I, like so many other young women out there, was conditioned to believe at a young age that ‘go along to get along’ is the key to great social relations. As an adult, I’ve discovered that it leaves me intensely vulnerable to the will of others, often to my detriment. When you believe that it’s not your place to cause ripples, you don’t question intent, or whose best interest is really being served. It becomes about what the other person wants.
I suspect, at its core, it’s rooted in desire for acceptance. My observation, of myself and those close to me, is that is the conventional thing to do too often doesn’t go questioned. It’s simply The Way It’s Always Been Done and whether you agree or not, it’s easier to capitulate and pretend it’s what you really wanted all along. Doing what everyone else is doing earns approval, and thus your own uneasiness, reservations or discomfort don’t get to factor in because everyone else’s opinion is weighed as more important.
If I’m perfectly honest with myself, this is why I’m married today. At that stage of my life, it was just what you did. Now, several years later, it’s one of the many things I’ve reexamined and questioned. I reached the firm conviction that a couple can be just as committed without that piece of paper and have developed serious problems with marriage as an institution. I do not doubt that my partner and I would be together today if we had chosen differently. Instead, I doubt that the marriage certificate and all the sociocultural baggage that goes with it was the best choice for me or for us.
But I digress.
Ever read the “Children Learn What They Live” poem? My mother had a framed copy up throughout my early childhood. In many respects, she took it to heart and managed to break the cycles that shaped her own life. Nevertheless, there are numerous things it doesn’t cover that I’m certain she never intended to pass on. ‘Go along to get along’ was one of them. Through her example, I learned at an early age that if the person I was talking to adopted a strong stance, I should cave and imply that I agreed. It was easier than risking anger or disapproval – often hers. This was part of my ‘good girl’ camouflage; I had internalized that not expressing strong opinions of my own would make it easier to lay low. I stunted my ability to articulate my beliefs in the process, further convincing me that I didn’t have much worthwhile to say. This only made the conflict bitterer when, after I finished high school, my needs and beliefs began to substantially diverge from my parents’ idea of who I should be. Our relationship, already shaky, never recovered from my one major act of rebellion: moving out.
Even once I had claimed some adult independence, I continued to misrepresent myself, or even outright lie, in social situations for the sake of peace. It ultimately resulted in the worst screw-up I’ve made in my relationship with my partner. My social chameleon act led someone to believe I had agreed to something neither I or my partner was in truth comfortable with me doing, with spectacular fallout. He and I recovered from it, but it was a rude and much-needed shock to me. It’s only been recently that I’ve even recognized my degree of fault in that incident, and how my reflex for social passivity played a significant part in it.
Why now, so long after the fact? The last several years have been a time of reflection for me, and the process has accelerated since I decided to wrest back some control over my life and committed to my Masters degree. Retrospect clearly shows how much of a negative drain the urge to go along has been on my life. It’s a mentality I’m now working hard to shake. If the end result makes me come off as more confrontational and less agreeable, so be it. Why should holding well-supported opinions and convictions be a bad thing in the first place? It’s miles better than letting myself get steamrolled or pushed into things I’m not comfortable with. Going along may be superficially peaceful, but it doesn’t help in the least when you diverge on the things that matter.
I’m grateful for the convergence of people, resources and ideas in my life that have enabled me to question both society at large and my own attitudes and beliefs. It’s led to some interesting places, and I have a far stronger ability to articulate my thoughts on the things important to me as a consequence.
Best of all? I’ve learned that ‘opinionated’ does not automatically equate ‘hostile’ or ‘argumentative’, and that being passionate about something is one of the best ways to tease out why it’s worth getting worked up about in the first place.