You say yes. I say no. But do I really mean no?

When deciding upon the next novel to write, I solicited the counsel of several friends, and one of them is dead set against one of my ideas. After reading the first two chapters of this proposed novel, she has outlined in great detail why this would not make a good story. Her husband, upon hearing about her protests, asked why she continues to lobby so hard against the idea. “It will just make Matt want to write it more,” he said.

I smiled at his supposition, but since she told it to me, I have been thinking:

Is this really what people think of me?

Yesterday I was attending the birthday party of a two year-old. As I attempted to scientifically debunk the superstition that it’s bad luck not to taste the birthday cake, Elysha explained, “Matt’s not happy unless someone is annoyed with him.”

Again, I was left wondering:

Is this what people, including my wife, think of me?

And even worse, is any of this true?


Suddenly I find myself questioning my motives at every turn.

For example, I was talking to someone recently about my belief that teachers should have the right to allow their students to call them by their first names. I have yet to make this offer to my students because of possible  administrative and collegial ramifications, but to enforce the formality of titles upon students has always seemed arcane, artificial, distancing, and unnecessary to me.

But is this really my rationale?

Perhaps this desire is born from personal experience. In high school and throughout college, I was permitted to refer to many of my teachers and professors by their first names, and almost all of my favorite teachers from this time allowed this. Maybe my desire to have my students call me Matt is simply an unconscious attempt to replicate something that I enjoyed as a student. Or perhaps I am attempting to emulate the behaviors of those I admired the most.

Or worse, maybe this desire is simply an attempt to do what others would not want. Perhaps my contrarian streak runs so deep that I can no longer distinguish between something I truly believe and my unwavering desire to swim against the stream and, in the words of my wife, annoy people.

I find this possibility terribly disconcerting. While I have no qualms with assuming a contrarian position and annoying people in the process, the last thing I want would be for my life to be unconsciously ruled by this desire.

I like to think that any unpopular or divergent positions that I hold are the result of logical reasoning and my willingness to look beyond social norms, tradition and expectations, regardless of what others may think of me as a result.

But could I have become a simple input-output device?

You say A. I say B.

You say yes. I say no.

You believe this. I believe that.

I would hate to think that I have spent this much time annoying people, suffering their spats of vitriol and enduring their occasional acts of vengeance, all because of an automated, unconscious, and previously unknown response to external stimuli.

Have I become the equivalent of a human Venus fly trap?