Let me tell you about this stupid thing I do.
When I’m driving at night, if a car coming from the opposite direction has its brights on, I stare intensely into that bright light, destroying my night vision even more than the light already was. Unless I remind myself that this is stupid, I glare into those rude fucking high beams until they’re past.
I used to do this without really being conscious of it, but some time in my twenties, I realized what I was doing. I was fighting the cars for dominance, staring into their eyes, refusing to look away and show weakness.
Of course, the cars — and their drivers — neither knew nor cared that I was clearly the alpha in the situation, and I was only hurting myself. I still catch myself doing this sometimes and it usually cracks me up.
An old friend of mine used to call me on the phone (an endeavor which, historically, already has a statistically insignificant chance of success), and when he reached the answering machine — which I did monitor — he would loudly bark “Tim, pick up!” And my gut response, even if I was standing right by the phone, even if I wanted or needed to talk to him, was NO. Sometimes I would push that reaction away and answer the call. Sometimes I wouldn’t.
Again, I ultimately realized what I was doing, and I told my friend to change his approach, that he had a much better chance of reaching me with a calm “Tim, are you there?” than with a brisk command.
I don’t like being told what to do. I have what is often called “issues with authority.” Though I am willing to humbly and gracefully follow the guidance of someone trying to teach me something or guide me in doing a job, it’s my natural tendency to see us both as equals. I’ll honor hierarchy as much as I need to for practical reasons and no more. If you’re in a position of authority over me, I respect you no more than I do someone in a position under me. I respect you both, until someone earns my disrespect. Once that happens, it’s tough to get back on my good side.
I respect the authority of someone who knows things that I do not. I respect the authority of someone in a leadership position who is ostensibly the boss of me as long as they treat me with respect and make decisions that serve our shared goals.
Years ago, my commander in the Army told me pointblank that I had to respect him because of the bars on his collar. I told him that wasn’t going to happen, that the respect I showed him would be entirely based on the actions of the man inside the uniform.
My First Sergeant, who liked and respected me (and wound up running interference between me and the commander), once said, “Byrd, you’re a damn good soldier except for one thing. When you’re given an order, you think about it, which you’re not supposed to do. And even worse, if you don’t like the order, you ignore it.”
“You’re not the boss of me” could go on my coat of arms as a personal motto. I even used a variation on a bumper sticker I had custom-made to put on my truck when G.W. Bush was [allegedly] president: “You’re not the president of me.”
All of this comes from an essential, primal, animal place in me. I’m mostly self-guided, and I don’t have much will to power. It’s not that I want to be Alpha, it’s that I refuse to be Beta. Sometimes, in gracelessly-run organizations, this can lead to me being Omega, and even banished from the pack.
This is why I tend to run alone.
I’ll return next Wednesday with the letter B. I hope you’ll stop by. I’m a writer and I post about a wide variety of non-alphabet-specific topics. Feel free to comment under my posts. If you want to subscribe to the blog, there’s a button in the sidebar.
For another fun ABC Wednesday post, visit the Carioca Witch here: Bringing Up Salamanders.