Keeping any potential false pride at bay and staying grounded is easier when you have kids, although critical parents can be handy for it too now that I think about it.
My youngest son keeps it all real in our household. Last year, at the ripe old age of six he accompanied me on his bike when I went for a run.
As his little feet pushed the pedals around and I jogged alongside, delighted that he was keen to join in my fitness efforts, he turned to me and said, “Mum you’ve got a big nose.”
I chuckled and said, “Yeah it is rather big isn’t it.”
He responded, “No, it’s really big, you’ve got a REALLY big nose Mum.”
I mustered up another chuckle, “Yeah mate, thanks, good on you.”
He then cycled about ten metres ahead, passed a woman well into her 70s, turned around in the saddle of his bike and yelled to me, “That lady doesn’t have a big nose like you Mum.”
Later that night, when I could ungrit my teeth and laugh about it, I told my distinctly handsome husband about the comments from our charming youngest. My husband showed no surprise whatsoever.
“Oh that’s nothing,” he said. “You should hear what he just said to me while I put him to bed.”
My husband has very brown eyes and had been told by our son, “Dad you’d look better with blue eyes.”
“You’d still look stupid, but you’d look better.”
I suspect most of us fear scrutiny to some degree. Perhaps that is why public speaking is up there with death on the Most Scary Things list.
Even for people who know they are particularly good at something or who may even enjoy the limelight, the fear of ridicule and embarrassment can be a powerful naysaying force.
There is a tendency in Australian culture, possibly more evident among females than males, to be self-deprecating and shy about our ambitions, attributes and talents.
Every Aussie is familiar with the term ‘up yourself’ and we hear a lot about the so-called Tall Poppy Syndrome and we are known internationally for using sledging as a tactic in sport.
In this context, it is not so surprising that many people are loathe to lay it on the line, or venture out on a limb with an ambitious idea.
For anyone keen to have a go but held back by potential embarrassment, it’s important to remember that ridicule is the tool of the bully. As distinct from satire, which is implicit, artistic and an effective social change mechanism, ridicule is simply an abuse of power.
That’s a critical realisation because if you can name the concern, it’s already on the way to being defeated – just ask Harry Potter.
Workplace psychopaths, insecure aspirants, threatened competitive types, Grade 2 boys and Year 9 girls are particularly good at ridicule – it can present as jeering, scoffing, derision, backbiting, rumour-mongering, ostracism, gossiping and blatantly lying.
But even in a challenging atmosphere that is dedicated to dragging people down, it’s amazing how strong and steady it feels to brush up the manners and resist the delicious temptation to badmouth something. Or, in my case, not defensively reprimand my six year-old stirrer.
Unfortunately, maintaining our collective cool in practice is incredibly difficult because popular culture supports – even rewards – rants, snark and sledging.
Looking at this behaviour rationally, it is obvious that they are all just forms of bullying and bad manners. Sledging is appalling lack of sportsmanship. The tall poppy syndrome is known globally as envy – I have no idea why we call it something else and boast that it is peculiar to our culture.
Rants and snark are just trendy words for sarcasm and violent language. It was initially funny because it had shock value. I love powerful language probably more than most but this style is not so funny anymore.
Like gossip and naricissm, these can appear as harmless fun until you step back and see the behaviour for what it is – nothing to be proud of and not really worthy of airtime.
We have the choice to celebrate people’s efforts, play fair and take pride in doing the best possible job of being ourselves. There is a lovely inspirational quote, often incorrectly attributed to Nelson Mandela:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Marianne Williamson
It’s incumbent on everyone to let the light shine, in ourselves and in others.
Oh and shining doesn’t necessarily mean blowing one’s trumpet, it’s always far more powerful when someone else does that for us.
Or, of course, we can leave it to our family to keep it all real.