Even in this modern era of permissive disparities and pervasive acceptance, many walking among us still walk alone.
In a time where almost everything desirable is practically at our fingertips one might expect that the age-old act of ‘shunning’ has been left in centuries past; alas, and some might prefer the term especially, in today’s world, the act of scorning, spurning, rebuffing or shunning, is still alive and very well indeed.
The problem is that today, where the entire world is essentially connected via satellite allowing our fickle natures to develop to the point where it doesn’t matter how much you treasured something yesterday by tomorrow you’re likely to have become bored with it, it’s become so very easy to cast off whatever, or in fact whomever, has become dull, and readily exchange it, or perhaps them, with the later, more fanciful version of whatever/whomever it/they was/were.
Today’s world is indeed a harsh reality in which to suffer through adolescence and in fact as I glance back it occurs to me, despite the advent of NCEA along with the outlawing of schoolyard bull-rush, life is quite possibly even more demanding for today’s youth than it was when I was a lad.
Certainly prepubescent cliques have more of a discerning exclusivity about them than they ever did; schoolyard hierarchy also seems to hold more authority than it did in my day and of course if one doesn’t conform to this authority or at least abide by its regulations, one could very well find oneself the subject of a poorly shot cellular video on YouTube followed by a brief news article entitled ‘Schoolyard Beating Participated in by Most’.
From as far back as I can remember I have struggled with frightfully low self confidence – I can only imagine how I would go today if thrown in amongst and forced to grow up with the mix of disrespectful reprobates, bumptious scallywags and insolent ragamuffins – fortunately, fifteen or so years ago, I found I could compensate for my lack of genuine esteem with an excess of quick witted humour coupled with a convincing ability to masquerade as ‘one of the boys’…
Fair to say many of today’s youth mightn’t be so lucky: for many the dearth of self esteem which has for years thwarted prosperity and threatened to hold them back in most every aspect of life – for which they just happen to compensate with a technique decidedly less innocuous than disrupting the class with humorous repartee and instead turn to a life of vandalism and/or petty theft to impress their cohort – isn’t so easily masked. These kids aren’t going to respond to the ‘rip, shit, and bust’ philosophy which is no doubt practised, celebrated and dictated by the schoolyard majority; these worrisome souls will likely require extra care and attention, their dissimilarly functioning mentalities will require encouragement and nurture rather than the bombardment of so many of life’s cannonballs.
…It was this aforementioned ability to maintain a charade along with my, always appreciated and never undervalued, natural academic prowess which pulled me through – to project the showcase of class clown while still managing to score among the upper echelons of test rankings was a demanding schedule but one which seemed to, perhaps oddly, endear me to most. Sadly though this pseudo confidence didn’t ever transfer into the authentic variety and in fact the constant verbal thrashings I took from teachers on account of my loutish recalcitrance, only ever drove it further back.
The pressure today for kids to perform in class academically is, I think, thanks largely to parental awareness, less demanding than it was in the ’90s of last century; even so, on any level, it is the constant pressure and fear of failure – which I hear NCEA has done their best to abolish – that can result in a child’s mental, which can quickly progress into physical, insecurity thus instability.
I recall going through high school driven by the fear of failure. It was an unavoidable, ubiquitous presence that hung over me like the smell of pig shit on a nor’ west day on the Plains of Aylesbury. As an adolescent, dealing with such self-imposed terror, being compelled to always push harder lest the fear – the fear of the fear – catch me up, was awful. It was in my stomach every day as I boarded the bus to take me to that place the confident kids referred to as ‘High School’ but I always felt was more aptly described as the ‘Veritable Hellhole’ and, while the fear did dissipate slightly between the hours of 3 and 8 p.m., probably on account of the comfort offered by food, by bedtime the dread of what the next day might bring, along with all the schoolwork that needed to be finished, reports that were almost due and tests that were soon to come, was again on the rise.
It was a silly fear and I can appreciate that now. Having completed school to an amply sufficient level I can now see there was really never any need to worry – whatever the workload or whatever the time constraints, I would always manage to pull through satisfactorily. In fact the only thing my fear ever accomplished was a needless increase in the speed, hence untidiness thus teacher dissatisfaction, with which said work was completed.
Nevertheless this fear of failure is still very much in existence, even amid the technology of modern classrooms. Fear of failure immediately translates to fear of rejection and it is moreover the latter that I have witnessed as being rife in today’s schools: confident kids lead the way with the less confident kids hanging off their shirt-tails while the even less confident kids – the timid kids, the kids suffering ‘the fear’ – they hang back about twenty paces to ensure they’re not mistaken for pioneers and before long, they’ve blended seamlessly into the background to be forgotten; rejected.
Terrifying for me as the fear was then and frustrating as it is now, more frustrating is that not even my practised display of ersatz confidence stayed with me when, as a teenager, it would have truly counted. While I had no trouble conversing with young women I could never seem to muster the gumption to do anything other than talk. This quickly earned me my next reputation, as a charming and funny – if not terribly nervous – guy who would quite happily sit and chat with you while he listened to, and even offered advice on, your problems.
They considered me a good friend then just as the more grown up generation considered me a good friend ten years down the track and so on. Ultimately, possibly inadvertently, I portrayed myself as a nice guy and although I didn’t realise it back then – in fact I’m not sure the saying had even been coined at that time – Nice Guys Always Finish Last.
No, that’s not fair; to say I always finished last would be untrue – I reckon there must have been the odd time where I simply finished well behind the pack.
I am unsure if kids today suffer the same variety of co-ed difficulties that I endured because while I am certain the girls have changed, whether the boys have shifted with them is a different story; probably a very interesting one at that. Regardless, one thing I can say for sure, if nothing else, my nightmarish days at school did prepare me well, for a lifetime of rejection.
Schoolyard social standings are a difficult beast to comprehend; I can only imagine how tough it must be for, and I very much sympathise with, the innately timid or diffident kids of today having to cope with the undulating terrain that is the school playground status system. My only advice to youngsters of this unfortunate origin would be to dig in, hold your position, and hope like hell the situation improves with age.
Honestly, it didn’t for me, in fact it became a whole lot worse, but that’s not your problem, and I just hope like hell it never is.
Article by Tim Walker
Edited by Duffy Dance
Photography by Pua Seoul