Friday, October 30, 2009
There are times in your life when you face a tough situation and have to make a decision that will ultimately alter the course of your very existance and call into question the person you know yourself to be. I faced such a situation last week in my Psych 2010 class, when I was called upon by God, fate, and the universe to single out two students who were disrupting the lecture. The Sarah Clark you knew and loved is dead to you. Let's have a moment of silence in her honor.
*Those of you disrupting the moment of silence can now consider yourself reprimanded by the new Sarah Clark.*
I am now that person. I am that person who will look you in the eye and call you on your behavior and humiliate you in front of large groups of people. I am that person who will take no thought of her own discomfort or the discomfort of the loved ones who might be with her while she does this. In short, I am that person I vowed I'd never become. It's all very dramatic and painful. Don't judge me. (And don't talk when you should be quiet.)
We'll call the class disruptors Chatty and Cathy because I don't know their names, and now I feel so awkward around them I'll never try to find out. They sat side by side at the back of the small classroom, a laptop on the desk in front of them. In their ears they shared a pair of headphones, and from their mouths flowed a steady stream of indistinct but highly annoying female chatter. In short, they were completely disconnected from everyone else in the room, including the professor who was at the front trying to give a lecture. To put it into religious terms, they were IN the class but not OF the class.
The rest of us did our best to take notes and ask our questions while Chatty and Cathy kept up the constant stream of almost coherent mumbles. That was the real problem, of course. If they had been speaking loudly enough for us to hear their words, I think we all could have tuned them out and no incident would have occurred. I don't care about what her boyfriend said or where she's going for Thanksgiving or how much she can't stand her math teacher, you know? If I know I don't care, I don't have to listen. Instead, my brain was treated to a stream of words I could almost hear, so it spent at least 60% of its resources trying to figure out what was being said so it could know whether or not to disregard it. That's 60% it wasn't able to devote to listening to the lecture.
After about ten minutes of this, a battle began in the 40% of my brain that wasn't trying to decipher their almost intelligible speech.
-You should say something.
-I can't do that.
-Why not? You're assertive. You know how to communicate. Someone needs to shut them up.
-I can't. I won't. You can't make me.
-What's the big problem? Just turn around and say something.
-I won't do it. I won't be that person.
-Don't act like you don't know who I'm talking about! You were just as embarrassed by her as I was. She always said what needed to be said, and she practically RUINED our teenage years because of it. Do I have to remind you about the movie theaters...the baseball games...the concerts? HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN THE CHURCH PICNICS?!
-Of course I haven't forgotten.
-Then HOW in the wild world of sports can you expect me to just turn around and shush them?!
-Because it's the right thing to do. For better or worse, she was right every time she spoke up. Yes, it was embarrassing to be sitting next to that person. Yes, you often turned around and gave the offending party a conspiratorial eye roll and shake of the head to say, "I'm sorry my crazy mom just called you on your rudeness. She's so embarrassing. I can't believe I'm here with her. Please don't think I'm crazy like her and hate me for the rest of your lives, OK? I'm cool! I'm a normal person!" I remember all of that, but Sarah, it's time. You are your mom in 800 different ways. There's no escaping it. Hike up your granny panties and shush them in a way that would make Willie Braudaway proud to call you her daughter.
-But, but, but...
-Do it. The class is counting on you. Don't let them down.
-I hate you.
Long story short (Too late!): I turned around and said, "Could you two please stop talking? I'm trying to listen to the lecture." My face burned as both Chatty and Cathy gave me the, "Who's the crazy lady talking to us?" look. Within minutes, they had packed their laptop and their headphones and had gone, leaving the class in beautiful silence. I took my notes like a good crazy person and wondered whether this meant it was time to start letting my grays grow out and listening to Barry Manilow records.
As the class ended, though, an amazing thing happened. People stood up, looked my way, and said, "Hey thanks for doing that! They were so annoying!" and, "I'm so glad you did that. I wanted to say something and didn't know how." A couple of days later, I got an emailed apology from my professor who told me he should have been the one to shush them and that he was sorry I had to step up and do it. A day after that, he let me know Chatty and Cathy had apologized to him for the disruption.
-You see? It's not a crazy thing to do. It's heroic. People were grateful.
-No, really! Maybe that person isn't so bad, after all. Maybe mom was just taking one for the team. Maybe she realized that there had to be a that person in the world, and she sacrificed herself for the greater good. Isn't that someone you want to be like?
-No, no it isn't.
-But you're going to keep doing it, aren't you?
-I'm proud of you.
-Blow it out your ear.