I had a problem when I was young. And it kept me from ever feeling at ease in the world, from living comfortably in my own skin, from ever being my best Self. It prevented me from being Me, and it meant that my will and desires were always subjugated to those of the people and world around me.
Maybe you have it too…
Cause it was a behavioral problem.
But not quite like you’d imagine it, maybe. Cause when I say I had a behavioral problem, I don’t mean I was some hell-raising rebel.
Far from it, really.
My criminal record is a boring fucking read, I assure you – like grandma/grandpa boring; like waiting at the doctor’s boring; like church preacher (provided he doesn’t actually assault children) boring.
And so I wasn’t out being a punk kid and causing trouble when I was young and teen depressed. I wasn’t out all night breaking curfews, or cursing at teachers in school, or picking fights in the halls and playgrounds. I wasn’t some reckless, no good, rebel of a kid at all.
No. It was pretty much the opposite, actually.
And that was my problem.
One of my biggest freaking problems.
That as a young, struggling dude, I felt an innate need to follow all the rules.
All of them.
Not just worthy ones, but every stupid and meaningless one as well we’re told or given in life, by parents, teachers, everyone.
It was a complete and utter fear of what might happen or others might think should I not do as I was told.
And so that was it. I did everything as I was supposed to, and never as I wanted to.
I think that’s the average depressed youth, really.
It’s not the kids in gangs or in juvenile hall, in detention or suspension. Those kids get the attention because their struggle is obvious externally, but they aren’t the majority. Most of us are just regular do-gooders – struggling quietly, stunted by the influences around us; too weak and too scared to even try something that might get us in even least amount of trouble or reproach; too weak and too scared to put our interests above the wants of society, or the threats that we are told will surely come if we become independent and strong.
I remember once…
…as a kid, going shopping with my mother. I had to have been less than 10 than I really have no idea. I was looking at the video games I think, behind the glass walls that line inside of the store, as they often do, paying no attention to where I was walking as I looked at all the games.
Eventually, following the wall, I walked behind the cashier’s counter, set just a few feet or so in front of one part of the wall, with no barrier to enclose it.
The teen cashier stopped me, and told me I couldn’t be there and that I had to go.
No big deal right?
I mean, seriously…NOT a big deal at all.
Except that, I was mortified.
I was so ashamed and embarrassed. Because – to someone as weak and shy and do-good as I was – there was no other type of attention that was more horrifying to me than being singled out as wrong or misbehaved. I remember running back to my mom, eyes fixed downward, to hide myself from it, and from everyone really.
I wouldn’t go off on my own again.
And when I was older, my mother took me to a basketball game – a Knicks/Bullets game in DC (when they were still the Bullets).
Maybe I was 12 or so.
It was probably during the work week and the arena wasn’t all that filled that day. And I remember at halftime my mother telling me that she wanted to go down to the seats by the player’s entrance, so that I could see them up close.
I remember feeling scared. I remember protesting. I remember going down there and wanting – as fast as possible – to go back.
These aren’t our seats.
Someone will see.
They’ll throw us out.
We’ll get in trouble.
I was horrified.
And what should have been something special for me – to see my favorite players and heroes at the time – was something else instead. Something I regretted. Something I wanted to be over with and felt ashamed of. Something I hated my mother for that day, though she was only trying to do something good for me.
And though it was amazing to see just how massive someone like Patrick Ewing is, do you think I enjoyed the experience? Do you think I had fun; that I was thankful for the chance I had to have some of my favorite athletes give me a high-five on the way to the locker room?
Or do you think I cowered there in fear, horrified that we’d get caught, convinced that simply standing there at all, in front of someone else’s seat would get us in trouble; that that mattered at all?
It was little things like that
A lifetime of little things like that.
A lifetime of avoiding living, of doing anything I wanted or might be fun, because of the fear of what comes with living – that someone might not approve, that someone might say something, that sometimes what’s best for you isn’t always what’s right by the rules or laws.
Except it doesn’t quite feel like “little” things at the time, right? In that moment.
It doesn’t quite feel like you’re hurting your Self doing what you’re told. It just feels like you’re doing what you’re supposed to do; that you’re doing what’s in the interests of everyone.
But in our smallest actions are proof of our deepest held ideals, and those who let even the most inconsequential of things manipulate their behavior and their desires, are surely those who will let life’s more difficult challenges control them.
What did my small actions say of me, then?
