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Monday, March 17, 2014

In Which I Have Issues, Apparently

Hey! Happy St. Patrick's Day! I didn't wear green today, because *reasons*. Part of it is that my heritage is of the more Protestant persuasion, and I've been told that my grandfather would have insisted on orange. (I didn't wear orange, either. No need to be political about things.) Part of it is because I just don't care. (*shrug*) But as usual, I got to thinking about past years--especially far in the past, and well, here's the dump of my issues.

When I was in grade school, we were expected to wear green for St. Patrick's Day. Fun? Sure. It's a silly and visible stunt, to have that much of the same color in a large group. (If I were feeling even more cynical, I'd say that it smacks of superficial patriotism and group identity, but I don't have the energy or interest for that chip on my shoulder tonight. You're welcome.) If it had been treated as a true "spirit day" should, people would be encouraged to participate, but not required. Or pressured. Or ridiculed or shamed for abstaining. 

But that's what we got. I remember one child in my class who didn't wear green. No good-natured (ahem, *acceptable bullying*) "pinch" for not conforming to the crowd, oh no. The teachers--no lie--made the kid a sandwich board to wear that said something about him being a dunce (or maybe a Grinch? He was green...). He could take it off when seated at his desk, but walking to the library and going to the multi-class cafeteria? He had to wear the sign. He was a pariah. He was visible. He was singled out for not conforming to the uniformity of the crowd that day.

Just digging up that memory infuriates me now, because when many adults look back on the cruel and hurtful hard-knock social lessons that were beaten into us (metaphorically or literally), we usually think of peer socialization. But not all of the messages to conform, to go along with the crowd, to obey blindly lest you get *noticed*, are coming from equally immature young humans blindly fumbling their way toward figuring out how to act in a society. Some of it comes from the authority figures. And whether it's an overt bullying action like publicly humiliating a child and laughing it off as "all good fun", or a more subtle "go along with the crowd" nudge, messages get sent, and not all of them are healthy either for the individual or, frankly, for the group.

It's easy to roll your eyes at the cynicism; to deny that school is an institution for destroying individuality and diversity, and I am not here to make any global assumptions either way. I just wanted to say: it's not "spirit" if it's not voluntary and motivated by an actual desire to do the thing. It's pressure. And it works, but then--what's the meaning in it?