October 8, 2010 § 1 Comment

Why do we let people push us around?

I remember when I was about thirteen, in high school.  I was misbehaving, and the teacher sent me to stand outside the class. My god, the terror… I stood out there, like an orphan out in the cold, petrified that the principal would come by and see me- for in that moment, he would know that I was in trouble.

“In trouble.” They get us with those words, don’t they? And by they, I mean the people in what we perceive to be authoritative positions. We’re taught from day one that the worst thing to be is in “trouble”.

Yet what does that really mean? If we were to examine the consequences and ramifications that we think to be inherent in the state that we call “being in trouble”, much of the time we would find it to be a giant sham.

Let’s go back to the example presented, that of standing outside the classroom. My fear overwhelmed me- it seemed that my life expectancy had been very quickly whittled down to a matter of minutes, at which point Mr. Whathisname would come by and blow my head off, Goodfellas style. Or maybe he would be carrying a piano wire, with which to snuff out my incipiently pubescent existence.

Well, I apologise for the anticlimactic ending, but… nothing happened. He never came. Even if he had, I ask you this question with the benefit of a grown man’s hindsight: what would he have done?

Looked on me disapprovingly? Called my parents? Sighed, and prayed for me? There was no corporal punishment at my school by that time, so even a little flogging was out of the question; at least that would have been worth fearing.

It seems as if all the really courageous things that we do in this life spring from an understanding, conscious or otherwise, that the consequences we have spent so much time dreading are, in fact, an illusion. It astonishes me how often I have allowed myself to be bullied and/or mistreated in my own life, and how often I see it go on with others, in any number of small ways. How often, on a daily basis, do people allow themselves to be intimidated into purchasing something they really didn’t want? How often do we accept less than ideal or respectful terms and conditions from the businesses we frequent?  How often do we allow ourselves to be sat at that crappy table in the restaurant, or be charged for that crappy meal we should have sent back, or put up with that crappy attitude from the waiter we’re supposed to handsomely tip at the end of the evening? How often do we accept poor, disrespectful behaviour from our teachers and mentors, the very people who are supposed to be leading us by example in those qualities?

All of these situations have one element in common: there are no stakes, no possible harm that could come from dealing with them in a more carefree, assertive way, other than that old chestnut that keeps so many of us from taking action that would affirm our self-respect and sense of integrity: our fear of embarrassment.

Public shame is one of the most harmful constraints that we learn to inflict on ourselves soon after becoming conscious, self-aware human beings. It is the threat of public shame that keeps us from expressing ourselves, from challenging and protesting the actions of those in “authority”, from standing up for what’s right and fair, from claiming our space. It is the fear of … what? Ultimately, at worst, a red face and a few minutes of discomfort. This is the thing for which so many of us are willing trade in our sense of what’s right and fair.

It is the fear of nothing.

Morrissey has a lyric:

“Shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you,

From doing all the things in life you’d like to.”

Send that inedible steak back. Ask the person firmly yet politely to stop talking so loudly on their cellphone. Demand that businesses give you value for your money.

And get up and dance.  Free and hard. Only the envious will laugh.


§ One Response to IS THAT ALL YOU GOT?

  • Drew says:

    Beautifully said, Marc.

    “If it’s not love, then it’s the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb that will bring us together!”

    Risk is merely the price we pay for playing our way.

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