Once I saw two students open the attendance book in our classroom.
GIRL: Let’s go in Korean alphabetical order and judge everyone’s faults. Number one. K— Kim. He’s selfish.
BOY: Very selfish. He thinks he’s very clever, too, and he shows off. He also makes lots of jokes but nobody thinks he’s funny at all. And he’s not all that handsome either. He’s too short.
GIRL: Yes. The red pimple on his nose makes him look like an absolute Rudolph. And he smells like one too. When I was sitting next to him, the stench was so awful I had to get up and open the windows ev-uh-ry five minutes. You know I’m not a fastidious girl. But really I wish he would wash.
BOY: I think I heard from somewhere that his roommate almost moved to another room because he was so messy.
GIRL: Really? That’s a great rumor. Hey, tell me everything you know about him. In fact, tell me every single rumor you know about the kids in our class, from number one to thirty-seven.
And banging open her laptop, the boy began reciting names and tall tales, scandals and rumors in a steady stream, while the girl typed it all down. I’m sure she still has the file in her computer now, and I wonder what rumors have been filed under my name. I wonder if it makes her happy, reading and thinking about the blemishes and miseries of those around her…
I want to ask you something.
Why is it that you always have to criticize everyone?
If your friends live as quietly as possible, minding their own business and living assiduously and uncontroversially, you criticize them for being “sulky”, “unfriendly”, “stuck-up” and “hard to approach”.
If they live a life of active benevolence, teaching their friends on subjects they are talented at, giving and sharing and caring, you label them “two-faced”, a “sycophant”, “insincere”, “pretending to be nice”, and worst of all, a “show-off”.
If they you refuse to teach you, they are “snooty” and “selfish”.
If they really don’t know the subject you ask them about, of course they’re obviously “pretending not to know stuff just because they don’t want to teach me.”
If they get great grades, jealousy impels you to babble baloney about how they are either “unfairly privileged”, “opportunist”, or “proud”.
If they get low grades, scorn impels you to snort, “To be honest, I don’t see what the heck he or she even lives for.”
If they are pretty, you say, “To be frank, I don’t see why everyone’s doing so much cosmetic surgery.”
If they are plain, you jeer most cruelly at every physical defect in their face or body, analyzing every limb and every feature they possess, from a “too-big posterior” to “pimply skin” to “an annoying voice”.
So I wonder, and I want to ask you.
Will there ever be a person with a perfect reputation in your eyes?
Who are your friends, from all those you have coolly flayed alive?
And last of all, you who are perfect,
What do you have to say about yourself?