Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

A Heritage of Wishy-Washy

As a high school senior changing cities, I nervously entered what would become my alma mater two weeks late. My advisor told me in spite of my academic record I couldn’t be placed in honors classes (they carried more points) since I hadn’t proven myself in HER school. Naturally, I wouldn’t be able to sustain my entry position as valedictorian. I accepted my fate, thinking the kids in the regular classes were probably more fun, anyway. I had already been accosted in the hallway by some girl who was, apparently, the former candidate; she shrieked at me that I didn’t deserve to displace her. I was content to avoid attracting any additional ill will. I didn’t realize I was establishing a pattern of retreat into the shadows.

If you look at history, you see only a few people lauded as leaders—although many people who filled leadership roles were never recognized. Circumstances such as social class, culture, economics, and—yes—gender relegated most of our ancestors to subordinate positions. And what are subordinates supposed to do? Please whoever controls the resources, of course. You observe your superior with wary eyes, learning what will curry favor or at least prevent discord, and then you present yourself as the epitome of whatever is needed. In other words, you suck up.

Some of us are better at attracting favor than others. Some make what we once called “brown-nosing” into an art form. Find anyone who wields power, and all around him or her you’ll find a ring of satellites – yes-men anxious to secure a place in the orbit of the powerful/famous/rich sun.

Politics as a career path has earned a miserable reputation at the hands of elected officials who identify colleagues or donors who control power and/or resources and then spend their political careers improving their own fortunes by sucking up. The concepts of statesmanship and responsibility take a beating. (Here I’ll insert my hope that the new candidates seeking election are, indeed, determined to create a better civilization, not merely a stronger political party.)

When I did my best to avoid the limelight for fear of intimidating others, I didn’t mean to allow myself to be “managed,” but I think that word fits. Many people I’ve encountered assert a need for privacy as a reason for not asserting themselves. “I’m too reserved” or “I don’t think it’s my place.” Many should say they’ll do anything to avoid conflict—even though conflict doesn’t have to be ugly and is the richest path to fresh understanding and new ideas. They prefer to be managed.

Recently, a friend gifted me with a horoscope reading that described my previous lives as being ones of subordination. In the past, she claimed, I acted as a lieutenant or hidden power behind men in authority. I wish her description didn’t feel so comfortable. I think many women have been raised to believe our highest calling lies in how we serve men (cited as “family” by kinder voices). We forget that serving family also means stepping out of the shadows to fight for family and country and the values we hold dear.

Being female is certainly not a necessary precursor to letting others step on you. Men—especially sensitive men—have often let other men with louder, harsher voices bully them into subordination. But leadership isn’t a job best held by bullies. They make lousy, selfish, often childish leaders.

I’ve finally learned you don’t have to have followers to stand up for yourself. Standing up isn’t shameful pridefulness, as my one grandmother believed. It’s a way to honor the gifts you were given. All you need to succeed is self-respect and enough stubbornness and smarts not to swallow the same old scams. You already know what the alternative looks like. What’s the old saying? “If you aren’t the lead dog, the view never changes.”

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