Pleasing the Crowd
I am a people pleaser. I always have been. One of the worst experiences of my school career took place my 9th grade year when three girls made my torture their mission in life. They wadded up pages of my books and tossed it in the trash. One day, they put catsup on a sanitary pad, stuck it to the classroom television and told the teacher I’d done it. They really hurt me. But I never said a word. When offered the chance to change classes, I refused, stayed in the horrible class because I believed I had as much right as they did to take the course. I wanted them to like me. So much so that I regularly failed for their “trick Tiffini into thinking we’re sorry” acts. But I believed in taking the high road, in refusing to participate in stupid arguments.
I hate confrontations; I have built my life around watching other people. I put aside what I want, or need, if it conflicts with the desires of those I am around, because it genuinely makes me happy to make others happy.
Generally, it is easy for me to diffuse tense environments, easy for me to swallow my pride or my own agendas to meet others. Usually, criticism haunts me, but remains un-returned.
Every once in a while, though, something snaps inside of me, some bird that insists that –I– be heard. It takes a lot for my need to please to be outweighed but, every so often, it is. Today is one of those days.
After a lovely morning at church, I took my daughters to the Y. Due to sporadic but ever-impending rain fall, not very many people were there. This suited my girls and I just fine. We played happily until a mother and her three year old kid joined us in the pool. My girls are social butterflies–the aren’t afraid of anybody and will initiate a conversation with anyone. They did this with the mother and her daughter. I swam contentedly nearby, watching as they made friends. Then the mother asked Breathe what school she attended. Breathe answered and said that they are homeschooled. The mother obviously had previous, serious issues because she basically went off–subjecting my girls to a lecture on how “the brain is a terrible thing to waste” and “spending days watching TV and playing will not get you very far.” She went on to say things like, “it’s a shame, the way parents are losing sight of their children’s futures” and “there’s no telling what your minds are being fed” and how her little girl “is only three, won’t start school for two more years but is already on the waiting list of [one of the best schools in the state, and most expensive]”. My two girls were listening to this, wide eyed. Alight had started swimming away but Breathe was stuck.
My Enough meter exploded.
I called Breathe’s name, and motioned for her to swim to me. She did, and I engaged them in play. My desire to avoid a scene ad subject the girls to a fiasco waged war with my indignation and fury. This isn’t the first time we’ve listened to others’ sour opinions of homeschooling and, most of the time, I just silently walk away, refusing to engage in what is most assuredly a pointless argument. But today, after they’d heard all that mess, I wanted my girls to know that they are being schooled properly and are inferior to nobody.
So, after they’d pretty much forgot about the whole ordeal, I swam over to the woman and said, “If you have an issue with something that another parent has done or is doing, the responsible thing to do is take it up with the adult, not the child. ” I then added, “I bet you don’t know this but home schooled children score, on average, 30-39 points higher on standardized tests than public OR privately educated children. Furthermore, I bet you also didn’t know that statistics show that most of the parents who choose to homeschool are well educated, middle class parents with two or more children: they typically choose to homeschool not because they don’t care about education but because they are worried about the moral and spiritual lessons their children are learning (or are not, as the case may be) in traditional schools. I bet you also haven’t read the studies that showed that money does not automatically provide greater education: actually, the annual estimated cost of a homeschooled child is about $550 dollars; the cost of a traditionally educated child is about $5,000. Those homeschooled children out performed their wealthier peers by quite a bit on tests. In school, students usually rank in the 77th percentile in math but students who are homeschooled typically score in the mid 80 and 90s range. Also, personally, my youngest daughter would just now be entering K if it was left up to the state, but because I homeschooled her last year, she is already reading. My oldest daughter should be entering third grade but she has tested at a fourth grade level in all subjects.” I stopped to breathe, then added: “You incorrectly assume that homeschooling parents are hippies who have no regard for education but, actually, perhaps you would benefit from a little research yourself and maybe you should think before you openly criticize a child for her parents’ decisions.”
I didn’t give her a chance to answer but swam away instead. After stepping off my soap box, I felt better and more like me. Still, the rest of the afternoon, I found myself haunted by the incident and by the realization that, normally, I would have brushed her off and told my girls to ignore her too. Even when someone does something to blatantly hurt or criticize me, I usually choose to respond with silence.
I want people to like me and, most of all, I want to avoid a confrontation. I have lived in fear of confrontations my whole life. But, today, I was reminded that no one is inferior or superior to anyone else. I was reminded that, even if I second guess myself, even when I make mistakes, I am still equal to everyone else. Society throws gallons of glitter on some and ashes on others, but under the covering, they all bleed red.
I make a conscious effort to teach my girls that by walking away from an intense situation, or an angry person, they have the power to stop a fight before it ever starts. Being passive doesn’t mean being weak, it means nothing except that you’re choosing to keep control of your tongue and your emotions. Even if you’re right, walking away prevents angry, and hurtful words and actions from being used, and is, therefore, still worth it. It doesn’t mean agreeing their right, it just means you’re choosing to leave a dangerous environment. I try hard to teach them that walking away is defending yourself because it’s showing that you’re wise enough to know when an agreement can’t be reached.
I believe all that, very firmly. I can back it up with personal experiences that hurt me terribly but left me feeling proud of the way I handled the situation. I truly believe, and live by, those ideals. But, today, I realized that, sometimes, it can backfire because, the longer you’re silent in the face of bullying, the more likely it is that you will start to believe the lies — no matter how false they are. I remembered that the urge to stand up for yourself is a basic instinct, it’s there because, by so doing, you learn to trust yourself at least as much as you do others’ opinions. When you feel something isn’t right for you, it’s better to stand up got your own ideas than to blindly follow the notions of people who are no better than you are.
Everyone wants to feel validated and special and appreciated and liked — but, in the end, being liked isn’t what forms a genuine dose of self-esteem or confidence. Those things can only come from forming, and voicing, your own ideas and trying them out. I’ll fail, but I’ll also succeed and the combination of both will slowly teach me that my own wings are capable of flight–I’ll be okay, even if I’m alone in my pursuit of peace and happiness.
Living for others’ joy denies one of your own. I want my girls to get along with others , I want them to be keepers of peace — but, more than all that, I want them to really believe, when they lay down at night, that they are worthy and equal to anyone else they may meet. I don’t want them afraid of their own ideas, I don’t want them to second guess themselves like I do. I want them to be liked, but I want them to feel safe being themselves, I want them at peace more.
Maybe my choice to homeschool or to write about a difficult past or to do a number of other things isn’t widely popular. Maybe I’m wrong to do those things. Maybe my apron strings are a bit tight. Of course, God gave us people whose advise we should heed; He certainly gave us elders who have every right to correct us when we are wrong and blind. The opinions of others, then, matter. Ultimately, though, we’d do well to remember that while the world may toss glitter at others, when we live in harmony with our conscious and with God, our own lives sparkle too.