I know it’s frustrating when people say this to you, but it’s actually a good sign:
“No one else has ever had a problem with this.”
This tiresome phrase, calculated to squash you down and shut you up from whatever observation you just made, is a subtly manipulative means of repressing dissent by middle managers, politicos, administrators, teachers, in my case, the public works director of the small town we lived in years ago.
“There’s sand in the toilet tank,” I told him. “The plumber says that it comes from your lines, and it’s something that the city needs to address.”
“No one else has ever complained about this before,” he told me. End of argument. Go away, Lady. Just pay your bill and call the plumber in twice a year.
“Perhaps they were afraid that they would be put down and discounted with a sentence similar to the one you just said,” I replied.
(Rarely — rarely! — do we ever come up with a fitting riposte at the time we need it!)
Do you remember that line in the Lord of the Rings movie, when Bilbo says at his birthday party, “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve”?
Well, the effect of the one and only well-timed snappy comeback I have ever made in my entire life was gratifyingly the same.
Not only that, but I got what I wanted, which was the city fixing its broken lines and no more sand in the toilet intake, and I learned a valuable lesson long before I turned 40 and no longer cared so much about what other people think:
Independent thought is not a valued commodity amongst the authoritative amphitheater — be it political, educational, social, religious, or business — in this country. That’s why, for so many years, we have been assaulted by images of “team playership” (have you noticed that you’re never the quarterback?), and “working together as a family” (you’re not the patriarch, either); being subtly pressured as parents to rely upon “a village to raise a child” (how many African villages are peppered with social workers, administrative clerks, petty bureaucrats, and other disinterested, dispassionate, and detached outsiders who want to walk into your kitchen and criticize your tuna casserole?), and the latest — community, which brings to mind people gently rocking in chairs under wraparound porches, calling out “Good evening, friend!” to their neighbors walking by.
Global community, work community, church community, educational community –sometimes it’s difficult to remember that the collective stories of our heritage include hurling boxes of tea into a harbor; arriving — gritty, worn, and poor — to Ellis Island; burying children and parents at the side of the Oregon Trail; running a different kind of railroad — one that didn’t involved unscrupulous robber barons but people with hopes and dreams; working long, hard hours so that the next generation could tackle opportunities the first one was denied.
We even have a holiday — Independence Day — that encapsulates how we used to feel about ourselves.
So go ahead — think, and say aloud, the things that “nobody else has ever had a problem with,” knowing full well that more than enough people are ready to tell you that you’re being difficult, unreasonable, non-collaborative, and out of harmony with everyone else.
You might start a trend.