The traits I want to illustrate today are twofold: the way we give what people say a more literal interpretation than what others do, and two? The fact that we do not naturally learn correct social behaviour from observing others.
My parents knew they had a problem child in me. Their solutions for me were rote. Whenever I’d set on a course they deemed foolish, like when I wanted to shave my legs or tint my hair, because the other girls were doing it, my parents had a standard response:
I suppose if all the other girls jumped off a cliff, you would, too?
Of course I wouldn’t, I’d reply, stung by the stupidity of the suggestion.
I took this saying quite literally to mean that I was not supposed to copy the behaviour of my peers.
I took it to mean that individuality was an important factor in people’s assessment of each other.
Which made sense when you thought about because it also ensured the preservation of the species. I mean, who knows what would happen to the population if herds of stupid teenage girls were always plunging off cliffs.
Not that I thought they were, but sadly I never paused to reflect that actually herds of teenagers, male or female, running lemming-like toward the ultimate plunge was an idiomatic warning meant to be directed at particularly dangerous behaviours. I think partly what confused me was that what I wanted to do was more normal than dangerous.
I didn’t realize back then, as I do now, that the only real danger in tinting my hair or shaving my legs was the fact that it would cost the parents money which they couldn’t afford.
Not to mention the fear that no-one knew what colour Margaret Jean’s hair would end up. In an era when strawberry blonde was a shocker, this was a real concern.
It wasn’t until I was very much older that I learned to watch how others responded to each other and the community at large. And copy their behaviours. Not their words, necessarily, but their timing and attentiveness. And so far? I haven’t found myself heading toward any cliffs.