When my youngest daughter was in middle school, we got into a discussion about embarrassing situations we’d each lived through. As we talked, we soon realized that each of us set the bar very differently when measuring the humiliation factor in various situations. From that discussion grew a game we liked to play on our walks together, which we called What Price Dignity?
We presented each other with scenarios with the potential for extreme embarrassment. Then we determined the price we would require before enacting them. The catch was that you could never explain to anyone that the bizarre behavior you exhibited was the result of a bet. Instead, you’d have to live with whatever skewed opinion of you people might have after the incident.
For instance, I might ask her how much money it would take for her to approach her secret crush Kyle Caldecott (names have been changed to protect the dignity of all involved) in the lunch room and say, “You’re the cutest boy in 7th grade.” Her price was $1,000. Mine for the same task was 0.
On the other hand, she might pose a scenario for me that involved breaking into an energetic solo song and dance down the grocery store aisle on a busy Friday night, then simply resuming my shopping with no comment. (As a side note, I have some amazing dance moves to Martha and the Vandellas Heat Wave, but that’s a subject for another post—or perhaps not.)
My price for humiliation in a public place with no possibility of a mitigating explanation was $1,000. My daughter’s for the same action in front of the same audience was $10. While we enjoyed making each other laugh as we upped the ante with increasingly outrageous challenges, the game also gave us a chance to think about the degree to which we live our lives dependent on the opinions of others.
It’s quite natural as an adolescent to crave acceptance from our peers as we take the first tentative steps toward adulthood and away from the security of our family. But even as adults, most of us fall prey at times to our inner critic’s version of the question: What would the neighbors think?
We want to be liked, admired, accepted. We think the way to achieve that is to conform to the norm—whatever that seems to be. We’re afraid to look foolish, to say the wrong thing, to make a mistake. So, we don’t express how we really feel—or who we really are. I’m not advocating total disregard for the conventions of polite society. I’m just saying that our quirky, creative, even contrary impulses are what make us unique. If we never let them out, we never know where they might take us, or what kindred spirits we might find.
If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away.~ Henry David Thoreau