I haven’t written anything here in a while. Life’s full of seasons just like the planet; I guess it’s been winter on the blog while it’s been summer outside (if you can call the torrential downpour “summer”). I have a friend who went through an interesting experience recently. I don’t want to get into the details because they aren’t important, what’s important is the lessons learned through my friend. I’ll try and relate what I’ve learned through some stories.
When I was in elementary school there was a certain hierarchy in place: the bullies intimidated the people who were weaker minded or easily influenced into supporting them in their cause. They would surround themselves with these people, the “yes men”, and form what appeared to be an invincible force of fear and intimidation. Bullies do this for many reasons but the most fundamental is that they want to get their way.
I was involved with many altercations with the bullies because I refused to align myself with what they wanted. I chose to stand up for what I believed in and didn’t feel like having someone else dictate how I could or couldn’t act. I’ll be honest, standing up for what I believed in caused me a lot of pain and grief. I got into fights, was picked on and made fun of, and generally seen as one of the unpopular kids as a result. But I didn’t compromise what I believed in; I didn’t stand for someone influencing what I believed or what I could do. I wasn’t a yes man then.
During the transition period between elementary and high school (grade 8 - grade 9) I noticed some interesting things about the relationship between the bullies and the yes men; they broke down. Part of it may be because of the size difference in our elementary schools (a few hundred) and the high school (almost 2000) but I think it was also due to the summer when most kids are on vacation or go out of town. The bullies didn’t have their yes men around to back them, nor did they have a steady stream of kids to pick on so I think they had to find other things to do to scratch the “bully” itch, whatever that is.
High school was also a change for me, it afforded me the opportunity to not be on the bottom of the pecking order, so to speak. The bullies weren’t in my classes and the circle of yes men they had built up in elementary was disbursed throughout various course selections, timetables and schedules. Without the bullies and their yes men around I developed self confidence, I wasn’t afraid to voice opinions in class and contribute to the discussion around me. I developed my own sense of direction in life, the things I felt were important, what I valued and what I wanted to do with my future. I wasn’t a yes man then either.
Fast forward 20 years or so later and I’ve got a house, a beautiful wife, two amazing children, a dog who wears a tie ( ask me later :), a job and responsibilities. Those all sound like pretty great things; you might even say after reading this far that the relative level of success I’ve achieved has been because I wasn’t a yes man. The thing is, I’ve been a part time yes man for a while. Sometimes I stand up for what I think is right and sometimes I just keep my mouth shut.
The bullies aren’t around anymore like they were in school, they don’t beat me up or call me names or get their friends to throw rocks at me, however there are new bullies and they aren’t always people. Ideas can be bullies, things you read on the internet, things you listen to on the radio, books you read… they all call you to make some sort of choice when they engage you. Money can be a bully, we always want more of it yet often getting more truly never satisfies us; being a yes man to the money bully ends up in nothing but grouchiness in my experience. We can also be bullies. We try and surround ourselves with yes men who will make us feel validated about our decisions and justify the things we do.
The thing I’ve realized is that whether you’re the bully or the yes man either way it sucks. The people in life who are the most successful are those who don’t compromise what they believe to conform to a certain standard. They stand up for what’s true and good and noble and what drives them to be the kind of people they are. They stay true to their convictions.
I’m done being a yes man.