Do other people ever stop telling us what to do? We begin learning the ‘rules’ at birth. Many of those rules are for our own safety and the safety and well-being of others, important, good rules and facts of things that we all need to know to survive. Fire is hot. Brush your teeth. Tie your shoes. Don’t talk to strangers. ( That one about not taking the candy is sooo true, and ‘candy’ can be a metaphor for many things.)
At some point the tone of those rules begins to change, begins to turn into something that has more to do with the opinions of others than it does with any kind of truth, those rules tend to have more to do with what people like to hide under the guise of what they like to call manners, do not have an opinion, do not upset apple carts, do not offend, DO NOT OFFEND.Is it progress when burping and farting in public is considered to be less offensive than having an opinion? And yet, seemingly everyone has an opinion about everything these days. People band together in whatever ways they can to seek affirmation of their opinions, to find those who agree with them, or those who will not openly challenge or argue with them so that they can feel like they’re right, or feel better about themselves, or simply feel safe. People seek those who agree with them because those are the people they can relax around. There is a pack mentality to humans, groups and cliques rarely function without a ‘leader’ of some type. We like our hierarchy, we like the idea of some kind of seniority, we like to know where we stand, in society, but more immediately with the people around us. We voice our opinions and beliefs sometimes as if to say to those around us ‘Are you safe? Will you accept this about me?’
Sometimes we remain quiet, listening to the opinions of others and learning from those things how they differ from us, and that they might not accept some facet of who we are, or that they might not appreciate some golden nugget of wisdom we have garnered from our own vast experience in the wilderness we call life.
When I was younger, as only the young and naive can truly believe this about themselves, I thought I wanted to change the world and that I could. After some cruel experiences that emotional, metaphorical, bleeding heart -can’t we all just get along- thing crept in and I thought If people could only SEE…I thought I might one day write something so profound that they ( the proverbial ‘they’ whom I sometimes reference) would suddenly realize the folly of their cruelty or whatever it was I thought they were suffering from that caused others to behave the way they did. Realizing finally that everyone is on their own, individual, path to personal revelations, epiphanies, and emotional growth, in their own time. Trying so hard then to change my own ways, only to discover again and again that, we have to survive here, I have to survive here. I.
I didn’t make the world this way, it was like this when I got here and I choose to survive here. That doesn’t mean I advocate contributing to the mess either.
There is no I in team? Pardon me, but there isn’t one in ‘f**k you’ either, and I’ve certainly heard that more than I’d have cared to.
The collective needs the collective. The collective needs WE to survive, lemmings need other lemmings in order to know where to go. I can tell them where to go and how to get there. According to Wikipedia, not that I would rely solely on Wikipedia for cold hard facts of anything, but according to Wikipedia, the metaphorical idea that lemmings commit mass suicide is also incorrect. I wouldn’t know and it doesn’t matter for this discussion, point being that according to someone, somewhere, what we all think about lemmings is wrong too. For the sake of this discourse, lemmings need other lemmings in order to know where to go. The collective needs the collective in order to sustain itself. ‘I’ is a dirty word in our society.
I was not born a ‘we.’ I choose to be a ‘we’ in some situations. I am married and feel very a part of that ‘we.’ Sometimes when we are with our friends then there is a ‘we’ there too and sometimes I enjoy those we’s very much and I am grateful for them. A collective of work, an anthology or written work would be another ‘we’ that I could or would be interested in but that is not the kind of collective I am talking about. ( Do you like it when people try to force their “we” on you?)
I was raised not to upset apple carts but the fact is I upset them all the time somehow simply by being ME. But I cared about other people, I mean I cared about their very souls ( I still care, about humanity in general, obviously, of course, sincerely.) only to find that many of the people whose very souls I cared most about, didn’t give a damn about mine, not at all, not in any way, shape, or form, or not a moment beyond their ability to manipulate me. In my thirties, people were still trying to make me conform to their idea of normal, in all of the subtle ways society does such a thing, sometimes without ever uttering a word aloud. And, not wanting to hurt the people I cared for, or mistakenly thinking that I would, I conformed. What I can say about some of that now is, they have given me a lot to work with.
People will judge others for anything and everything others do, whether or not they’ve mowed the lawn, did they plant the right flowers in their yard, do they work, do they not work, what color they dye their hair, so and so saw so and so still in their bathrobe at three in the afternoon, and we haven’t even gotten to the big issues yet like sex, religion and politics or personal alcohol consumption and drug use. Don’t upset the apple cart, it will ruin your reputation, your career, you won’t have any friends, you will draw too much attention, you can’t sit down to write until you get your chores done, for god’s sake, act like a normal human being. There is at least one bully on every block, one asshole self appointed leader of lemmings, little fish in even smaller ponds look bigger and act bigger than they are. Some of us crudely used to call this TPS or ‘tiny pecker syndrome,’ all those tiny little dogs that bark their heads off. I used to feel sorry for people like that, sorry for the people who bullied and took advantage of me because, after all, I am such a great person myself, the people who would say not to write, little lady, until you get your chores done because we have to keep things here in Stepford running smoothly ( and it is truly stunning how prevalent that attitude remains in some quarters. ) I used to feel sorry for them because they were never stronger than me, not ever and I knew this with utmost certainty, but I felt sorry for them because if they could only SEE.
