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Sat, Nov 1, 2014

LOGUE: Playing devil’s advocate

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One of my former professors said he’ll take all the provocateurs he can get during class discussions.

This topic came up while we were talking about a fellow student who says inflammatory things he doesn’t really believe just to push people’s buttons and blow their minds.

Some people take the bait. Some see it for what it is – a smart college kid putting his high IQ to use for the noble time-honored purpose of being mischievous.

This same student, during the final exam, began to give the professor a sob story about how tough the test was – jokingly and with a smile, of course.

The professor played a sad tune on a nonexistent violin, as if to say, “My heart aches for you,” with a smile, of course.

The student then gave the professor the old third-finger salute – you know, the one Michael Vick once gave to the Atlanta Falcons fans and Marion Barry gave to a Washington Post photographer – but, unlike Vick and Barry, the student was smiling.

The professor was smiling, too, and his face was cherry red.

I wish I had a camera with me.

Although I said nothing, inside I was thinking, “Aw! Isn’t that sweet! This is how heterosexual men who are too scared to hug each other in public say ‘I love you!’”

It was a precious moment in my academic career, and I wasn’t even a part of it, really.

In some of the classes I’ve taken, I’ve been in the beginning, middle, and end of some provocative discussions, but I’ve never taken the devil’s advocate position without being assigned to do so by the professor (as in a formal debate) or stating that I’m taking the devil’s advocate position for the sake of argument.

In all other instances, I took a position I genuinely believe.

Why can’t I, or won’t I, be the grinning devil who just lays on the irony for its own sake?

Why do I have to be genuine all the time?

My theory, totally unscientific, unresearched, and unacademic, is this: I’m a certain kind of woman.

You see, some guys have a thing going where they deliberately try to undermine each other – with rhetoric or whatever device is applicable in their circumstances – as part of a game of mutual respect and admiration.

If you’re not trying to undermine the other guy, you don’t really care about him.

The reason I’m not tuned into that game as a player and usually engage in it only on defense is that I have had to play it for much higher stakes almost every day of my adult life, and the provocateurs in my life haven’t played for respect or love or anything of the kind.

They’ve tried to undermine my ideas, my social standing, and in some instances, my job because I’m a woman.

They weren’t playing for my affection; they were playing for keeps, and it definitely was not precious.

Of course, there are women who can play this game for love and fun every bit as well as men.

That just hasn’t been part of my personal culture.

But the game, like the culture, is dominated by men, and I can recognize the game when I see it.

Part of me cringes, and part of me wishes I could join in and keep up in the relatively safe environs of the classroom.

But I suspect that if I did join in people would think I was being serious, and they would be offended instead of getting the joke.

You see, that’s the hangup with being genuine. When people get to know you, they don’t think you can ever let it go.

Maybe I shouldn’t let it go. Maybe I should leave it to others in the class to be the provocateurs and continue being that dull, earnest old lump on the front row.

Not everyone can be Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, and not everyone should try.

But I sure wish someone in society would enjoy authenticity as much as they enjoy irony.

They certainly talk about authenticity as though it were the long-lost love of their lives.

Well, here I am – authentic as ever!

Where are you now that I need you?
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