Columns, Opinion

Burning Out: The unconscious learning and unlearning of a fear of authority

My earliest memories involve daily timeouts from preschool teachers.

Those timeouts weren’t necessarily indicative of me being a bad kid. I started school young — at the ripe age of 3 years old — and I tended to question the teachers when I thought they were being unreasonable.

Yvonne Tang

For example, I wasn’t tired at 3 p.m. So, why were they asking me to lay in silence on a cold floor for an entire hour?

Some adults at the time called me stubborn. Others kindly told my parents I knew what I wanted, which would make me a great leader one day.

As my life has progressed, I have constantly felt beaten down by those in positions of authority.

In high school, I told my vice principal she was hurtful to her students. It cost me a detention and phone call home. At another point in my life, I called out the racism in my hometown. In return, I was sent a public threat in a Facebook group — along the lines of “you’ll get what’s coming to you.”

I think about defying authority now, and I am rewarded with feelings of shame, fear and dread.

And on a national level, it sure is a scary time to resist the norm.

The stakes aren’t about nap times anymore — as a nation, we’re evaluating systemic racism, the public education system and other imbalanced structures within the country.

Meanwhile, more than 500 protestors were arrested in a day during the Black Lives Matter marches in Los Angeles last year. Across the country, some peaceful protestors have suffered permanent physical damage due to the police’s use of force, from tear gas to rubber bullets.

We are supposed to be a democracy, yet somehow we don’t always operate as one. When you express an opposing idea, those with power will try to squash it using fear and gaslighting. If you are a minority, the fear for your safety worsens — and white, cisgender men are the ones left standing.

Yvonne Tang/DFP STAFF

This is a testament to the culture we live in.

But there are those throughout history who have held firmly to their ideals, despite the consequences. Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head for receiving an education against Taliban rules, but still advocates for girls’ education despite the fact. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights advocates faced threats of prison and assassination while continuing their protests. And when the United States were only 13 colonies, revolutionaries demanded freedom and started a war to gain it, much to England’s chagrin.

These figures showcase what we are capable of when we stick to our personal values. We call their stories inspiring — perhaps because we acknowledge how difficult it must have been for them, or perhaps because we wish to be the same.

When I think about these important personalities, I can’t help but feel alleviated of my embarrassment and worry. The present teaches me to fear authority, but the past teaches me to do what I think is right.

These lessons together are like the ebbing and flowing of a tide. I have to be the one who chooses which direction to follow, otherwise I’ll get dizzy fast.

My preschool teacher’s observation was spot on. I do know what I want. Whether that makes me a great leader or just a silly 3-year-old I suppose only time will tell.

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