Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Follow: Weekly Anamnesis

I don’t follow very well. Never have, probably never will. I think it’s genetic.

It hasn’t made life easy, either, not being a good follower. It’s pretty much made faithful adherence to a religion out of the question. God knows, no pun intended, that I’ve tried, but it has just never been a good fit. And it isn’t just religion. Membership in any organization tends to be a problem sooner or later. And school. Well, that is just a pain in the…well, you know. Because not following usually at least implicitly connotes leading. And leading can really cause headaches.

It all has to do with out unofficial family motto: Question Authority.

Seriously, that’s been a part of the family for at least three generations now, beginning with my grandfather way back in World War I. Grandpa Frei was in the German army (my other grandfather was on the American side, but that’s another story), and not all that pleased about it. Family legend goes that he didn’t like an order he was given one day and punched out his commanding officer. Fortunately for the family’s posterity, he somehow managed not to get a date with the firing squad. I understand it was a pretty close thing.

My father continued the tradition in yet another arena. His family, being German (although by then they had made it to the United States), were Lutheran. I don’t know if they were good Lutherans - Grandpa died before I was born and I don’t recall Grandma ever going to church - but they sent my dad to confirmation classes at the Lutheran church. Which was fine until the priest (minister? I’m not quite sure what Lutherans have) informed his class that once they had been received into the church, they were not to associate with nonbelievers any more. Well, my dad was a friendly kind of guy and that didn’t sit very well with him. The way I hear the story, Dad abruptly stood up, told the guy to go to Hell, and never went back. He attended church services very rarely after that, and not very happily. When I had my bout with authoritarian religion (and it was a doozy), he respected my space, but he tried his darnedest to reason me out of it. I think my only regret is that he passed before I came to my senses.

And then there’s me. I should know not to even try to follow. But I get these bouts of wanting to “fit in”. I’ve mostly learned my lesson by now, but its been a rough road sometimes. There was the religion thing. I’m still recovering from that. I’ve tried, from time to time, to join organizations. That has rarely worked out, either. The most successful effort was community college honor society, but that had a lot to do with the fact that I found myself in leadership positions fairly quickly. Alas, that was also where I discovered that leading can be just as much of a pain as following. That was a lesson that was only reinforced once I transferred to university to do my upper division work.

The university I attended was small, private, and very good. Most classes were small (I was in a few that had less than ten students each), and many of them were either seminars or involved a lot of small group work. My sociology of religion course was like that. Groups were not usually assigned, and after the first few weeks of class they became more or less static. The group I ended up in were all good students, but not necessarily very ambitious. Once they discovered that I always did my reading, several group members began to slack off. I would know what was going on; all they had to do was come along for the ride.

I finally got tired of that, and decided one evening when I was feeling particularly lazy that I wouldn’t do my assigned reading for the next day’s project. Well, I skimmed it, I think, but that was just me being my typical OCD-prone self. The next day in class, after we got into our groups, I just sat there. Pretty soon someone asked who had done the reading. Everyone looked at me. I said something along the lines of, “Don’t look at me. I didn’t do it.” They thought I was joking. Panic ensued when they realized that I was absolutely serious. No one else had read because they were so used to me guiding them through the projects. So we had nothing to offer when the professor called on our group. My group-mates didn’t like that very much at all. Let's just say that they were a bit irritated at me for letting them down.

And so they learned a lesson (I hope) that I had already figured out. Following is not something you want to do blindly because, more often than not, if you follow without paying attention to where you are going, you may very well end up where you don’t want to be, in circumstances that you might not find comfortable.

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