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 correct, 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’s nothing wrong with wanting to relax, to feel comfortable, like it’s okay to let your guard down, to want to be around those who are like-minded. However, there is often a pack mentality to humans, groups and cliques rarely function without a ‘leader’ of some type. We like our hierarchy, 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 bleeding heart 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, ignorance, that caused others to behave the way they did. 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 “fuck you” either, and I’ve certainly heard that more than I’d have cared to. (If there are those who are interpreting that sentence as meaning that I have a problem with the idea of teams or teamwork, it’s because that’s what they want to do, as they’ve not yet read or comprehended the entirety of this post. )
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, the 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. Society has demonized the idea of the individual, until that moment when they are “I”, every time. What that also usually means is that they want something you have.
I was not born a “we.” Chances are that I will not as a “we”, nor will I, when that time comes when I meet my maker, be held accountable for the life of anyone other than ME, or, I. 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. Think about, only for a moment, the difficult things you’ve been through in your life that were only happening to you. Have you ever experienced a situation where you thought you had support or a “team” behind you only to find yourself on your own at the crucial moment? If your body is injured or you were to become ill, that may affect others in your life, but it is nonetheless not directly happening to them. Providing that you’re a generally functional human, is it the team’s job to brush your teeth? If you get arrested for drunk driving, is the team going to endure the consequences of that for you, and let you go home and sleep it off? So, sometimes there is “we,” and sometimes there is “I.”
I was raised not to upset apple carts but the fact is I upset them all the time simply by being ME. I was also taught to think for myself. Sit still and just look pretty has occasionally been nowhere in my vocabulary. But I cared about other people, I mean I cared about their very souls ( I still care, about humanity in general) only to find that many of the people whose very souls I cared most about, didn’t give a damn about me or mine, far from it. 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 3 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, 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 naiveté, whoa to them, whoa to them. Maybe I was the one who needed to “see” in some way, see my way clear to do 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 50 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 paperboy 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 as 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 an 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.” Consider that, there are pieces of whatever story that you aren’t privy to, and not being privy to them, because it isn’t your business, wouldn’t the right thing to do be to keep your opinions and judgments about it to yourself? Isn’t that what consideration you would want from others? Notice I’m not saying don’t have opinions. For some, anything different from their idea of how things should be , makes them intolerably 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. This is where the word “respect” comes into play, especially with regard to shared spaces or shared public spaces. Standing in line at the Post Office, for example, to mail a package, and in walks Weird Naked Bartholomew. Perhaps you have your four-year old with you and last you checked the Post Office in your town wasn’t in the nudist colony section so you don’t expect to be standing in line with Weird Naked Bartholomew as if his lack of clothing were the norm or acceptable in such a place or situation. This is where the individual rights of everyone else standing in line, because they have to be there to mail their packages, supersede the right of Weird Naked Bartholomew to be sans clothing in public. A phrase that applies to this is, your right to be free, includes my right to be free from you, or, I’ve also heard it put, your freedom to be you, includes my freedom to be from you. When we are respectful of others we consider their predicament in addition to our own in certain situations. This also speaks to a certain level of self-respect, that is, how you choose to conduct yourself in certain situations regardless. Now, some may interpret that as being that the “we” – all the other people standing in line, is more important than the rights of the one Weird Naked Bartholomew, and they would be wrong. The issue is one of the individual rights, not “we”, and not even the “majority” or mob rule. Mob rule would mean that fifty-one percent of anything could decide one hundred percent of whatever, and that wouldn’t be fair or equal to the other forty-nine percent. We, as a society, have come up with, agreed upon, some generalized rules for shared spaces because you don’t get to tell me what I find to be offensive, and I don’t get to tell you what you find to be offensive or in bad taste or inappropriate, so we’ve agreed in certain areas, situations, there’s just some things none of us are going to do out of respect for ourselves, our own rights, and the rights of others. Do the majority of people need disabled access to public restrooms? No, the majority of people do not need disabled access to public restrooms, but certain individuals do. Now you can begin to grasp why people might have difficulty understanding how individual rights work, and why they are important. For this discussion, however, the topic has to do with how a person lives their life, you may say their private life, as an individual, say, for example, you want to be a painter but the entirety of your family thinks you should join the family law firm because why wouldn’t you? Painting is an irresponsible waste of time, you’re never going to make any money at it, and it totally isn’t fair that you spend your day doing something you thoroughly enjoy while lounging around in your pajamas covered in watercolors, my God, how could you! Normal people just don’t do that. They get regular jobs, they eat bacon and eggs for breakfast, for crying out loud. You owe society something worthwhile! Perhaps your contribution to The World is your painting, your art. People are still fawning over the Mona Lisa. The point is, some such things are not for others to decide, not at all, not ever.
(“Well, you’re so negative. You write horror. Why can’t you write something nice that contributes something good to society? You know what they say about this that and the other thing.” My answer to that is, “Well, you’re so manipulative, nosy, and controlling and I find that to be extremely negative. Obviously, no one is making you read.”)
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, there isn’t, at all, I believe in that and in finding ways to do so that are of your own choosing that suit you, and I also believe that if you are a bazillionare and you want to keep it all for yourself, that is your right. After all, if a woman has fifty pairs of shoes, should she be forced to give some away, for the common good? Or are those her shoes as in belonging solely to her. Let’s redistribute the shoes! “Well, I see what you’re saying, but it isn’t the same thing.” Yes, it, is. What do people buy shoes with? That’s called a principle, as in, ‘the principle of the thing.’ It is exactly the same thing. They are either your shoes, no matter how many you have, or they are there for everyone. The truth of the matter is that most of the time, ‘for the common good’ hasn’t anything to do with the common good, it has to do with someone wanting to control something that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to, whether it’s great sums of money, your vast shoe collection that’s turning them pea-green with envy, your talent, your voice, or the way you live your life.”For the common good” has generally been extended far beyond anything it was originally intended to mean or be 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 intelligent, free society, and the so-called free persons who live within it. Our society has been taught that selflessness is noble when in fact the very idea of selflessness is a myth. Selflessness means that the individual got nothing out of whatever it was, not even the feeling of having done something worthwhile, not even a feeling of fulfillment of purpose of living one’s life in accordance with one’s values. Now, go try to do something selfless and convince yourself that you truly got nothing from the experience. More often than not when someone accuses someone else of being selfish, it is again coming from a place of unhappiness with their own lot.
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 any 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 who I am, we are taught that in order to be valid we must negate ourselves. Human beings are the only species that do this. 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 “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