Today I turn eighteen years, three months, and twenty-eight days old. Technically. Because while technically I’m still a teenager, for the past eighteen years of my life I have been inundated by parents and teachers describing how “mature” I am, or “well-reserved” I am for my age, or my personal favorite, “the Benjamin Button of Basking Ridge”. And although I take it as a compliment that people would compare me to an Asian Brad Pitt, most of these descriptions are overstatements. Mrs. Gard, an elementary school teacher of mine, always asserted that I was intellectually bright and mature. She always informed my parents and at one time to my principal at school that I acted “above my age”. I was always an extreme bother to other students, and always very hyper-active, so it seemed strange she would brand me in this manner. It only later became apparent to me that she was trying to enroll me in an accelerated learning program by attesting I was mature and gifted. It was not a lie, but a very large overstatement of the facts as her rhetoric, in which she highlighted my best qualities but downplayed my worst, was directed at helping me enter more challenging classes. I was a product, and she needed to sell that to the school administration by highlighting my best qualities and downplaying my worst. I might imagine that my intelligence was my best quality, but in terms of my worst, I was always lacking in maturity.
Even today, I’m about as immature and picky as an eighteen-year, three-month, and twenty-eight-day old boy can be. I love drinking hot cocoa on a bitterly cold January day, I love taking catnaps and waking up groggily wondering if it’s morning or evening, I would much rather procrastinate until the last minute than acting proactively, and I still take a guilty pleasure in waking up early on Saturdays (and only Saturdays) to have a big bowl of cereal and watching the morning cartoons. In reality while I do have benign characteristics that belie my age, they do not indicate my maturity. Instead, these personality traits of mine depict the opposite: I am still a kid at heart, immature and naive and gullible as I ever was. Mrs. Gard overstated my maturity, believing my intelligence was a sign of that maturity.
Strangely, it was only when I was older that I realized that Mrs. Gard was overstating the facts; I was always naïve and gullible. These traits made me especially susceptive to believing someone if he or she utilized good rhetoric; if I could not immediately discern that what one argued was false, it had to be true. My mother would convince me many times using this trick. In seventh grade she wanted to move to Shanghai to be with family. It seemed like a great opportunity: a new country and new family members to dote on me. But by God, I did not want to go.
My mother tried to convince me, claiming, “You’ll make new friends, you’re so social anyway Allen.” Realizing I was fighting a losing battle after twenty minutes of arguing, I clutched at straws to think of a claim that would allow me to stay.
“Well, isn’t it really hot in Shanghai? Mom you know I can’t deal with heat, why don’t we just visit first, like a test-drive?” I had it in the bag. Mom always thinks about others before making a huge decision like moving.
“Oh it’s not that hot. You’ll get used to it, it’ll build character.” This was a significant understatement of the fact, for the heat was sometimes excruciatingly hot. At first it was not so bad; May brought infinite warmth that was almost intimate. The sun kissed one’s cheeks wherever he or she went; trees, buildings, and flowers were painted bright and happy, and people were in a cheerful disposition. But then June strolled around, and overnight it seemed as if the whole city was plunged into a boiler. The situation was further complicated due to the fact that air conditioners were not in vogue in many essential facilities in Shanghai, leading many citizens to feel it was futile to leave the confines of their own houses, where at least they had cool air. My mom definitely understated the fact that it was hot in Shanghai. Sure, it was not too bad during the few days between the biting cold winter and the sweltering hot summer, but for the majority of six months the heat was almost unbearable. Most Valley-Girls would have been jealous of my tan, though.
Throughout my life, I have been confronted with experiences where people have told me facts or opinions, and I have questioned the validity of their statements. For although those statements might have been perfectly truthful, that truth had been stretched to its uppermost limit. A lot of what the truth is rhetoric. Facts can always be misconstrued and presented in a manner which supports the argument of the speaker; Mrs. Gard was not lying when she said I was mature for my age, yet that only meant that I was mature in my intellect and not my social behaviors. Shanghai was not too hot, at least for the six months that it was agonizingly cold. In the real world, someone can know every fact there is; however without context those facts do not tell us much. Rhetoric is almost as important as facts in both speech and writing. The ability to master words and sentences, while not lying, is essential. In reality both Mrs. Gard and my mother were not lying, as they were only utilizing rhetoric to advance their position and argument to convince others.