I’m a rule follower. A people pleaser. Life’s just easier that way, most of the time. Keep the peace. Don’t make trouble. It’s a smoother ride through life when everyone’s happy and you’re not stirring the pot. It’s easier to throw up your hands and say I did what I could instead of trying to break down doors, force through barriers.
That’s pretty much why much of my life is the way it is: like a straight narrow road. Hardly any bumps, but no thrilling curves either. Boring, but predictable. I don’t mind; I like it that way.
Of course, there are lots of times when I end up with the worse end of the proverbial stick, simply because I just go along with things.
Like last week, when my teacher gave me a B+ on an essay I knew deserved an A. I knew that if I argued, begged, and/or got my mother involved, there was a good chance she’d raise my grade. But I didn’t do any of that. I just put my paper in my folder like nothing happened and went about my day.
Or yesterday, when it was my turn for the dreaded middle seat in the car (my siblings and I will probably insist on turns with these kinds of things until we are married, much to my parents’ chagrin). I had a million bags on me, wasn’t feeling great, and needed the rush of cool air that comes through when you’re sitting beside an open window. But I just sat there, getting more and more nauseous, because it was my turn for the middle seat.
It’s why I’m sitting here at my desk writing this, because the rest of the guys said there’s no more room for another player in their game, and I just said ok and went back inside. (I’m not great at sports anyway, but that probably doesn’t shock you.)
You’re probably thinking that you know where this is headed, that I’m going to tell you about how one day I found myself in a situation where this type of mentality didn’t work, where I had to break a rule or be more assertive. To really fight for something, go against the tide.
But, no. That didn’t happen.
You’re probably disappointed, because that’s what everyone likes to read, how the quiet pushover suddenly found his voice, his wings to fly.
A quiet pushover isn’t considered an admirable thing to be.
But anyway, what happened is this:
My rebbi announced on Monday that we would be voting for class president. That’s more exciting than it sounds since around here the position involves a lot of responsibility and also missing class from time to time to plan or discuss things with rebbi. But before we could vote, we had to make nominations. Each of us had to take a paper and write down the boy we thought would be the best candidate; if we wanted to run, we could write down our own names. Then rebbi would select the top three names and after two days of campaigning, we’d have our official vote.
I immediately wrote down the name Dovid Leiberman, who is not only a class leader, but also super-organized and a great student. I assumed at least half the class would put him down too. Of course, I gave no thought at all to the position myself.
Boy, was I in for a surprise.
After recess, when he’d had a chance, rebbi read his short list of nominees.
Claps, cheers. No surprise there. Dovid looked suitably pleased, but not quite shocked.
Another obvious choice. Mosh always gets first pick at football, and he’s always organizing things like surprise parties or afterschool games.
Wait a minute, I thought. That’s me!
I was sure it was a mistake. But no, it really was me.
I’m sure you can guess that campaigning’s not really my thing, although I did try. I made some signs and brought in donuts for the class, as per my older sister’s advice. I gave a little speech. But I didn’t expect to win.
As the class whistled and hollered, as my best friend Abie pounded me on the back, I didn’t even crack a smile. I was suitably stunned and confused. I was sure it was a mistake.
So, when I met with rebbi at recess for our first “meeting ” earlier today, the first words that popped out of my mouth were, “Why’d you pick me?”
Rebbi smiled. “I didn’t pick you,” he said. “The boys picked you.”
“But that just doesn’t make any sense!” I said. I was getting agitated. “Who’d pick me over Dovid?”
“Why?” asked Rebbi. “Why do you say that?”
“Come on.” I snorted. “Dovid’s fun. He stirs things up. Makes a lot of noise. Same with Mosh. I’ve never even called out during class.”
“Well,” said Rebbi. “Maybe that’s a positive.”
“No,” I replied. “It’s not. Maybe that’s true at your age, but when you’re a kid in school, you need to know how to shake things up, especially if you’re class president. That’s why I think it was rigged. I don’t think anyone voted for me. You chose me. The pushover.”
“Daniel,” rebbi repeated. “The boys chose you. They voted for you.”
Rebbi looked at me for a moment and continued. “Daniel, you’re responsible. You follow rules well. You don’t argue with people. That doesn’t make you a pushover. It makes you, you. The boys didn’t choose you because you’re loud or quiet, a leader or a follower. They chose you because they think you’re a nice kid who can do a good job. And I think they’re right.”
I thought about that after rebbi left the room. And I’m still thinking about it now as I sit here at my desk, listening to the noise filtering into the classroom from the hall. I’m not the type who thinks into things a lot, and I surely never spent time analyzing my personality. It was only when I was pulled into the limelight that I started to think that maybe the way I am is not a good thing, that the boys couldn’t possibly appreciate me for who I am.
But lucky for me, they did. They do. They chose me.
Sometimes we think it’s best to be loud, and outgoing, a leader. The type that will fight for his way or break rules sometimes. But what I’ve learned today is that that’s just not true. So as class president I won’t make a lot of noise; I know no one expects me to.
But I will do the best I can, in my own quiet way.