Sunday, July 08, 2007


I am a rule follower. I have never liked getting in trouble, have never pushed the envelope just for the sake of pushing, have rarely done anything that anyone could hold up as an example of even slightly rakish behavior.

During high school, for example, I managed to plow through those troublesome teenage years without attending so much as one rowdy party. (Whether this was a function of my lily white moral code or just my pathetic social status is up to debate.) I studied all the time, got good grades, was always well behaved ... in short, not someone you'd actually want to hang around very much.

But then there's the unsavory underside of this goody-goody persona -- in some respects I had what might be charitably described as an attitude problem. This mostly manifested itself in circumstances that might require school spirit, like pep rallies. Amid a crowd of cheering students, you'd find me hunched over in the bleachers, arms folded, rolling my eyes and wondering just how long I had to endure this painful display of misplaced exuberance. I suppose it stemmed from my dislike of the worship of athletes and the cheerleaders (I haven't outgrown it either, although now it's morphed into a gender issue for me: why should I get so excited about male baseball players, say, when few people on the planet would ever get even remotely excited about a group of female [insert any sport] players?).

Similarly, although I always follow the rules, I resent being told what to do. Hate it, actually. And here's the rub. I feel this way even if the advice jibes with my own beliefs. If it doesn't, well, don't get me started.

Say someone is out there pontificating about the most sensible, ecologically, earth-friendly, socially conscious consumer choice. I'm still there in the bleachers rolling my eyes, thinking, "Yeah, whatEVER." Same thing with parenting advice. I'll deliberately use a noncontroversial area here: reading. I'm fanatical about reading to my kids, and I think it's really important. But when I hear others proselytizing about reading, I think, "Oh, shut UP for God's sake." Another example: During certain sermons at church I sometimes want to get up and leave in a huff.

Of all the vestiges of youthfulness that perpetuate in adulthood, this is perhaps not the best one to cling to. I think, however, that my reactions depend in large part on the mode of delivery. The more sanctimonious the tone, the closer I come to a stomping-around, black-clad teenager. The more convinced the person is of his or her righteousness, the more I want to deflate that puffed-up balloon.

Most of the time I'm able to separate the messenger from the message. And just like when I was growing up, I am a sucker for a guilt trip. So there's no real danger of my meek rule-following self becoming a true malcontent. Just don't expect me to applaud at a pep rally.