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Expectations and rebels

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.

Image credit: Boy by ‘playingwithbrushes’ under a Creative Commons BY-2.0 licence.

August 9th, 2012 by Zahmoo
Filed in: For Business, For Community, For Family
Permalink | Comments (2)

2 Responses to “Expectations and rebels”

  1. L. Hasek Says:

    It happens so often in the workplace towards a worker who is different. A person is shunned for not “fitting in.” Me. I was subjected to subtle and not-so-subtle harassment and bullying. I took it to my supervisor because I was afraid it would get out of hand. Then the spotlight was on me, as well as the harasser. It is a choice of lesser evils to involve management. If managers are prone to “high school” style managing, where finger-pointing is more important than getting the job done and moving on, the situation becomes an unpleasant merry-go-round. Managers can use their power in more constructive ways, such as a meeting of the two involved and air the alleged problems face to face, rather than separately. In fact, it seems that they do not exercise their power at all. Maybe they are afraid to. Maybe the harassers are of a different race or nationality and all parties are afraid of an EEO claim. My harasser and I couldn’t have been more different and also, I am the oldest of the group of co-workers. I think they assumed I was “square” from the start. So I found myself siding with management, anyway. I could relate to them better, we are closer in age. The funny thing is that I was just as rebellious or anti-management when I was younger and now am a rebel by siding with management. Who knew?

  2. Zahmoo Says:

    “It happens so often in the workplace towards a worker who is different.” – yes, exactly: that kind of harassment is a real problem at work and elsewhere, and far too few people ‘in authority’ seem willing to face it. (And yes, I know that same irony about “just as rebellious when I was younger and now am a rebel by siding with management”…!)

    One of our favourite writers on these themes is Bob Sutton. He’s a professor of management at Stanford, and publishes often on his own blog and on Harvard Business Review. He’s also written many books about these kinds of problems in the workplace: we would especially recommend his ‘The No-Asshole Rule‘ and ‘Good Boss, Bad Boss‘.

    Hope this helps, and thanks again for commenting here.



Zahmoo is a story bank for collecting and sharing your family and business stories.