first published Oct 1, 2015
When I was young, I didn’t have a lot of friends. I was not well-versed in the social graces and did not get much respect. I felt odd and apart from others.
In my twenties, I volunteered to do some work for an organization. They were happy to have another body and brain to help the cause. We were all working towards the same goal, and there was a real sense of community. For the first time, I felt I belonged and was a part of something. It pleased me and so I devoted more time.
I quickly and mostly unconsciously assessed the group dynamic, even the more subtle, low-level hierarchy. The closer I moved to those in power, the more I emulated them. The more like them I became, the more respect and higher status I attained within the group.
I devoted myself to making myself as helpful as I could be to those at the top. I made sure they knew they could trust me and count on me, which they increasingly did. I was always there, ready to do what needed to be done, all in order to make myself indispensable.
Over time, I became a part of the larger inner circle. … not the core group, but close enough so those below me on the ladder thought I was more important than I actually was.
This group came to define me. They were my family, my support team, the only ones who accepted me fully, even though none of us ever really shared our personal feelings with the others.
And then, after a many years, the momentum of the group shifted. They wanted to do things which I did not condone, acts which would cause material and/or psychic harm to others.
I was in a quandary.
If I contradicted their mission, if I protested, if I suggested that as a group we reconsider our actions, I would have been ostracized. I couldn’t bear to go back to the days of having no status, no friends, no acceptance.
I felt it was wrong to follow them, but I was too much of a coward to say no.
Initially, I regretted the harm I did to others but I soon convinced myself that our actions were just. In any case, I did not bear this guilt alone. The ones above me, certainly, but also the ones below. Their belief and compliance allowed those at the top to achieve their goals. It was easy to deny my own complicity when I felt myself to be a cog in a machine that was moving forward with or without me.