Sometimes it’s good to check yourself. To take a moment, actually look inside your skull and admit you are wrong, and possibly a pillock.
Now sit back as I tell you a story. A parable, almost.
When I was fifteen, I took part in something called World Challenge Expeditions. Think of it as an adventure holiday, mixed with the appearance of a tiny gap year. For myself, and the 19 other teens on the trip, it was a pretty big deal. For a start, each of us had spent two years fundraising to finance our place, so when the time finally rolled around, we were pretty damn invested. Part of the trip’s appeal (or sales pitch, whichever term you prefer) was that not only would we be out there, far from home and all things known, but we’d also be fully responsible for managing things like transport, money and food. All while having to operate and work as a group. All in Venezuela. For a bunch of white, middle-class kids from a grammar school, you can imagine that that’s a whole lotta things that we’d never really had to deal with before, and certainly not without a lot of safety nets.
All of this is background to the story I really want to tell, so fast-forward to around three weeks in. Hills have been climbed, obstacles overcome, lessons learned. We’re all pretty pleased with ourselves. The next part of our expedition was the community project. We bused down to…well, I’ve no idea where. Somewhere. The scene: A small village in Venezuela. Our group, which had been dealing with a lot of tensions already, bursts over. Petty rivalries and strained relationships which have been held back by climbing mountains now have nowhere to hide. In a day, the group schisms. This half is not talking to that half, who isn’t talking to her who isn’t looking at him. The upshot of this is that, on our first night in this little community, myself and a few others spend our evening very much away from the house where it could kick off at any moment and down at the local pub, celebrating my friend’s birthday. Incidentally, a decade on and I’ve still got no idea what the legal drinking age is in Venezuela – it never came up as an issue. Fast-forward some more, and the night ends up with me and two others getting fucking hammered. We roll back to the house we’re packed into. One (drunk) girl gets into a massive shitstorm of an argument, which (because there are about 23 people in a house about 20 feet long) the entire group weighs in on. I, very deliberately staying out of it, sit outside by myself in the quiet. It’s nice. Until, with fairly terrible timing, I end up throwing up against the side of the house, audible to everyone – who are already furious. Oh, and unbeknowst to all of us who went out drinking, one of our group has been taken to hospital, and much of the group have been (figuratively) sick with worry all evening.
As a comic aside – my friend who’s celebration it was, who was the center of at least one of the schisms and who has been on the absolute cusp of blowing up all day, avoided absolutely all involvement and consequent trouble by simply falling asleep as soon as we got back. What a bastard.
For the rest of us, the hammer drops at breakfast the next morning with Mick. Mick, who was hired by WCE as our general guide/tracker/hard man, is pissed. And when an ex-forces, professional security merc is pissed, you fucking know about it. The whole group gets the shout down. Everyone gets an earful, but special slots are given to several people – very very much including me.
Now here’s the important point, here’s where our story has actually been going. At one point while I’m getting the dress-down, Mick points at me and says something along the lines of “I’ve got some fucking truths for you if you want to hear them.” He doesn’t actually say what they are. The tirade continues. Once the galaxy has burned out, all life ended and the eternal fires of hell have gone cold, the dressing down finally ends. But those words have sparked something. I get the impression it wasn’t just angry words made to hurt, but that Mick might really have something to say.
Fast-forward again to that afternoon. I make a decision, and it turns out to be an important one. I go and find Mick, and ask him to tell me what he meant. We go for a walk. He tells me. It changes quite a lot of my life.
It’s at times like this I really, really hate having a bad memory. And believe me, I do have a bad memory. For anything involving names, places, people, things they said, or events which I personally was involved in, my memory is even worse than most peoples – and we already know that most people have unreliable memories at best.
So I don’t know, exactly, what Mick said. I did at one point, but I can’t remember any more. But I do know the one thing that really got to me; it was the first time an adult had ever really spoken to me. Mick didn’t give a fuck about watching his mouth, because he wasn’t a teacher who had to care about that. Mick didn’t mentally view me as a child, because he didn’t know me as one. Okay to be fair, I’m pretty sure he did see me as a spoilt snotty bastard of a teen, and that’s fine because in many ways I was one. But he spoke to me like a person. Actually spoke to me, free of any kind of pretense or social reserve. It may be the first conversation I ever had where I was treated like an adult, by an adult. So when I replied, he actually listened. When he responded, he responded with that he actually thought, not what-he-thought-was-okay-to-say. Now as I’ve said, I don’t remember the exact words, but I do remember the message:
In essence, he told me I was being a twat. More than that, he told me that if I kept on being such a twat, I was going to turn around one day and find I had absolutely no friends, or support, because I’d been such a lazy, self serving twat for so long, I’d driven everyone away and it would be my own damn fault.
I’m extremely glad he did.
Fast-forward some more, to the here and now. Why have I told you this story? Well, because sometimes it’s good to check yourself, to have a Mental Mick lay it down for you. While I am acutely aware of how possible it is to end up just beating yourself up, or fall down one of any number of mental potholes, that doesn’t actually mean that there aren’t also times when you need to be honest (actually honest, not just honest-enough-to-get-away-with-it) with yourself. And admit that you’re being a pillock.