Baker Academic

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Professional Conference and the Slight Sting

I will not be attending AAR/SBL this year. I do not often miss and I will not miss often. But this year I will miss seeing many of your glowing countenances.

Here is something that I will not miss: there is a small part of me that hates the way I feel after my ego has merged with the larger Egofest. The collective life and energy of the professional conference is a strange fire. At one moment you are laughing at how very bizarre it all seems and the next moment you are stoking it with your quirks, peccadilloes, and insecurities.

I will confess that I like the fight. I like the conceptual wrestling match. Writing papers, chapters, books, etc. is like choosing a suitable sparring partner. The concept or the topic becomes a partner you train with and a peculiar intimacy is formed between you and the idea. It is then only matter of time before your intimacy with a topic makes you want to defend it. Things get territorial. And this is the part I hate.

I don't hate your ego; I hate mine. This post was bound to get preachy. Sorry. Believe me when I say that I haven't figured this out. I only know that I enjoy the company of scholars more when I consciously choose not to feed my ego.

Now, I could go all Philippians on you at this point. But I prefer the advice of St. Marsellus Wallace:
The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That's pride [EMPTY]ing with you. [EMPTY] pride! Pride only hurts. It never helps. You fight through that skubalon.
St. Wallace was not a paragon of virtue. Few Medieval saints were. He did however get one thing right. There is a slight sting.

If you're there at the conference, you've probably been trained in the world of ideas. It can feel natural to slip into a conversation out of pure interest. You just want a little iron to sharpen your own iron. But how often do you walk away wondering why you said what you said the way that you said it? At some point the conversation shifted from conceptual exchange to territorial dispute.

Some folks, it seems, have no problem with it. They believe in the ideas and can separate their egos from the conversation. Other folks, like me, must learn to recognize the slight sting.

I have come to believe that the greatest favor that I can do for myself at these professional conferences is to remain self-aware and self-reflective. It is not alway possible to self-empty. Self-emptying is something close to a miracle. Perhaps not an "according to Hoyle" miracle. It is, although, almost impossible to do if you do not learn to notice the slight sting.


  1. Those of us who sometimes do advocacy work, and methodological theory, know exactly what you are talking about. Advocacy can be antagonistic. Setting up sides, and "enemies."

    One way to get out of it now and then, is to settle into just being a professor or teacher. Just neutrality reviewing and using as many of the many various theories, as seems useful in any given individual case. Without attaching yourself to any single one. Being open to, teaching, many different approaches.

  2. Can't speak for my countenance. But after consecutive nights in hotel bars, I think my nose is glowing.