So there they are, my mother and my brother, walking down the grassy street towards the village shops. He’s perhaps three years old, at that time, proudly pushing along his beloved doll in a battered toy pram. A frumpish, overdressed middle-aged woman looks on in horror and disgust – and finally she can bear it no more. “Little boys don’t play with dolls!”, she snaps at him. My brother looks up at her, quizzically, the picture of innocence. A brief pause, as if for reflection. “This little boy does”, he says.
No-one was surprised that he went on to become a lawyer…
Last week our family all meet up again, at a party to celebrate his daughter’s wedding-anniversary. It’s his grandchildren now that are crashing through this rambling house and garden, playing tag with each other, yelling and bouncing with all the exuberance that a five-year-old can muster. I stop in the middle of the room, frozen to the spot, mouth wide open, to play a statue in their game; they run round and round, giggling, squealing each time I make a move. And this time it’s my sister that plays the role of that frumpish, overdressed middle-aged woman: “You shouldn’t play with the children”, she sneers. “Why can’t you act your proper age?”
My proper age? What’s that? Sometimes, like this morning, I feel like I’m a hundred, or more – a scrunched-up ball of aches and tiredness. At other times, as at my brother’s party, I can play silly pantomime-games as easily as any five-year-old. And in so many social contexts I’ll instantly revert to the gawky teenager, lost, shy, terribly embarrassed at everyone and everything – especially at myself. So which of these is my real ‘proper age’? I don’t know: do you? Who can tell, really?
Whose expectations, then? Whose overblown ego do we have to face this time – and why?
It happens at work, too – like the time we finally rebelled against the incompetent meddlings of our ex-military boss. “Insubordination!”, he yelled, with all the bombastic bluster that his petulant rage could raise, “I’ll have you frog-marched out of the establishment!” But that was one time where the contractors really did fire their manager… because everyone knew that we could get nothing done until he was gone.
Others imposing their expectations on us: sometimes we have no choice but to rebel.
And after the rebellion, the story. In the longer-term, the story is perhaps what matters most.
What are some of your stories of expectations and rebels, in your community, your family, your business? Where and when did each of these stories take place? Who were the players? What happened, in the story? And what – if anything – did each person learn?
Capture those stories in your Zahmoo story-bank – and carry their meaning onward for each new generation.
Filed in: For Business, For Community, For Family
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