mental health

Primates Versus Bovines

Only dead fish go with the flow.


Tell me if you’ve heard this before, “If [insert name here] jumped off a bridge, would you jump off, too?” You don’t get your parenting license unless you’re capable of uttering that question 1) with a straight face, and 2) with complete conviction behind the words. There might be a tiny bit of variation depending on background, level of frustration of the parent at the time, and whatever shenanigan you were trying to attempt, but the overall message is the same: you aren’t supposed to do something just because someone else decided it was a brilliant idea.

And I applaud that reasoning (no matter how many times I rolled my eyes in response to my own parental units); I agree completely that following someone else’s idiotic plan isn’t a great idea. Too many of the world’s problems can be traced back to people following behind other people without hesitation (again, I promise I’m not about to turn this blog into a discussion of politics – I’m just making a general point). As we get older, we seem to forget that old parental warning and heave ourselves off the bridge without a second thought.

Or is that the case?

Sure, there are people who jump without thinking; we all know suites of idiots in the world. In reality, though, there’s an underhanded conditioning going on that subverts the parental adage. (Remember, Be Anyone But Yourself? Same kind of idea.) Role models encourage you to be independent, to stand up, to not be a lemming…and then they do everything in their power to get you back into the herd. where they want you. It’s subtle, but it’s sick, and a lot of people don’t realize it’s going on; after all, they’re telling you to be yourself, to speak up, to be unique. The problem is, even though they’re saying that, they’re subverting their own words in favor of advancing herd mentality.

Now, does any of THIS sound familiar: being told not to raise your hand so often because you’re showing off/making others feel bad (or stupid or less or some other negative descriptor); having someone tell you you’re too loud/too opinionated/too controversial; hearing that you need to learn to accept that people aren’t like you; constantly being asked to sit down/step aside/move aside/let someone else speak (even when no one else has said anything); or having someone inform you that, unless you get in line with [insert name here]’s standards, you will never be successful. They are steering you back into the herd, trying to get you into back into the fold, and away from your oh-so-dangerous independent streak. The subtle look if disappointment seals the deal, twisting you back into the fold.


Why are they trying to get us away from what our parents started so long ago? Did they forget that our heritage of evolution came from primates, not herd animals? Well, maybe (we won’t get into religion here), but the truth is, herd animals are easy to control; primates, not so much. They can’t spout control rhetoric, though; that’s a guaranteed way to chase people off. So, instead, they adopt the crocodile routine and give you sweet sentiment and snap your arm off when you dare to step out of line. And it works – that’s the crazy thing. The way these people speak, the way they look at you – it stabs straight through you, making you stop and question yourself. Even if part of you knows they’re wrong, you still hesitate, and that’s how they win those tiny victories. It’s a conditioned response to want to please (unhappily, that is in our primate heritage), even as we clamor for our independence. And it’s so hard to break that habit.

How do you get out of the herd, then? You wince, knowing that you’re going to battle someone who is going to make you feel like shit for being who you are, or doing what you believe is right. You brace for the cold of being out in the world by yourself (but, honestly, you were probably already happy out there in the first place). And then you rely on sound parental advice: are you willing to jump off that bridge?

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