That I did everything as I was supposed to do it, and never as I wanted to do it.
It was like a horrible disease – not just a desire, but a need to avoid trouble, to fly-right, to be what others perceived as good, and to be the Me others perceived as Me. It was a total fear of what may happen if I did something – anything – against the norm or against the “rules”, of getting into any kind of trouble, and any amount of trouble. It was my tendency to let others control my behavior – whether a person, a group, or society in general – to impose their view of the world above my own, and their priorities in the world before my own.
The desire to be what others expected of me. The fear of being the center of any negative attention or social pressure.
Do you think I’d ever get anything I wanted in life living by such ideals? Do you think anyone would ever be so generous to me, as I was with the power I so willingly gave to them?
Or would I simply get trampled on? Would I just be another stepping stone to someone else’s achievements and success?
…that it is this weakness we allow that leads to the weakness that will effect us a lifetime – the kind that will result in our lives wasted in the crappy circumstances and monotonous lives we see in the average adult we’d do anything to avoid becoming.
And that’s what this bad behavior does.
Because every day, we surrender our enjoyment and desires to shit we are told, and little words on signs. Every day, we avoid experiencing what we want because of what we are taught to fear. Every day we’re told to ignore our desires and needs through threat of punishment which does not exist or does not matter.
Every day we put the interests of others above ourselves. In the smallest of ways. In the subtlest of ways.
But that’s not what strong people do. That’s not what independent and confident people do.
Those with true self esteem hold their ideals and pleasures above all others’. They hold what they want as a value more important than what others want of them.
They do what they fucking want.
And it shows in even the smallest, little ways.
They have no problem laughing out loud in a quiet church when someone whispers something funny. They have no problem shouting some snarky remark at the movie screen of an otherwise quiet theater – being that one that gets an entire room laughing. They have no problem going to the front of any disorganized and cluttered line.
They have no problem being the center of attention or social pressure.
Because they don’t care.
They just have fun. They have fun being themselves. They do what they want because they want it. And no person, or rule can prevent it.
And that’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s how it is naturally before the world shapes us in its image.
Don’t be an asshole. Don’t be a criminal. But a little bit of “trouble” is okay. A little bit of rule-breaking is okay.
Cause while the world obeys signs and rules, the strong do what they want. While others put their interests in the hands of others, the strong take their interests in their own hands. While others submit their ideals to the world, the strong hold their ideals as indivisible.
I’m reminded of this everyday…
…by 8 am, every morning I drive to work.
My office building is on a large private property surrounded by a forest the company owns as well. The road to the parking garage is probably nearly a mile long through its twists and turns through the forest and the company grounds.
One day, the building people decided to aid the walkers who do not exist (everyone uses the garage to enter the building) by propping up a lighted stop sign along the road where it crosses one of the walking paths.
Every morning I watch people actually stop their car, to let the non-existent walking traffic pass, because of a homemade lighted sign nailed to a post of wood.
But there’s no reason to. There’s no need to. A stop sign not put up by the government is not a stop sign at all.
And so, I’m not saying…
…be a jerk or a dick. I’m not saying be rude or obnoxious. I’m not saying abandon all duties towards others, and responsibility towards those who depend upon you.
Nor am I saying break any law on the whims of your secret desires – like robbing someone, or hurting someone.
There are laws and rules that should and must be followed, that are never and will never be worth the risk of their consequence, and doing so would be profoundly wrong and immoral anyway.
But we’re talking about little things. Little “rules”. Little ways you can be more your Self despite the pressure against it.
I don’t care about silence rules at a golf course. Or cellphone rules on an airplane. And I don’t care about a fake stop sign erected on company property.
And so I’m saying simply this:
That so long as you live, never feel guilt for doing as you please and as you want. Never surrender your desires to the imagined or threatened consequences of another’s “rules”. Never apologize for being your Self, so long as you do no harm in being it.
For years now, I have realized the following:
A rule not written is a suggestion. And suggestions don’t mean anything to me when what I want means more.
I refuse, therefore, to follow a rule blindly; to do as I’m supposed to do simply because I’m supposed to do it. Because I know that the only thing in life I am truly and unquestionably “supposed” to do is be my Self and enjoy my Self.
I refuse, then, to do anything that I do not want, or be refused from doing anything I do want.
Like a strong person. Like someone with self-esteem.
Be yourself. Do what you want instead.
It’s far more important than most rules.
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