Chopping Down the Social Ladder

I'm sure some of you have already seen this video. It has close to 2.5 million views on YouTube as I'm writing this, and it's also making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter. Still, I can't help but post it again. Words like "breathtaking" and "inspirational" just don't seem to cut it here. Watch it for yourself. I'll wait.

When I watch this video, the first thing that strikes me (after I pick up my jaw and the goosebumps fade) is that I don't know anyone who didn't feel this way in school, at least to some degree. It's not that I didn't see a social hierarchy when I was in school. What I mean is that I have yet to meet someone who, during his or her adolescence, believed that they were at the top of that hierarchy.

I've even met true narcissists, with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. From what they've told me of their experience during that time, they knew they were awesome, but they weren't convinced anyone else saw it. At that point in their lives, even the slightest off-hand criticism would cut them down. It didn't matter that they had self-confidence oozing out of their pores. No matter how much they may have loved themselves, they felt like everyone else only hated them more for it.

Now that we're adults, Facebook has reintroduced me to many of the people I thought were popular. I've come to find out that they had a very different impression. Some of my former classmates have even told me that they thought I was popular. (Are you laughing? I did.)

The closest that anyone gets is having popular friends. These were the extroverts. These were the kids who could muster up enough courage to present themselves to those of an apparently higher social caste. If you knew them well enough, they'd let you in on a little secret: they never went in without a shield. It's not just introverts who are awkward. Extroverts are just better at hiding it in public.

We're all so convinced of the existence of this social ladder that we spend our school years elbowing each other out of the way to climb it. I think the truth is that there is no ladder. We're all just stuck in a great big mosh pit, under the impression that there's something magical in the middle. You can blame the media or natural instincts to dominate the pack, yet we all seem to strive for this imaginary reward.

Your strength, confidence, determination, and aggression decide where you stand in a mosh pit. When you're at the edges of the pit, you know it. You can only move back so far, and people are still slamming into you, but it feels different. Some people are directly on the edge, sustaining occasional bruises, but primarily treated as an afterthought. Others stand their ground and push back when they're hit. Someone flying outward from the center will aim for a pusher if they can, because it will propel them back inward.

Once you've forced yourself toward the heart of the pit, you're no longer packed as tightly. You have freedom to move around, and those who dare come at you are far fewer. That doesn't mean that they don't hit hard. They may even try to hit harder, because they are the ones who want nothing more than the spectacular prize in the center. They'll do anything to get their hands on that thing that can make all the turbulence and uncertainty of growing up go away. They're convinced it's just lost in the chaos, but they'll find it if they can just push you out of the way.

It's not there. It doesn't exist. It doesn't matter how aggressive you are, or how well you kick down the others. It doesn't win you anything. There is nothing to be gained from bullying another human being. It makes the whole situation worse for everyone involved. The world would be a much better place if we could all just stop flailing and enjoy the show.