They don’t do the right thing, but it’s alright. They don’t play by the rules, and no one seems to care. The rules that I thought were established and applied to everyone appear to be flexible. I never considered bending the rules to suit my own needs. If I ever came close, I would either refrain entirely or go full-on and break the rule (and hope that the consequence is bareable). But there WAS a consequence! And knowing that consequences exist is usually deterrent enough for me. My experiences and beliefs reinforce this.
Before I became a probation officer, I used to process referrals for a Youth Services Consortium. I treated it like a paid internship. I was a program coordinator. The big title was deceptive. I was a pencil pusher, but it gave me preliminary exposure to the juvenile justice system. The most common and consistent question that I asked in a intake interview was whether the client demonstrated evidence of anti-social/pro-criminal behavior. But before I could ask the question, I needed to understand it. Was anti-social behavior akin to criminal intent? In most cases the client, their parent, or the referring agency didn’t much care (as long we could find services that addressed the problem). But I needed to know for my own edification. For all I knew, the questions that I am asking could also reveal something about myself. This may be the first time in my professional career that I spawned an ounce of empathy. It became a personal endeavor. Empathy is what distinguishes the social workers from the law enforcers–and a law enforcer, I could never be.
I began to take a deeper look at the problem, the key characters, and the possible solutions. I concerned myself with positive change, and I knew that I could play a key role in the solution. I began copying affirmations like “Be the change”or “if you’re not a part of the solution, you are part of the problem!” There were so many problems though. I resisted contributing to “the problem.” In the years to come I would seek solutions–a never-ending task.
“In everybody’s life there’s a point of no return. And in a very few cases, a point where you can’t go forward anymore. And when we reach that point, all we can do is quietly accept the fact. That’s how we survive.”
― Haruki Murakami,
Subsequent jobs gave me ample exposures to “anti-social” behavior–all having ramifications for lots of unintended victims. I began to look at the bigger picture. My perspective was far enough removed that I could witness the impact that one person’s behavior can have on their family, their friends, and the innocent bystanders caught in the wake of destruction. If I could glean anything from these experiences, one thing is certain. I must do everything in my power to ensure I don’t cause damage to someone else’s life. My impact must be positive!
Applying this mantra to other aspects of my life is not an easy task. After all, my effectiveness in my career is met with praise, promotion, and positive reinforcement. My clients/customers/students respond well to empathy. Surely someone else could show them that they are worthy, but who else is taking the time to show them how to improve their outcomes? Hopefully, “the village effect” will kick in. It takes more than just one or two people in the lives of a children to raise them up to reach their full potential. For that matter, it takes a village to ensure that every member of the community has what they need to survive and thrive.
The helpers in the community rarely sing their own praises. The heroes are often unsung. But we are not always in the company of heroes. There are the others–the constants. The constants in our lives are humbly supporting us, dangerously enabling us, or destructively criticizing us.
The constants represent the 99%. They are everywhere! The business executive honking his horn in the car behind you; the grocery clerk who ignores you as she mindlessly scans each coupon; or the boss at work (whose demands far outnumber her ability to model positive results). We are surrounded by the mundane. We embrace mediocrity because excellence occurs too seldom. We convince ourselves that it could be worse. If not for the occasional insistence that we demand more for ourselves, we too would be apart of the 99%.
It’s usually the passion that drives us. The love beyond ourselves (and the hope that we can make the world a better place for our loved ones) is what keeps us from sinking into a world of lethargy.
We will fight for our freedoms and privileges, and we care nothing for those who break the rules, those who ignore the general welfare, or for those who oppress the masses. When it is us that are on the receiving end of a bullet, we fight. When our entitlements are infringed upon, we rise up. Hurt feelings, diminished health, or impoverished conditions–these are the things that sink us or force us to swim. Most times we just tread water.
That’s a pretty vast array of triggers. Hurt feelings? It’s not a lie. The moment someone gets offended, there’s fisticuffs, yelling, screaming, marches and protests. Turn on the nightly news! There’s an entire culture comprised of correcting the injustices. And it’s our culture! Entitlement! To some degree, entitlement is not such a bad thing. We must be mindful that others are entitled to the same freedoms and rights as well. We mustn’t overlook the importance of others. When we take on these problems, we can not ignore the larger picture. Perspective and procedure…if we don’t see it, how can we proceed towards a solution?
I am the 1%. I will not be moved by the masses. I will care but refuse to abandon reason. I will react. But I won’t over-react. I will make a difference because the status quo is not acceptable. I refuse to approach the problem the same way that the 99% insist. There is another way!
“It’s not what happens to you that matters. It’s how you respond to what happens to you that makes a difference.”- Zig Ziglar