They have cured me of my naivete, whoa to them. Maybe I was the one who needed to “see” in some way, see my way clear to doing as I please regardless because really, we’re all learning at our own pace and unlikely to convince one another of much of anything that we’re not ready to hear.
But I don’t advocate adding to the mess. What does that mean?
It would seem that people sometimes equate integrity or morality with their idea of ‘normal,’ judging books by their covers and admonishing those who do not fit the mold in some way. Certainly things have progressed in the last fifty years but the fact remains that the idea of the next stop being Willoughby remains so enticing to some that perhaps society, as a collective, has never gotten over it. And in that clinging to an idea of a perfect world, without stress, where the man in ‘The Grey Flannel Suit’ is met at the door by a blissed-out babe in a pencil skirt with restrictive underwear underneath that she is repressed by and just longing for him to set her free of, and the bills are always paid on time, no one ever gets sick, the paper boy never lands the paper in the roses or on the roof, in that clinging to the idea that the modern version of that somehow offers our only chance at true happiness, we miss the beauty of the reality we have, the opportunity to create our own Willoughby and perhaps the path that would lead to that place for ourselves.
Moral integrity has nothing to do with what time of day a person gets out of bed, whether or not the dishes are done before they sit down to write, or whether or not they keep their front lawn short enough to please the neighbors. Some of those things have to do with respect for others, and I advocate that, none of us want to live next door to an eyesore. Respect, however, is a two-way street and I haven’t found many people who choose to live on it. Oh they think they do, but they don’t. Their respect goes about as far as the first difference of opinion, or their ‘hurt feelings’ which generally have more to do with skewed perceptions than objective understanding of what actually transpired, or what their part in it was. In other words, very few people look at themselves first and ask ‘What did I do to that person? What do they think I did? Was I wrong?’ And even fewer people stop to consider what might be going on in the life of the other person, very few stop to think, ‘We’ll he, or she, has usually been pretty great, nice, decent, what could be going on with them that they would act differently? And is that any of my business?’ The truth is that far too many people internalize things and take things personally that probably don’t have anything to do with them. All they know is ‘So and so was mean.’ How many stop to think, ‘Could be his dog just died?’ Or …’Could be the person she was ‘mean’ to, had it coming.’ Anything different from their idea of things makes them uncomfortable. A front yard full of cactus would be an eyesore to some and a money-saving oasis to others. At that point who is infringing on whose rights? And you can pretty much kiss Willoughby and Stepford goodbye.
I don’t advocate contributing to the mess. I don’t advocate chaos. But I’m tired, you know? I’m tired of all of the ‘do it this ways’ and ‘don’t do it that ways’ because most of the time they don’t have any idea what they are talking about when it comes to my life, as a married person, our life. They have found what works for them and have determined to cram it down the throats of those of us who would dare to say, ‘That’s great, good for you! I’m going to do things this other way.’ Their control freak knees knock and they tremble at the thought. I’m tired of being told and sometimes forced to ‘share’ for the so-called common good. Suffice it to say that I think the words ‘for the common good’ should set off alarms in the heads of any free, thinking, person. Not because there’s anything wrong with helping one another, I’m all for voluntarily helping out and hope people want to help each other, but because the truth of the matter is that most of the time, that isn’t what any of that is really about. I wonder sometimes if I was, without my being consciously aware of it, conducting some kind of experiment, to see if they could be taught, while they were possibly attempting to turn me into one of them, attempting to correct me, get me back in line with the lemmings. The freedom of all persons begins with the freedom of the individual and with individual freedoms.
Morality, integrity and respect all begin with SELF. It does not stand to reason that the so-called sacrificing of self can then lead to anything other than what we are seeing in the world now, the deterioration of an intelligent, free, society, and the so-called free persons who live within it.
I can honestly say, with full conviction, that I have tried to do it their way, whoever they have been at any given time, I have tried to do it their way and I have never met with any result even close to resembling success or so-called ‘happiness.’ They were given the benefit of the doubt and their ways were thoroughly exhausted as was I. I am over all hopes of having some profound effect on people, or any youthfully misguided ideas of enlightening the masses with whatever the hell it was I thought I knew, while those things might still occur as a side effect, they are no longer the goal or the purpose. Therein was the ultimate flaw in my thinking, I do not believe in altruism and yet I acted as though who I was and what I did had to serve some purpose greater than myself, than being alive as who I am, we are taught that in order to be valid we must negate ourselves. It is illogical, at best, and a death sentence for the soul and the thinking mind with the body likely soon to follow.
They could not ‘correct’ me and I assure you that this, my writing, who I am, my life, does not have anything to do with them anymore.
And as for Willoughby, to each his or her own.
~ Teri Skultety
(‘A Stop at Willoughby’ is a 1960 Twilight Zone episode by Rod Serling, ‘The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit’ by Sloan Wilson, 1955. The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin, 1972)
“The virtue involved in helping those one loves is not “selflessness” or “self-sacrifice,’ but integrity. Integrity is loyalty to one’s convictions and values; it is the policy of acting in accordance with one’s values, of expressing, upholding and translating them into practical reality.” ~ Ayn Rand