How acceptance is the key to balancing morality and self-worth. Always and never are impossible to attain.
Someone was misbehaving in Miss Meadow’s first-grade classroom. I don’t recall who perpetrated what crime. I do remember the consequences. The entire class was to lay their heads on their desks in silence. The entire class, except for me. I had immunity.
I didn’t ask for special treatment. I didn’t want special treatment. Like it or not, Miss Meadow had unofficially anointed me the Teacher’s Pet. The world around me transformed into an audience shrouded in darkness. A beam of light cut through the thick black air and encircled my desk. Mortified by the sudden attention, I was trapped inside the spotlight. My flesh was frozen in place as my stomach squirmed and my face reddened.
My skin could feel the thoughts of my peers staring at me. I was not one of them.
The teacher intended her decree to be a reward for good behavior, an example for others to follow. The reality felt more like a violation, a scarlet letter. No longer the quiet observer blending into the background of life, I was thrust into a world of judgment and labels. My “reward” for being an exemplary student stung as I was cut from the herd and branded.
On Being Like Everyone Else
What was happening? I just wanted to be like everyone else. I was too young to realize the impossibility of such a notion. A little corner of my cloak of invisibility had been peeled back exposing a sliver of my true identity for all to see. For me to see.
My first lesson in being the dork who follows the rules. My first revelation of other people having an opinion about me. I didn’t reject the reward and lower my head to my desk in an act of solidarity. I didn’t accept the reward with pride and hold my head higher. I froze like a deer in the headlights unable to pick a side. The choice did not seem to be mine to make.
More accurately, I was too young to even understand the choice. Either blend in with the crowd de jour or embrace individuality. Conformity versus rebellion was beyond the intellect of a first grader. Even adults have a hard time grasping the nuances of these concepts.
On Balancing Morality and Self-Worth
Fast forward through about thirty more years of struggling with compliance versus defiance and I think I get it. Balancing the scales between moral compass and self-worth is a moving target.
Always and never do not exist.
The decision to be obedient or rebellious is situational, not absolute. I do not have to pick one side or the other. Neither is it a question of you thinking you are better than me, but rather a question of my thinking I’m not good enough. How others see me is less important than how I see myself.
I’m not a dork. I’m intelligent, more geeky than dorky. And that is not a bad thing to be.
I don’t have to be girly just because I’m a girl. Action-adventure movies not chick flicks. Beer not wine. I will stand up against office politics and sacrifice my own interests to be an advocate for friends and family, most of the time. Other times, batteries must be recharged by isolating myself in the sanctuary of my home.
On the Moment of Clarity
It’s funny how comprehension can span years and culminate down into the pinpoint of one ordinary and otherwise meaningless moment. Acceptance of individuality happened gradually over decades. Conscious awareness of being comfortable in my own skin happened as quickly as flipping a switch and turning on the light.
It isn’t easy being a modern, contemporary girl living smack in the middle of the Midwestern land of traditional style. Blindly following the herd is not in my blood.
I first recognized I had accepted my individuality while searching for contemporary home decor to dress up my signature sanctuary. I held my head up with confidence and had one important thing to say to the sales associate.
“Don’t show me what’s popular. I’m not like everyone else.”