Today as I drove my children to Target listening to Pandora, one of our family’s favorite songs played: ” They ,” by Jem. When my kids were young we had the CD, and as toddlers they would request the song by articulating its baseline: “Play ‘Ba-Ba-Dum.”
It had been awhile since I heard the song, and I was struck anew by the lyrics:
“Who made up all the rules/ We follow them like fools
Believe them to be true/ Don’t care to think them through
And I’m sorry so sorry/ I’m sorry it’s like this
I’m sorry so sorry/ I’m sorry we do this
And it’s ironic too/ Coz what we tend to do
Is act on what they say/ And then it is that way”
In class we talk about how communication begins with the self. Each of us has a self-concept: an idea of who we are. That self-concept is built from a variety of sources including our upbringing and environment, our peers, and our self-talk (which are all filled with “rules”), and it influences the way we communicate.
Our self-concept is greatly influenced by our culture—the time, place and people we live in. Our culture sets standards for what is admirable, desired and best, and we (often unconsciously) measure ourselves against them. When we achieve these standards we feel good. When we don’t, we feel badly.
Some of these standards are obvious to us. If we grew up being told we will go to college, that expectation is clear. We go to college and YAY! We have achieved the goal! But some of these teachings are less obvious: everyone in our neighborhood drives mid-priced, newer cars and keeps them clean and shiny. No one says this is a “standard,” yet the majority do this. When our decades old car is covered in bug remains and dirt, has a dented front panel and is covered in pine sap, we feel like losers, like we aren’t good enough.
There are a lot of rules. I’m pretty structured and was raised to be a rule-follower. But sometimes I get sick of the rules. Jem’s lyrics resonate with me. Who does make up these rules?! And dog-gone it… I’m creating my own reality by following them. Does this serve me?
As a middle-aged instructor (and by nature a critical theorist), I work to pause periodically and question whose rules I am currently holding myself to. A person can make themselves miserable trying to live up to the teachings we received from our parents, teachers, peer groups, society, etc.
We owe it to ourselves to be brave, to question whether the rules we are living by really serve us or society. Standards are good, but not when they make beat us up emotionally. When you feel like you just can’t measure up, I encourage you to pause and consider what standard you have set before yourself. Decide consciously whether that standard serves you. If it doesn’t, let it go. We can choose who and what we want to be—and that person is ever changing. Don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise.