Lately I've realized just how stressful economics can be, particularly for students with English as a second or third language. Trying to explain utility and utils to someone a few days ago, all I could think about was my own AP Econ professor, with his southern drawl, and a look he reserved for confused students.
Someone would ask a question. There'd be a pause. Wearing his varsity football coach jacket, he'd sigh, and make eye contact with whoever had asked the question. Then, it was more like he was looking at you for something in particular - did you really not understand the concept, or were you confused by how the word was being used? Different questions would require very different answers.
As a student who was frequently confused with the use of terms in a different context than I was used to, I hated that look. For the first month of classes, I was convinced he hated me, and that I was going to fail miserably. Every time we got a test or quiz back, and I had one of the top scores, I was shocked. He called me out of homeroom one day to try and explain it to me, and the things he said have stayed with me since my senior year of high school. 'You're not stupid, and you know you're not stupid. So you may not understand what an imaginary marker called a 'util' looks like - that's not the point. Some people can't spell Mississippi. Doesn't mean they don't know it's a river and a state in the deep south. You understand that you're talking about how a person or entity feels about a transaction, and how happy they are about it.'
I also remember asking why, if he thought I should be more confident in class and in myself, he gave me looks as though he were tired of 'stupid questions.'
'Everyone, michelle, everyone, gets things differently. Sometimes I give you that look because I see you ask a question and half the class become extremely confused, visibly confused, and half of it is me being a smart aleck; the other half is the realization that I'm about to recover material that you already know, and that if the class gets caught up, I might not get to that question. Even though that question is important. Words are important. But understanding what's behind those words, that's the only thing that matters in the end.'
It didn't make sense for a long time. Some days, it still confuses me. But then I meet with a student who can't stop asking what a word really means, but can go into great detail describing doctrine and theory itself. And in a somewhat morbid way, it's wonderful. Too many people think they don't know what they're talking about, get caught up in one word, and forget that they've got the hard part already. That's what coach meant, and he was absolutely right.
And econ, you get called out because you've always been a topic that loves to reappropriate words and confuse everyone. You're not quite math or natural sciences, you're not quite humanities, you're not quite pure social science. You're just you. And even after all the frustration, you still make my utils increase.