I went to a Baptist high school (that was, in fact, it’s name). I got good grades. I was quiet in class and in the halls. I played basketball. I was in the honor society. Never talked back to teachers. Never got in fights. Can’t remember ever cutting class, much less school. (All of these things, I now wish I had done on a regular basis)
But for all that, my principle (who was also the nominal assistant basketball coach) told me that I was defiant and I need to shape up my attitude. This was in reference to a detention I had gotten for demerits accumulating from not tucking in my shirt and chewing gum.
Defiant. It was an exciting word for a rule follower like me. But still, I failed to see how it was applicable. Mollie O’Neill (not her real name) was defiant. She was loud at times, and had no trouble talking back to anyone, including the principle. But despite that she was the darling of the faculty. And at the time, I couldn’t figure it out.
But I think that my teachers sensed in me a certain “lawlessness” that I wasn’t fully aware of myself. And if you compare the trajectory of Mollie’s life and my own, it’s obvious. She became everything that our Baptist school teachers could have hoped for. In the end, she returned to her roots. I have gone my own way.
It’s practically my job these days to be defying convention. I follow my instincts, and I don’t really give a damn what anyone else thinks I should be doing. And I think my teachers knew that back then. They knew even though I followed the rules and kept my mouth shut, that I was going to do my own thing.
Sure there were signs back then. I read Stephen King during lectures. I chewed gum like it was my job. And shirt tucking-in was a tiresome chore that I rarely paid attention to.
I think people can sense that you aren’t interested in their opinions of your life, and it offends them, particularly if they are authority figures. But have you ever noticed that certain people tend to have more conflict with than others when they behave unconventionally?
Certain people seem to attract negative comments about nursing in public, homeschooling, and other unusual choices. My theory is that the people that this happens to the most are the ones that project an aura of wanting to fit in (or deliberately NOT wanting to fit in). They care what other people say about them, and it affects what they do. People sense that insecurity and attack.
Or as Graham Greene has his police chief say in Our Man in Havana, “We only torture people who expect to be tortured.” *
I figure that you (if you happen to deviate from the mainstream) should develop an attitude of defiance. BUT not a reactionary defiance that stems from insecurity. The kind of defiance that is more of a way of life -your life- than a reaction to anything someone else has done. The attitude that you will do what makes sense to you, what you believe in -despite of what everyone else is doing-despite whatever restrictions you might have to put up with for the time being.
Practice a calm defiance. A secure feeling inside that you will be true to yourself. And the naysayers just don’t matter. When you get to that place, you’ll find less conflict with said naysayers, because they understand that you aren’t listening to them, that they aren’t pushing your buttons, you aren’t getting mad and defensive and argumentative, because what they think really isn’t going to affect what you do or how you feel.
*I got that line from John Taylor Gatto’s essay about The Bartleby Project, where he exhorts students to mark their standardized tests with the words, “I prefer not to take this test.”