Big Green Bow Tie

Trying to make sense of the argument raging back and forth in this country over civic duty, social courtesy, politics, and the evident incommensurability of conflicting “lived experience” among the various parties reminded me of something the other day. I laughed and shrugged it off and thought well, yeah, that’s apt but silly.

Then I thought, if we filter out the presumed topics and just look at the behavior, maybe it’s not so silly, Because, really, it is silly.

When I was in first or second grade (yes, that far back, that deep down), I was beginning to learn how much I didn’t fit. I didn’t know that was the issue then, just that I kept looking at my “friends” and the teachers and the whole thing like some foreign country where I didn’t speak the language. Spring came around, and we were going to do a Maypole Dance.

Why? Beats me. I mean, seriously, a Maypole Dance? For grade schoolers? Obviously, we didn’t know what it meant. As for the teachers, it was just this neat thing they could use to teach…well, I assume cooperation, group unity, and make us feel pleased with an accomplishment. I have no idea.

But I was excited as everybody else.

We learned the steps, practiced, got good at it. It would take place in the gymnasium and it was an early evening event. Parents and interested parties would be present. A Big Deal.

I remember being informed that the boys would wear green bow ties and the girls would wear pink ribbons. (The streamers around the pole matched.) Well, I owned a green bow tie, so that was fine. I showed up prepared.

Only to find out that my bow tie wasn’t good enough. Wasn’t allowed. No, we were to be fitted with these great big paper things, way oversized, and, frankly, to my eye, stupid things made of green tissue paper. I took one look and thought Nope, ain’t gonna happen, I’m not wearing one of those.

Whereupon I proceeded to Make A Scene. I made things difficult for the teachers. I even hid under a desk rather than be subjected to the indignity of being forced to wear one of those silly, stupid, childish Things, especially when I already had a perfectly good, normal bow tie. The argument that I would look like everyone else did not impress me. Why would I want to do that? The argument that this was a group thing and we had to conform for it to look right bounced right off.

In the end, I was made to yield. I endured being fitted with one of those idiotic (I thought) kiddy ties.

Then the Dance happened and I forgot all about it.

The people stamping their feet and getting all huffed over wearing face masks remind me of that intractable seven-year-old. “I ain’t gonna do it! It’s silly! I don’t wanna!”

I am extending it, though, to a whole range of social issues, and watching the reactions of those who refuse. Try as I might, I cannot find it in myself to sympathize, not with the screaming, red-faced, intransigent self-centered, entitled drama addicts who think because of this or that or the other requirement they are somehow being so unduly imposed upon that civilization is about to fall.

I am willing to discuss the issues in reasonable tones, with facts at hand, and logic and rational consideration on tap. But the comparisons are absurd. No, your constitutional rights are not disappearing because of a public health measure. The Constitution does not afford you the “right” to live any damn way you please if others are put at risk.

But those who are stoking this fire with fuel know that very well. They know their audience. They know they’re dealing with people who can’t tell the difference between inconvenience and moral necessity.

I Want and I Don’t Want are the only two positions that get any traction, it seems.

I recall my unreasoning and unreasonable seven-year-old self because that seems to me the exact parallel. Things have gone a certain way for so long that this would seem a perfectly reasonable reaction.

The good news, though, is this: I was the only one in my class chafing at the requirement to wear the same green bow tie as everyone else. In the same way, the red-faced, distraught, petulant dissenters over face masks, I believe, are also a small minority. They only seem like more than their numbers because they’re making a scene, hiding under their desks, and everyone else is staring at them.

Amplified tantrums.

We seem incapable of looking away, of ignoring the traffic accident, the class clown, the guy with the End Of The World sign screaming at the pigeons in the park. The attention feeds the fit and he seems like a multitude.

In the meantime, the rest of us are respectfully doing what needs to be done to have a successful dance.

Sit down and put your bow tie on. It’s not the end of the world.

Published by Mark Tiedemann