Social Icons

Monday, 7 May 2012


Growing up in a time when the mantra was any child could be anything they wanted to be, I once thought I wanted to be a journalist.  I am now grateful this did not happen for many reasons, nevertheless I was 15-years-old, extraordinarily naive about the way the world worked, and believed like many kids that I could make a difference in the world.  My first true lesson in life was "it is not what you know, but who you know that matters."  Despite my aptitude and near-perfect grades, I was not allowed to take the journalism class where I would be able to write for the school paper.  You needed a reference from a teacher, and I had just transferred to a new school where nobody knew me at all.  There was nothing I could do about it no matter how much I pleaded.  I couldn't even take the class the following year, because it was only available for students in my year; I would be too old and therefore I had missed the only window of opportunity I had had.  I even tried to get into the photography class -- thinking that if I couldn't write, then perhaps I could take photos for the paper. The old back door approach. Alas, there was no room for another student in that class. As an unintended penalty for moving to a new place and starting the school year mid-term, I was unable to be anything I wanted to be, at least whilst in school.

There was, however, a dim ray of light that filtered through the keyhole of the closed doors I had faced then. A television productions and news class had an opening (it was a strange school that I went to).  I had missed the first two months, but the teacher agreed to take me on provided that I made up all of the work they had already done on my own, without his help.  I accepted this and signed on for the class.  The make-up work was not difficult. I had been given a month to complete it, and I completed it in less than two weeks with perfect marks. 

As the course progressed I had become adept at editing videotape, using television cameras, filming with remote cameras, being a technical director in the booth and using the board to switch between cameras, interviewing, and writing the script for the morning news programme.  The teacher often praised my classwork, and sometimes even held it up as a model for others to follow, which in retrospect did me no favours at all. But there was a problem.  I was still the unknown new kid even after six months, the upstart, and I again learnt that it isn't what you know, or even how good you are, but who you know.

Like the kid who always gets picked last for team sports, I found myself on the sidelines of the game most of the time, which was strange to me because in my previous school I was usually picked first for everything. Every week our teacher would choose the same four or five students (his clear favourites) as project group leaders and those students would then choose others to be on their teams.  It was a popularity contest. It was friends choosing friends and it had nothing at all to do with ability or skill. And because I didn't grow up with these kids and hadn't had time to form bonds with them, I usually got put on a team by sheer dint of being the last remaining student.  It wasn't fair, but I was learning that life is never fair. My naivete about how life worked had been supplanted by the cold, hard facts of reality. It is who you know that matters.

None of this got me down. I was a hopeful optimist in my teens.  I had fell in with a small circle of friends and acquaintances that were also relative outcasts like me.  We weren't even a clique, we just accepted each other for who we were and spent a little time together when we could. All of us moved freely between the various social cliques and groups, forming brief relationships with the cool kids, the geeks and nerds, the sporty jocks, the rich kids, the poor kids, without really being a part of them. We were not hated or despised. We were simply invisible to others for most of the time. We existed in obscurity, free to be ourselves and unchained from the restrictions of fitting in to be popular.  I would say that we had integrity.  We didn't pander to anyone, which of course means you pay a steep social price for it.  Still, it was only school, it didn't really matter, and once we grew up and were adults it would all change.  I knew it to be true.

I was very wrong.

I discovered fairly early on in adulthood that adults are often worse than schoolchildren. I mean, you only need to watch the prime minister's questions for fewer than ten minutes to see what I mean.  You only need to spend a few days in the office workplace to understand that the same rules apply there as they did for us in school.  Much later, perhaps in my late 20s, it occurred to me that perhaps school was meant to train you to be vicious and unsympathetic in the adult world, and less about teaching you maths, history, and sciences. If so, I had utterly failed to learn this lesson, and because I had chosen my own path of individuality, honesty and integrity, I found myself in precisely the same situations I had experienced as a teenager. An outcast amongst my peers.  It's not what you know, or what you can do, it is who you know, and more importantly as an adult, it is whose arse you are kissing.  If you want to get ahead, you have to play the game. I gotta tell you, I hate the fucking game.

In a social and occupational sense, it does you no good whatsoever to speak your mind honestly and openly. It matters not at all if you're a good, honest person. Political correctness in our time has created at least two generations who are terrified to say what they really think, indeed it has led to some extreme and unfortunate social engineering that has infiltrated every workplace.  Actually, I don't mean to mislead you.  The term "political correctness" is a fairly recent one. The truth is it has always been this way throughout history. Anyone who would dare speak out against the popular beliefs of the age was written off as a miscreant, an agitator, and too often became an outcast, perhaps secretly admired and cherished for their foolish bravery only by a tiny minority. Those who challenged the prevailing view sometimes found themselves imprisoned, or stoned to death, murdered, burned at the stake, or had their livelihood and fortunes stolen from them by governments or religions.  People have always tried to suppress and censor free speech, and they will kill you to do so if we let them.

If I had to guess at why people viciously attack others for their views -- not being a learned sociologist of course -- I would suppose it is because people truly do not want to hear opposing viewpoints nor are they open to the truth.  I've learnt that people generally fear change, particularly cultural changes, which I believe is the reason for so much hate and intolerance in the world. Still, there is another problem.  What is true?  How do we know what is the truth and what isn't?   I propose that the truth is only what we choose to believe.  I'm not talking about scientific laws or things that mathematics can prove.  I'm talking about cultural and societal truths. What is true for one culture is false for another.  A truth for one religion is heresy in another.  So it really comes down to what we choose to believe, or what we are told to believe.  Just because you believe something to be true, doesn't make it true for everyone else.

So the truth for me isn't the same truth for you. I can actually live with that.  It's a shame that so many others are unable to do so and then feel morally obligated to inflict their beliefs on the rest of society.  But this is nothing new. It always has been this way, and it always will be this way.  I have been an outcast almost my entire life, never quite fitting in amongst my peers even though my work was stellar and genuinely appreciated, and I'm destined to remain an outcast if I keep choosing not to play the game.  I have to be true to myself first and foremost.  And you could be forgiven for thinking that this is noble and decent way to live your life, but the truth is for me that it means I will very likely exist in relative obscurity, always on the wheel's periphery and never inside the core.  Which is, to be absolutely fair, how most of us live our lives.

The saying goes, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade."  In point of fact, when life gives you lemons, all you have is fucking lemons if you've got no water or sugar or a carafe to put it all into.  And the currently popular antis have taken away our water and sugar, leaving us with puckered mouths from sucking on our abundance of raw lemons and an empty, cracked carafe for us to gape at in disbelief, knowing it shall not be filled any time soon. Smokers are outcasts, all of us simultaneously ignored and despised by those at the core of the wheel. Drinkers too are with us, though they were here first in some ways. Our chubbier friends are joining us, reluctantly, still trying to slide down the spokes towards the core, but the centrifugal societal forces are forcing them outwards to us nevertheless.  We are all rolling on the fringe, perhaps fearful of each other and afraid to band together, heading towards obliteration in a world obsessed with an ideal of perfection, of living forever and ever in blissful hateful ignorance of the truth.  Perhaps it will come to pass that only those with the right genes (or enough money to buy their way) will be allowed to breed, thereby excluding yet another segment of society that doesn't fit in with the model of perfection.

I am not the same person that I was when I was fifteen. I am more jaded and much wiser than I was then.  I have learnt a great deal about how life works and where I fit into it.  I haven't really changed at all, though. I am very much the same person, an outcast in your world.  Invisible. But now the only differences I see are that I can no longer move freely between the cliques and social coteries, because they have been taught to hate me for my lifestyle choices.