So, let’s see a show of hands if you have ever sat through an award ceremony or appreciation banquet. Yeah, me too. They are pretty uneventful and frankly, boring. Yes. They are important. We need to honor achievement, true honest to goodness achievement. But these evenings are not the kind we want crowding up our social calendars. They should be few and far between and meaningful.
Well, last night I was at such an event. I was feeling the usual Just keep smiling. Remember to be attentive. Clap for everyone. So, when is this thing over? When I over heard the conversation of two small children. “It’s plastic.” “No, it’s metal.” They were in sharp dispute about, of all the things, an award. Was it plastic or was it metal? You know, we have all been there and received them and at a certain age we stop asking the question. We smile, politely say “thank you” and try not to allow our entire worth to be determined by or wrapped up in the weight and quality of what was just handed to us.
But what actually captured my attention about this otherwise typical schoolyard exchange, (And truth be told, it sparked a rapid fire chain reaction of fraught-filled daydream scenarios for me right there at that table) was the last thing one of the little ones said…“Just go with the flow.”
I am not sure if this child was reciting a mantra, a kind of corrective self-talk like, “just do what it takes to get along, nobody likes it when you disagree.” Or if he was sending the other kid a not so subliminal message like, “Hey kid, stop disagreeing with me and submit.” But either way, for me it began a lifetime of possibly devastating consequences flashing before my eyes for any kid who really believed it. It was disturbing.
Imagine with me. All the children are out on a playground and they’re plotting evil. Something like, being mean to one of the disabled children …“Just go with the flow.” It’s the day of the big History exam and the middle school class found the teacher’s answer key for a test and have decided to cheat …“Just go with the flow.” Things are moving quickly in the back seat of a car and the question, “how far should I go?” comes to mind …“Just go with the flow.” The party is winding down, it’s late and everyone has probably had too much to drink or worse and they’re all planning to hop in the car… “Just go with the follow.” And after all this transpired in my mind, I looked at this small child and thought, this poor kid has no clue what that simple statement could mean for the future.
Now, I get that this silly little squabble between children is harmless. And there is a real chance it would not have ended well if one of them would not have just let it go or “agreed to disagree” and decided to “go with the flow.” But I thought to myself, Where did this particular phrase come from? I can tell you this, it wasn’t made it up on the spot . Someone, somewhere wanted this kid to believe in it. And they did. And perhaps it was no big deal in that moment and even stopped what was sure to become a headache for every adult sitting around that table. But played out over time and applied to greater circumstances, this little saying could have grave consequences. It has potential to become a habit that could change the trajectory of ones entire life.
Unfortunately, we needn’t look very far to find from whence this simple phrase came. It was probably the well-meaning person who shared it with this child that heard it first and passed it on and so on. It is pervasive in our culture. Don’t go your own way, just follow the crowd. Don’t do anything too different from your neighbor, what would everybody think? Don’t fight for what is right, just let what happens, happen. Don’t worry about what’s real or needed just eat, drink and be merry. We hear it all the time. It is all around us. We soak it in day and night. It’s in that catchy song on the radio. It’s on that funny TV show. It’s in that colorful cereal commercial. And it’s written on that clever billboard as we drive down the road.
“Just go with the flow….!”
It’s important to add here, that there is a usefulness to all of this. And I am thankful to have learned the hard lesson of letting things go. We can’t always be on high alert and suspicious or worried or frustrated or fearful. A peaceful life requires a certain amount of letting go and disengagement. This is for the best. But just giving in to everything, “going along to get along” with everyone, all the time is bogus. There are times when the stakes are too high and the consequences too grave to “just go with the flow.” Certain situations require opposition. Turning ones cheek is admirable and I would suggest it is often the most reasonable response, as in the above dispute. But turning ones head, looking the other way or closing ones eyes is cowardly. There are times in life when the uttering of a simple phrase, even when done by an innocent child, can set into motion a series of negative events or create bad habits that are dangerous and just plain wrong. There are times in life when the necessary response is DON’T go with the flow! “Fight.”