We’re not just ‘rebels’

In my last post, I talked about why I don’t trust authority.

Many people like me who were raised in controlling environments tend to not get along with authority outside that context, breeding difficulties in maintaining employment and interacting within society.

But the older generations often discount why we’d react this way.

“You’re just a rebel. Someday you’ll grow up.”

“I guess your parents didn’t beat you enough. Nobody ever taught you respect.”

They don’t recognize that 20 somethings like us have negative experiences with authority figures.

What about children who were beaten by their parents, teenagers molested by youth group leaders? What about those of us convinced early on that we must kill any strong desires as worldly and evil and focus obsessively on self-sacrifice in preparation for our eventual martyrdom?

We’re not deviant just because. Usually we were wounded by someone who misused their power.

I’m able to balance my rebellion through boycotting video cards and candy bars. I find harmless, unusual outlets in which to be deviant. But society views my friends who deviate in larger ways as dysfunctional.

I’m not that different from them. I just happen to have a job and they don’t. But we feel the same way about authority.

Here’s some ways I think authority figures can be fair and ethical in dealing with people like us:

1.) Don’t make excessive rules or rules with discrepancies.

This is just asking for rebellion.

Like the student handbooks at Bob Jones University or Pensacola Christian College. They’re so exacting.

If you’re going to have policies like this:

“BJU takes a conservative approach to music. While students are at the University, our goal is to teach them to appreciate music that is spiritually edifying and culturally valuable. For the BJU student this precludes most of the music of our popular culture including rock, rap, jazz and country, as well as religious music that borrows from these styles. It also precludes any music that uses a discernible rock beat regardless of the style. In order to develop their spiritual and aesthetic discernment, BJU encourages students to listen to classical and light classical music and traditional sacred music. There is also a spectrum of music that falls outside light classical and traditional sacred music that is acceptable to listen to.” (p. 29)

Of course you’re also going to have to enforce them like this:

“BJU students are to listen to and bring to campus only music that meets our community standards. In addition, each member of the BJU family should carefully monitor music in movies, computer games, television programs, commercials, Internet sites, cell phone ringers, etc. To ensure personal accountability, students are not to listen to music with headphones. Students may use headphones in the residence hall study lounge for academic purposes, and resident supervisors may approve individual requests to use headphones for independent learning courses.” (pp. 29-30, 2011-2012 version)

BJU also bans several other extremely specific offenses like wearing Abercrombie & Fitch or Hollister clothing, because of the brands’ “unusual degree of antagonism to Biblical morality,” (p. 33), and necklines lower than four finger widths below your collarbone, for modesty reasons (p. 32).

Similar themes surface in The Student Voice’s satirical Things You Won’t Do at PCC, which lists arbitrary items such as “own a fish” and “play a harmonica.”

Peter Gage, who published the Student Voice, the “underground” newsletter that sought to expose PCC’s flaws in the early 2000s, was sued by PCC for cybersquatting in 2013.

Because we grew up in home environments with their own specific rules, we used the rules to protect ourselves. That’s why discrepancies bother us, because then the authority becomes unpredictable. It’s survival instincts.

One company I worked for intentionally hid dress codes so the HR department could fire employees violating rules that were never properly explained.

When guidelines in the workplace are contradictory, I get panicky, waiting for unexpected punishment.

2.) Don’t invent punishments intended to harm. Consequences should seem natural.

Many fundamentalist parents will say, “I make my kid pull their jeans down, because if I spank them through their pants, it doesn’t hurt enough.” Or “The diaper is too much padding. They won’t remember what they did wrong unless it stings.” Or “My child talked back, so they lost their favorite doll / book. I had to find some way to get their attention.”

This strange idea circulates that the consequences have to be harsh, and it should hurt the child. I thought society frowned on cruel and unusual punishments. Also, the rest of the world doesn’t operate this way, as we found after childhood. But it still feels like it does.

After my last post, my friend Kathleen asked me how I thought parents should raise children.

I’d say they shouldn’t invent punishments that crush the child’s spirit, either physically or emotionally. Consequences should be preparation for adult responsiblity, not calculated to inflict pain.

Children learn by doing.

You can tell them to pick up their toys so the dog doesn’t destroy them, but if they don’t listen and the dog shreds them, you don’t punish the child or the dog. And you can remind them not to walk in front of swings, but, unfortunately, they may have to get bonked in the head a couple of times.

I don’t think sheltering kids from these experiences is the answer. It’s just inhibiting their individual growth. The parents, seeking to protect the child from scraped knees, inflicts different wounds.

If I get to be a mom, I want to be their healer and guide, not their aggressor.

3) Allow for communication about the rules and how power is exercised.

My friend Shelby, who is a sociology grad student, developed a scale for my paranoia.

Source: fs.usda.gov

Source: fs.usda.gov

1 = Everything’s cool; not liking the cameras at work, but otherwise cool; using video card freely; perhaps reading or beading between calls; browsing Internet sometimes; training the dictation program profile intermittently; still using instant messenger.

