those demented pedagogues — with all their knobby knuckles, chalky crowfeet and unquestioning ritualism — largely without indoctrination. For better or worse, I come to you without a guilt complex. For better, in my opinion.

Here’s the rub with Catholic education: All the useful lessons are the ones they don’t want you to learn. But who really cares what they want, right? Exactly. If I wanted to play with matches in a pile of dry pine needles, then maybe I needed to learn something about combustion, and maybe the faculty should’ve just let me go about my education. Call it a field day. No doubt I would’ve been better prepared for college, when I accidentally lit an entire backyard on fire.

Of all the things I learned in Catholic school, perhaps the most interesting and resonating is the stubbornness with which people cling to their beliefs. I’m not sure how I found out — though I suspect my sister had something to do with it — but, in Grade 3, I discovered the utter lie that is Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I informed my classmates, and one of them, his worldview rapidly collapsing, told the teacher. She gave me a three-day, in-school suspension and made me retract my statements.

These were people educated in an institution that subscribes to the existence of a supernatural being who can control weather, rise from the dead, turn boring liquids into alcoholic ones and otherwise behave like a character from some sort of theological sci-fi narrative. Given the givings, it’s not especially shocking that they readily believed in a giant, candy-delivering bunny and a fat, chimney-hopping philanthropist with stables of floating reindeer. Still, it’s more sad than funny if you imagine them trying to cope with disillusionment during puberty.

The lesson: If you believe in something too blindly, if you unswervingly invest your emotional capital in the existence of something ethereal, then you are simply setting yourself up for disappointment.

And now pity Barack Obama, his sleigh all stuffed with change as he assembles his reindeer in a climate of unattainable expectations. It’s not really his fault, despite his gilded tongue. After eight years of listening to George Bush chew the language like broken glass, the American public can be forgiven for getting sucked hope-first into the lofty rhetoric of a smart person. Still, in the wake of success, the spectre of failure looms rather large — not real failure, mind, but rather disappointment, a feeling typically earmarked for people who abandon reality and give themselves over too fully to something intangible.

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