First of all, we’re all susceptible to brainwashing and radicalization. Don’t for one moment think you’re “too smart” for that. It’s nothing to do with being “smart”, it’s to do with what you’re exposed to. It has to do with being conditioned, while our brains are still young and malleable, to accept a belief held by our caretakers without being offered facts to back up that belief by our caretakers. Up until a certain age, we accept any and all ideas from those nice people, without whom we wouldn’t be housed, clothed or fed.
Our parents are the first line of defense against us developing early critical thinking skills and the cultivation of original ideas. Schools and teachers are the second line of defense against same. Observe who gets the “A” in the class—it’s almost always the student who parrots what the teacher says. Whereas the “troublemakers,” the ones who “talk back?” Their teachers often find a way to give those pupils a lower grade, if not a failing one. Go into most high school classrooms in the United States, and observe the stance of the teacher when a pupil questions what that teacher has just said: The rigid body posture, the clenched jaw, the arms crossed over the chest—it’s all saying, “How dare you question me? I’m the teacher.” And when we go back to our parents’ house, it’s more of the same. “Don’t question me, just obey me. I am your parent.”
Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. I’m not talking about things such as writing a thank you card to Grandma, or doing homework. I’m not preaching for anti-social or pathologically rebellious behavior. I’m talking about indoctrination into all kinds of oppressive viewpoints: religious fanaticism, racism, sexism, bigotry.
At this point, some who are reading might be thinking, “That’s not true of all parents, or all teachers,” and of course, it’s not all. But it’s enough to be a widespread epidemic, it’s enough to breed a large enough population who have learned that in order to have a ‘peaceful’ life, they should never question what they’re told, not by their parents or teachers for fear of reprisal. And as adults, that eventually mushrooms into not questioning politicians or religious leaders for fear of condemnation, nor law enforcement, nor doctors, for fear of death. But more, once these successfully programmed spirits settled into a belief, they’ve also learned never to question themselves for fear…of fear. The fear that the absolutes they hold to be true will be proven false, and they’ll no longer feel safe.
To those young people who have the courage to question, and have taken lots of psychological and even physical abuse for it, here’s what you don’t know: You scare them. You scare all authority figures, most especially your parents and teachers, who don’t know how to answer your questions, because a long time ago, they were indoctrinated too. If they ever had the courage when they were your age to ask the same questions you’re asking now, they were punished by their teachers and parents, just as they will now punish you.
They might try to ‘reason’ with you first, explaining why all your questions and doubts about what you’re being taught have no validity. And if you can’t be reasoned with, if you persist, then they will get angry, and, depending on how dysfunctional, morally bankrupt, and ideologically corrupt your particular family unit or school is, they will attack you in every way, from physical abuse to subtle shaming and social shunning.
It’s the shaming and shunning that break most of us. Most of us, after a while of this, eventually comply and conform, doing whatever it takes to get back into the fold. We go to church, if that’s what our parents want, we marry only within our religious/ethnic group/race, if that’s what will make them approve of us. We take certain jobs that are also pre-approved, but maybe not the one we really wanted. And after a while, we bury it, deep, deep down inside: the memory that we were once brave enough to question, bold enough to have the desire to be who we are.
We shove all that down, become “reformed”, and that pleases our teachers and fills our parents with pride. We’ve learned that we have to follow along if we want our greatest desire, our human need to be loved and accepted fulfilled, the need to be part of the group we long for. We adapt, with perhaps an underlying, almost imperceptible dissatisfaction all our lives, until one day, one of our own children starts to question, and we too, get angry.
On the other hand, those who never stop questioning, never stop bucking unhealthy, socially and spiritually restrictive ‘rules’ designed from the beginning to control the masses? Well, those people live sometimes powerful, always freeing, but all too often lonely lives. They’re the ‘Black Sheep’ who fight for all of us, and are despised for having that abundance of spirit by the compliant masses. While those masses might venture to dip a tentative toe into the positive progress a Black Sheep has fought endlessly to gift them with, while they revel in the now ‘permissible’ adjustments to societal mores and norms brought to them courtesy thereof, they still do not accept the Black Sheep, and they never will.
Because a Black Sheep is something they themselves failed at being. The Black Sheep is a reminder of all they sacrificed to live out their years in a faux contentment, shored up by reality TV, retail therapy, their numbing substance of choice, and the occasional two weeks off.
So very true, coming from a male/patriarchal background, family, authority, superiority, male dominance were the walls of resistance and the battle lines were always heightened. At every age, stage, the need to question, resist and grow was a painful punishment. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve fought tooth and nail, to be heard, for my questions to be answered and my decisions to be excepted. Unfortunately for me I’ve had to live a judgmental, ostracised, lonely life. I have always said, we may not wear visible chains/burkas, but they’re there all the same. Understood and accepted by few, but in all of that I have been able to be true to myself , to fight the fight and make changes, it only takes a few good people to do nothing.To teach my children the value of an open mind and acceptance of all humans and their rights. Truth be told I may not have quantity, but I have quality of people in my life, who get me and love me for the questions and battles I fight. The abuse, violations and punishment against me has been painfull, but it’s made me who I am, and I can sleep peacefully with that.
Patricia V. Davis says
I’m so sorry that you have had to deal with this. How wonderful that you have taught your children the value of open-mindedness and acceptance.
Josephine O says
This is so true. I can identify with this. When this happens while young it will take years of therapy, healthy relationships, expunging toxic relationships most of one’s life. When you walk away from this (if you dare) you will be out of this toxic behavior because you will finally see what a healthy relationship is. Those in authority, be it teacher or parent, may find it easy to control a child’s behavior through manipulation, emotional blackmail, negative enforcement.. You make a good point, Patricia. those who enforce this negative behavior probably never had the chance to become a ‘black sheep’, nor seek to be ‘different’ themselves. They may not even believe they are doing anything wrong because it was always done that way, Shine your light, brave one. As always.
Patricia V. Davis says
“It was always done that way.” I so agree that some believe things should stay the same, even if they don’t work. Thanks for writing!