The Story of the Shirt Tail

Part 7d of Meeting the Voices in My Head and Searching for an Inner Adult

When I was in sixth grade, the Student Council succeeded in getting some parts of the school’s dress code revised. This was in 1968 and I guess the faculty couldn’t resist the overwhelming tide of change any longer, so they gave in this one little thing. I remember the excitement when the day came when everything would be different. The girls could wear miniskirts. Us boys could leave our shirts untucked. I got dressed that day with my shirt tail in so my mother wouldn’t yell at me but pulled it out as soon as I left the house. My shirt tails flapped freely all day long. This went on for a few days until my Rebel helped me prepare a little speech for my parents, saying this was a free country, I should do what I want, times were a’changin’, and there’s no good reason to tuck in a shirt tail. Finally, I got up the nerve to leave for school untucked. No one noticed. My Simulated Parents may have cared whether I tucked in my shirt tail, but my real parents didn’t.

Once my Simulated Parents were discredited as inaccurate and gotten out of the way, the Rebel looked for other things to rebel against. I continued to go to school for a few days with my shirt tail flapping until I realized I didn’t like it that way. When I was rebelling from my Simulated Parents I was conforming to my peers. If I had gone to school with my shirttail tucked in, I was afraid they’d say I was an old fogey. I’d be letting the Student Council down after they fought so hard for our freedom. I’d look like a nerd.

The Rebel spoke up in my head and said something very insightful. It said, the Student Council did not free us from the tyranny of the dress code, just so that it could impose its own dress code. The Sixties’ revolution was all about letting people do their own thing. Doing my own thing meant tucking in my shirt if that’s what I wanted to do. Eventually, I got up the nerve to go to school with my shirt tail tucked back in and braced myself for the inevitable onslaught of abuse from my peers. Again, no one noticed. It was my Simulated Peers who were ready to shame me for not conforming. My actual peers had other things to do.

I went on to mount many other rebellions against anyone who expected anything of me, testing my simulations. One of my first jobs was to clean an office at night after everyone went home. I insisted on doing it barefoot. I had no particular reason, except that I liked being barefoot. My boss said I couldn’t do it that way, which made me want to be barefoot even more. I made a calculation, based on my mental simulation of that boss, that he would let it go, just as my peers and parents let the shirt tail go. I was wrong. He fired me the next time he saw me barefoot.

That was not the last time I was rebellious. I mount mini rebellions every day, but I’ve gotten better at knowing what I can get away with. I’m convinced it’s important to hold my ground and be my own person against the unreasonable demands of society, but not every hill is worth dying for.

Next in the Series: Continuous Revolution

Published by Keith R Wilson

I'm a licensed mental health counselor and certified alcohol and substance abuse counselor in private practice with more than 30 years experience. My newest book is The Road to Reconciliation: A Comprehensive Guide to Peace When Relationships Go Bad. I recently published a workbook connected to it titled, How to Make an Apology You’ll Never Have to Make Again. I also have another self help book, Constructive Conflict: Building Something Good Out of All Those Arguments. I’ve also published two novels, a satire of the mental health field: Fate’s Janitors: Mopping Up Madness at a Mental Health Clinic, and Intersections , which takes readers on a road trip with a suicidal therapist. If you prefer your reading in easily digestible bits, with or without with pictures, I have created a Twitter account @theshrinkslinks. MyFacebook page is called Keith R Wilson – Author.

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