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  • Jonn Kares

Waiting for Permission to Lead Yourself

My grandmother and grandfather on one side of my family had both been born and raised during late Victorian times in what at that time were British colonies in the Caribbean. Curious elements of their particular upbringing were very self-evident when I was a child.

For instance, at the family dinner table, I was taught to never ask to have something passed to me, but instead to wait until it was offered. It was verboten to say "Please pass me the salt." The proper protocol was instead to say to the person with the salt closest to them "Grandpa, would you like some salt?" It was then up to them to then say "No thank you. Would you?" To which I could then safely say "Yes please," and gracefully accept it as they passed it to me.

Photo by Lachlan Cormie on Unsplash

Not just at the dinner table, this procedure for my grandparents was the only proper way to take initiative and declare anything you wanted or might be interested in. Looking back now I am presuming this prohibition against self-directedness could have been a way colonial societies (like the ones they grew up in) assuaged the discomfort of the guilt they felt plundering the natives around them, and the assumed superiority that came along with it. Taking is made OK when you have been given permission to do it.

This way of defining one's self-identity dovetailed with another parental admonition I received to "not be selfish". This instruction was befuddling. How can I be anything else but? I naturally concluded looking out for myself was bad, not only to others but even to myself. Waiting for someone to give me permission to be myself was one way of living with this impossible edict.

Children are still being taught this. On the subway the other day, I saw a mother admonish her son, "Don't be selfish! Let your sister have the window seat.". Even more disempowering is the same edict being applied not only to taking, but also to giving. I saw a different mom on a different day in a fast-food restaurant telling her daughter to not be selfish when she objected to her brother snatching one of her french fries. In both of these scenarios, these kids waiting to be given permission would have prevented the need for scolding.

And thus is the stage set moving forward to doubt and suppress naturally occurring inclinations until someone else says they are OK.

Think of the many situations in life that require our requesting permission to be accepted. From school enrollment, to getting a job, to applying for credit, or joining a Facebook group -- adult life is rich with circumstances that only acknowledge us by our waiting for permission.

What permission are you waiting for? I'm going to invoke a modified version of my old family dining table protocol here and ask "Would you like to become the person you have always wanted to be?"

All you have to say is "Yes, please!"

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