Whether a person likes to admit it, humans naturally lean toward learning everything from someone else. It’s encoded in our DNA to look around us for examples of how to move and how to act and how to speak. We see the evidence in children. But we delude ourselves into believing that, after that initial rush of learning, we learn very little, and less from others. Oh, sure we learn at school, but we don’t think much about how we continue to learn everything else from everyone around us.
As a parent, it has been important to me, especially after becoming an Atheist, that my children are themselves and learn to think independently. I thought I had been doing a pretty good job of it until B did something basic that I do all the time. It was something new for B. It scared me as I was forced to look at each of my kids and see how they were taking a lot from me.
Children tend to look at the parent or other adults whose gender they identify with for appropriate likes and behaviors. This process is natural and normal. It is more than just social pressure that kept women in the home for centuries. (Whether I like that fact, or not.) It is the rare person who can break out of that example of the parent, and usually only if they have other examples to follow.
And here is where the problem begins….
Because we are looking for examples to model, we tend to set people up as examples. In our conversation, in our teaching, in the preaching, we are given stories about people whose example we *should* follow. From Aesop’s Fables to The Holy Bible to the latest Tony Robbins book, we are given examples that inform us how to act/think/believe if we want to do well, and examples to the converse. We are fed stories on TV, in the movies, and on the stage of how we ought to be or not be. And from all these, we try out these teachings and choose the ones we want and reject those we don’t. It’s the way we’re made.
But is it a good idea?
What I mean is, does it really work?
These examples, whether we like it are not, become to us idols (not in the religious sense). And, if there’s one thing we all should be learning from the #metoo movement, aside from the fact that men have been ruling without opposition for way too long, is that idols are a bad thing to have.
I was forced to face this idea as a result of reading The Only Story. I used to feel, a few years ago, that I honestly could say to people, “Look, if I did it, anyone can.” It frustrated me, at first, that it was obvious I was in a better place so why couldn’t others follow.
School knocked that ridiculous notion out me. One term in Sociology taught me that there is a depth to the decisions that people make that goes beyond what even the person often can understand.
So, when I got to the sad ending of The Only Story, I wasn’t embittered against either of the main characters. I felt so sad for both of them, caught up in a world where a social system that had been in place for millennia essentially doomed them so that an unhappy ending was the best they could achieve.
But I can almost hear the voices of other readers, mostly those who have not lived through a lifetime of abuse, condemning Susan (the main female character). I will admit that her story disturbed me as well, but not because I was looking for a happy ending, but because I realized that abuse will always be a part of my psyche. Those readers who have not lived this life will pull up the myriad of examples they think they have of women who succeeded. Do not put my name on your list.
Abuse is forever. While I am doing better than most victims, it will always affect me. This will be wonderful news to those who did the abuse. They will revel in the knowledge that they will have a negative impact on my life until I die.
Yeah, fuck them.
And, that statement is the only difference between me and the majority of abuse victims. Somewhere in my nature there lies a need to survive that outweighs perfectly reasonable fears. Women who don’t leave, or who don’t succeed after they leave, are entirely justified in their fears. If you haven’t lived it, you can have no idea.
This survival instinct manifested itself in early childhood, with me convincing my brother to take the long way home after school each afternoon so that it could take up to two hours for us to walk the eight blocks from school.
Yeah, I had this “fuck you” attitude toward the assholes long before I got to a place where I could physically remove myself permanently from the abuse.
Most people don’t have that. But, understanding Sociology and Evolution the way I do now, I do not fault them. It’s not completely their fault.
So, don’t judge them. And, for god’s sake, don’t make a positive example out of people like me, because you have no idea the daily struggle I go through to achieve what little I do.