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Let's keep this between us, shall we?
It must be a sad day in a 27 year old man's life when he discovers a sense of pride in having managed to complete the washing up in such a way that the cup and coffee machine are clean after the double cappuccino both made and consumed during the process. Or must it? Why should I not be pleased with myself? It's half past ten on a work night, I've done all I intend to do today and I am now settling down for an evening connected to the computer. Who cares?
Perhaps it's the thought that other people may have a valid opinion on what one does that inspires some people to act as they do. I'm not sure I could be one of those people who are largely motivated by their perceptions of what others might think. When you worry about how people might judge you, you create a rod for your own back. Indeed, you only have to look at the bizarre lives of some of the tabloid-newspaper-favourite celebrities to see this in action.
It's not that one should act in a way that is insensitive to the sensibilities of those people around you. A lot of sound moral judgment comes from consideration of others. My point is that a lot of people use their fears of judgment by others to stifle their true character. Worse still, some people believe that their only way of feeling good about themselves, or making themselves look good in front of others, is to exert their dominance over people they consider weaker. It is easy to form an unnatural relationship with those people you consider to be judging you all the time, this can make you act in a most ludicrous manner as you overcompensate.
Bullying is intolerable. It takes two to bully, though. One to exert the dominance and the other to be crushed by it. As civilised people, we should do all we can to avoid the bully acting in his cruel manner and to bolster the confidence of the would-be victim to encourage him to hold his head high, regardless. Of course, real life is never that easy.
Sob story... I was bullied at school. Indeed, I've probably been bullied in one way or another for much of my life. There are reasons why I rarely take a stand against the bully, or respond in such a way that allows them to continue. I am naturally eager to please and I have never been particular confident about my chances of success in a physical match. Most importantly, I don't have the anger and hatred required to lock horns with a venomous bully. So, I could name names and point fingers at people who have abused my nature, exploited my weaknesses and generally tried to prove something about themselves, which does not truly seem to exist without my suffering for it.
But today, I don't seem to give a damn. I honestly don't care about the kid, who was sent out from his 5th birthday party celebration because he announced that his guests should "Put up a hand if you think Ashley Frieze is fat". I could not give a toss about the angry motorist who screamed at me in Safeway that day, or the equally stupid lorry driver who threatened to put my eyes out through the window of my car, despite the fact that I was wearing sunglasses and had the window open only slightly. I have no interest in the gaggle of girls who rang me up, chanting the name of a girl I'd embarrassed myself with. I'm not interested in even contemplating the motives of the kids at school who used to interrupt my toilet visits by trying to knock down the door, while calling out what I was up to in there (not that it should have been surprising to them what one might do in a toilet cubicle). To all those who have poked me, knocked me down, taken the mickey, found out my innermost thoughts and lampooned them, bitten my head off, and otherwise abused me, I say this: It doesn't matter! None of it matters.
Perhaps you're unconvinced. Perhaps you think that my enumeration of woes shows a definite lack of having put the past behind me. Well, read the statements, consider how silly they are. Each act may have seemed the end of the world at the time (with the exception of the room full of giggling girls, whose joke I understood at the time, despite being the butt of it). Today, however, I almost look back fondly on the stories. I am not trivialising bullying itself - I'm clear on that, bullying of any sort is wrong. However, it's amusing that these people all managed to show themselves up when acting as they did, in the mistaken belief that I would suffer and they would be made to feel or look better after.
I cannot say why I don't care now. Perhaps there are times yet to come when I will care about pressures that other people exert on me. For now, however, I feel happy to put the past behind me. Anyone who thinks that they made themselves feel better or look better at my expense can have their superficial reward, with my compliments. What's life about if you take yourself too seriously?
As a case in point, I found myself dancing fairly unselfconsciously at our recent office party. No doubt I will feel a little less uninhibited when I see the photos of my behaviour in the cold light of day. However, for the time being, I feel good about how the party went. I don't think my freedom of movement on the dance floor was fuelled by the courage brought on by alcohol. I think that I realised that I had nothing to lose by going out there. Everyone else looked stupid and I reckoned that nobody could really complain if I also looked stupid. The alcohol played its part, because at one stage I think I genuinely believed that I knew how to dance, or that I was even dancing all the right moves, or in time. However, I know, deep down, how silly it must have looked, and I don't give a toss!
Actually, I wonder if those people around knew how embarrassing it could all have been for me. My shirt seemed to get displaced by the rapid movement of my enlarged stomach, and I had to keep tucking it in on the hop. Hopefully most people will have seen me with my fingers plunged into my belt-line (actually tucking in the shirt) and assumed I was doing some bizarre country and western hoe-down type of dance. My only regret is that I accidentally gave a whack to one of my fellow partiers and probably stood on a few toes in my size elevens. I hope I was forgiven.
Perhaps I can end with this advice to bullies and the vain.
Dance as if you know that nobody is watching, and watch your step; it's rarely a good idea to step on anyone.
12 December 2001