2 = Not so cool; really avoiding cameras at work; may use video card, but does so reluctantly and wants to hide it from supervisors; more likely to read/bead between calls than browse Internet; training dictation profile more frequently (such as reading from book); still using instant messenger.

3 = Much less cool; definitely suspicious of cameras at work; may use video card, but does so reluctantly and wants to hide it from supervisors (more likely to train dictation profile using the video as well); much more likely to read/bead between calls than to browse Internet; training profile exuberantly; still using instant messenger.

4 = Definitely not cool; very suspicious of cameras at work; not using video card; may read/bead between calls, but only if also training dictation profile; not using Internet for anything unrelated to work; training profile vigorously; still using instant messenger.

5 = Very anxious and jumpy; not using Internet for anything unrelated to work; not using instant messenger for anything unrelated to work; training dictation profile obsessively between calls.

It’s useful, because she can ask me how anxious I am on any given day, and I can give her a number, like 3.5.

I can report my paranoia like the local news reports the daily fire danger during the summer. This helps me communicate how I feel, how rational I am that day. It’s amusing, but I also become more self-aware.

Also, if authority figures are open to negotiation about the rules, I feel safer.

Homeschool alumni blogger Libby Anne wrote last month about how she’s more flexible with her children than her parents were. She explains:

“Growing up, my parents were very firm that “no” meant “no.” If we begged or tried to get them to change their minds, we would get in trouble. That was disobedience. More than that, they thought that if they were to “give in” to begging after already saying no, they would be allowing us children to rule them and would lose control of the family. So not only were we not allowed to beg, they also didn’t allow themselves to change their minds. That would have been showing weakness.

And she points out that treating children this way isn’t a good model for adult relationships, with several examples, and concludes:

“My children and I exist in relationship with each other…. Yes, my children are young and in need of guidance and teaching. But part of that guidance and teaching is helping them learn to master things like compromise and negotiation.”

I relax and begin to trust authority again when they consider what I want and need, and are open to compromise.

We won’t remain rebels if we feel we are treated fairly.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “We’re not just ‘rebels’

  1. Laurie Works says:

    I have authority issues, but I think I’ve reacted differently about them. My parents were weird with discipline and completely inconsistent. I talked to my therapist about it last week, and she said it sounds like growing up, I had to raise myself. The result was that I have a super critical inner voice, and then I have the flipside, the unengaged, dissociated side. So I’m either hyper aware and doing everything perfectly, or checked out and not caring. It’s annoying and hard to change. And I don’t know which side annoys me more. The inner critic is honestly terrifying. I would do anything to avoid the fear she provokes in me. I often have. I can be the person who follows the rules to the letter, if I’m anxious enough about the situation.
    Actually I think working at my job I’ve learned a lot, because I know I can discuss things if I need to, and managers have never come down super hard on me even when I’ve self admitted mistakes (like walking away with client up – TWICE). I think it’s because they know I’m hard on myself already. But it’s taught me to be less hard on myself.
    I love that you’re writing about this stuff though. It helps me understand myself, too. The obsessiveness and anxiety seems to be a common trait among former homeschoolers – like I said Saturday, mine comes out in obsessive Googling. I can tell how anxious I am by the amount of articles I’ve read in one day (if it’s a bad day, I’ll have read 10 or more). They serve as my guidelines to how I behave, which is why I think I do it.

    Like

    • Eleanor Skelton says:

      This is actually really interesting to compare notes ^^

      I also have an inner critic who isn’t very nice. It surfaces mostly in academic settings, because my parents were always telling me my ADHD would make me flunk out of college, they’d been telling me this since middle school. This was why I ended up sobbing in my English professor’s office freshman year because I thought I bombed an exam and would never get into dental school.

      The extremes you mentioned, the hypercriticism or the complete lack of motivation, is also a tendency I have. However, very bad things happened if I didn’t care…so I learned to squash that side, which means I swing between workaholic and neglecting self-care to anxiety about working at a normal pace instead of being a workaholic and finding the most innocuous ways possible to be rebellious.

      I think I ended up choosing really strange ways to “rebel” instead of the not-caring side, because my parents’ methods were…harsh, unpredictable, and erratic. Watching a movie / reading a book might be fine one day and the next, Dad would take it away because it was not Christian enough, or not productive, or something he’d arbitrarily decided.

      So choosing odd methods to defy them was…my only way of getting back? And it was something they had a hard time punishing.

      But taking the time to think about it, formulate my exact reasons into words instead of abstract emotional reactions, really helped me feel less like this:

      Like

  2. E-Defy says:

    You’re great at writing succinct explanations. I understand why you’ve reacted to excessive rules and discrepancies the way that you have, especially at work. After all, the disciplinary methods you experienced as a kid didn’t give you much reason to trust authority. You didn’t feel like you could communicate with authority figures or ask them questions about their rules or methods.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s