One day when I was a senior in high school I got called into the office of the Dean of Girls (weirdly quaint title). I was being “awarded” an F for the day in all my classes, having gotten caught skipping school to attend a peace march.
Funny thing. I skipped school a lot that year, mostly just to hang out somewhere that wasn’t around my increasingly intolerable family, town, or school. Don’t recall ever getting in trouble for it, except that one time when somehow my parents and the dean discovered that I had gone (gasp!) to an anti-war march.
For this dereliction of my conventional duties, I was sternly castigated. I remember only one sentence of the dean’s rant: “Don’t you want your parents to respect you?”
With the capital-A Attitude of a disaffected teen, I snarled, “I don’t care if they respect me!”
It was a conversation ender.
As soon as I left the dean’s office, I had one of those “wish I’d said” moments. The scared child within my surly teen self wished she’d cried, “They won’t respect me no matter what I do!”
That was true. It was far more true at that point than “I don’t care.” Because of course, I did care, passionately, about what the people in charge of my life thought of me. It was just that I had already learned that I couldn’t be true to myself and earn their respect at the same time.
The “wish I’d said” version also would have been a cry for help, a plea for understanding. My 17-year-old self still hoped — desperately — that some authority figure would realize that something was terribly, terribly wrong in my family and swoop in to do something helpful.
Instead, I slouched out of Miss Moffatt’s office simply having given the impression of being a defiant little jerk.
Only a long, long time later did I realize I’d actually said the right thing when I blurted, “I don’t care if they respect me.”
The idea that uber-authoritarian Miss Moffatt would ever have cared, let alone ever seen anything beyond a need to discipline me, now seems laughable. The idea that a government employee dedicated to enforcing authority might ever have sympathized and taken my part, equally laughable.
The idea that a person in her position might have “helped” is horrifying — in the “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you” sense.
Looking back, it simply makes sense that neither Miss Moffatt nor my parents would respect someone like me. And I’m glad they didn’t. Because if I’d have toadied to gain an illusion of grudging “respect” from those people, I’d have ended up losing a very important part of myself.
Not wanting or needing their conditional “respect” was the right and mature thing.
It’s a hard lesson for us social beings to internalize, but earning the scorn of Authoritah can be one of the surest signs that we’re doing something right.
And the next, much bigger, lesson is that when we’re doing something right, Authoritah and its and expectations diminish.
The other day, when I read the strange gun-control rant of Cato’s Robert Levy, the passage that struck me as most strange — most overwhelmingly, neon-bright, screaming-from-the-page strange — was this one:
Gun-rights advocates should use this interval to refine their priorities and support this measure [a revived Manchin-Toomey], with a few modest changes. If they don’t, they will be opening themselves to accusations from President Obama and others that they are merely obstructionists, zealots who will not agree to common-sense gun legislation.
I’ve probably read that passage 10 times and I cannot fathom why Levy wrote it. Can he sincerely believe that any gun-rights advocate on Planet Earth should worry that Obama will think we’re too uncompromising?
Obama is well-known as a intolerant man, an authoritarian who brooks no deviation at all from his party line. Even if for some crazy reason gun-rights advocates wanted to please him, the only way to do so would be to give up our advocacy entirely. Merely leaning in his direction for the sake of “common sense” would achieve nothing except to let him and his allies know we’re suckers who can be manipulated and bent.
But why would we even want to try please a man who is inimical to everything we love and value? Why does Robert Levy think we should want that? That’s just bizarre.
And who are these vague “others” we’re supposed to be trying to please? The high-school quarterback? The head of the Mean Girls clique? The school dean? Carolyn McCarthy? Frank Lautenberg?
Can you picture those folks ever being pleased with us? Can you picture them “respecting” us more if we tried to meet their standards? Ha!
Giving Levy some benefit of the doubt, I’ll assume he simply phrased that badly and that what he really meant was something along the lines of “compromise is needed in politics.”
And it’s true. If you have to have politics (debatable, but a fact of current life), compromise is part of the game. But in that case, why isn’t a “Libertarian” who claims to be in favor of gun rights castigating Obama and those “others” for not moving in our direction? Why hound us on Obama’s behalf?
I’ve just read that passage again. Three more times. I still can’t imagine why any sane, well-balanced, independent person “should” be so desperate to have the approval of “Obama and others” that we’d surrender a fundamental right in a vain attempt to earn it.
Oh, there are certainly ways in which it’s desirable to earn the good opinion of authority figures and other enemies.
If they must think of us at all, it’s certainly a good thing if they think things like:
“He’s a man of his word.”
“She’s a tough opponent.”
“He means what he says.”
“She stands on solid principles.”
“He’s not to be trifled with.”
“She’s one you can count on to be both thoughtful and consistent.”
“He’d die before he’d sell out.”
“She’ll never stab you in the back.”
But trying to be more like people who are the very definition of everything you oppose? I can’t get it no matter how I try.
All I can say is, Mr. Levy — get the hell out of that schoolkid desperation to join the Big Clique and you might have a chance to become a real mensch.