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Saturday, 17 October 2015

Learned Behavior (On Insecurity pt3)

This is the third part of a series of blog posts on insecurity. Each one will have a different theme.

As anyone who is anyone will be able to tell you - in Bowling For Soup's opinion, High School Never Ends.

How right are they?

I'm sure everyone I know either believes, or has been told, that school is the best days of one's life. Certain parts of it are awesome, sure - not paying bills is a wonderful thing, or worrying about work. Certainly things were easier on that side of the scale.

Mentally though? Emotionally, spiritually? Well, I suppose I can only speak for myself - but high school was never an environment in which I did remarkably well. The actual learning, the academics, that was just fine. People skills, though? Not being basically completely mental? Yeah, that fell down on me pretty hard.

I was in high school between 13 and 18. That school now deals with kids that are 11-18. This period in someone's life is...well...let's just say chemically difficult. You are pretty much at the mercy of a lot of hormones, a lot of brain chemistry, and a lot of alterations in one's physiology. That in itself is a difficult environment to exist in.

Then we add the tribal mentality that seems to exist. There's us and them - lots of different thems, sometimes a couple of different uses. It's our first taste of semi-adult sociology, and we come into this environment loaded with brains like chemical bombs.

The culture of school, of education, of being the age one is and doing the things one does at that age - it becomes something of a power struggle. Everyone has authority over a schoolkid. The teachers, other parents, other adults; and at a time when self-doubt is enforced upon you by simple virtue of hormonal shift, that lack of control and agency can lead to some pretty harmful mental states. One grasps for power and control wherever they can. Sure, that teacher there has the authority to make you do things and you have to listen - so obviously, if you find a way to "get one over" on that teacher, to express some form of dominance or control, then...well, you're hard pressed not to take it.

That goes double for other kids - because if you push a teacher, or try and bully an adult, there are repercussions. Try it with your peers, though? You will almost certainly get away with it. As evidenced by the fact that bullying is still pretty much widespread to endemic proportions even today, in this enlightened age.

It's a truism oft repeated by the victims of bullying that those doing it only do it because they're insecure. That's probably right. They feel like they aren't in control of their environment, so they strive to take control over part of it - their victim. Power is a stimulant. Once you've had a little of it, you want more, and sometimes you want it more than you want to be a good person.

We've all heard that school is the best years of our lives - have we not also all heard that kids are cruel? Or witnessed that cruelty? They can be assholes - to each other even more so than outsiders. Trust me, I was one, and even though I spend most of my time keeping my head down and avoiding being targeted, I did my fair shair of asshole things.

The thing is, I look at some of the behaviour people demonstrate long after high school, and a lot of it hasn't actually changed that much.

Why would it, in fairness? Sure, we grow up - our tastes change - we pick up responsibilities and learn how to cope with them, we learn hard lessons and have life experiences both good and bad. Our mentality has already been shaped, though; and unshaping it is hard work, sometimes harder than people are willing to work toward.

Xenophobia is a high school behaviour, which develops even earlier than that - as social structures get formed they decide that some things are okay and some things aren't, and anything different or weird is a very obvious target. That can last - that can stick around, especially if unchallenged. Likewise, the power politics of the playground; alphas beating their chests, social climbers belittling others, unspoken rules being set and those who don't follow them being mocked. Now what I've just described could happen anywhere at any age after middle school. Admit it: you've been in places like that, or at least heard of them.

We were all in a state of constant insecurity once. We learned some lessons that hurt a hell of a lot, and we picked up some habits that don't help us very much in adult life. It's hard to break a habit. Trust me, I know.

If only we could recognise it in ourselves and do something constructive about it...maybe we'd all be a little happier.

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