Thursday, June 9, 2011

Where did you sit on the bus?

Everyone is different. This is not a novel concept – we are all unique individuals and no two people are the same. Like snowflakes. It’s precious. Then take a look at societies, cultures, beliefs, and customs – each of them suggesting the group defines the individual.

Here we are, you are an individual, you are a group, you have your values and ethics that make you who you are and shape how you perceive the world. But…how did it all start? What is the genesis? How did you become you?

We can spat about nature versus nurture if you like. We are either a product of genetics or a product of the environment in which we are raised. We can quote philosophers and psychologists. We can look at brain function and personality tests.

Naturally, I have a much simpler solution.

The answer to how we socially evolve, adapt to the real world, and adopt certain customs isn’t found in religious text, the scientist’s lab, or in the psychologist’s questionnaire.

Each person can be defined by where they sat on the school bus.

The U.S. Educational system can’t give us much, but it can give us insight into the complexities and psychological profiles of every member of this society as exemplified by one’s seat on the school bus.

Imagine you’re there. On that sidewalk. Waiting for that bus. Enduring any and all weather and puberty. Here it comes. The school bus. The doors squeal open. You pick up your short legs to clear those three steep steps. One. Two. Three. You pass the trusty bus driver (who is probably the only constant in your life, i.e. the bus and its driver). You look out into a cesspool of smells, attitudes and societal rank.

Where you sit determines how you will contribute to society in adulthood.

At the front of the bus are the bottom feeders…you know who you are. You spend most of your time staring at the bus driver through the huge mirror hanging above the windshield. You fight rumors of being a booger eater (rumors that are most likely true, admit it). You have a collection of some sort, whether it was pet rocks in 70s, slap bracelets in the 80s, or pogs in the 90s. The front row dwellers are typically socially and emotionally behind the rest of the crowd that looms in a thick haze of seat-taking competitors just beyond the second row.

The front of the bus produces one of two types of people: (1) either the creepy person who hangs over the slushy machine at the gas station, or (2) someone who works alone, performing complex research – like studying the reproductive behaviors of a prehistoric plant species discovered in the middle of nowhere. It’s one or the other – take your pick.

After the bottom feeders, in rows 3-7ish were the people who happened to make one other friend on the bus, and they clung together while enduring an anxious ride to school. If you were in this second group, your nighttime prayers consisted of, “please let so-and-so be on the bus tomorrow so I don’t have to sit by myself.” All the while this second group will listen to the commotion coming from the back of the bus, longing to join that distant laughter but simultaneously being petrified of it.

This second group is by far the most tame and well behaved on the entire bus. They are generally not risk takers and are more resistant to peer pressure, consequently passing on initial opportunities to drink for the first time. The second row also lays claim to teacher’s pets. Being more calm in nature, this second grouping will provide the world with more doctors and upper management types. It’s a good place to be.

The next, third, group on the bus are the kids that are lucky enough to be talked to ONCE by a kid who “sits in the back.” The third group consists of desperate creatures, eager for attention and acceptance from their “back of the bus” leaders. They want to be the center of attention, but always fall short. They are the wing man of the popular circuit – popular only by association and not enough clout to socially carry themselves alone.

Members of this group will be the first to sit with their legs in the middle of the aisle to send a poignant message: I’m willing to get yelled at by the bus driver over the intercom to show how brave I am. These kids also repeat rapid fist-and-arm motions to every truck driver in hopes the sound of their horn will lead to more recognition from the kids in the back.

In adulthood, these people become the “one-uppers.” They feel they have something to prove and seek to one-up you in any scenario. Whether it’s their car, their company softball team, or their brand of coffee – it’s better than yours and they want you to know it. Their professions associate with a degree of risk, whether they express their risk physically in the police force or army, or financially, by adventuring in their own business or real estate.

The last and most coveted group on the school bus: the kids who sit in “the back.” This highly competitive section will soon yield the “popular” kids during the middle-high school transition. The back seating arrangement is home to the best yo-momma jokes, the worst smells, where you learn about sex, about getting drunk (someone’s older brother and so on). First kisses can also be claimed in the back. It is certainly an education unmatched by any other.

There are two routes in life for the back-seaters. They will either use their popularity, influence, and drive as a springboard for the future, becoming leaders or significant figures in the workforce. Or, they will succumb to the temptations coupled with their rank…becoming the partiers, the seven year college students, and beer pong masters of the universe.

The number one occupation arising from the back seat kids is ironically enough: Teachers. You think your son/daughter’s second grade teacher is sweet, attentive, and an upright person. Here’s the truth for you…most teachers were the biggest, partying, raging alcoholics in their college days. Here the two sides of the coin collide – they can hold their liquor and still channel their social talents into something notable.

(AUTHOR'S NOTE: Or you become a writer with an affinity for bourbon and Joni Mitchell who creates anecdotal stories about society at large.)

Of all the kids in the back of the bus, there is one who stands alone as the source of control, and is the singular voice in which all kids obey. That single seat. In the last row. The person in this seat is filled with ambition, knows their power, but only executes it when needed. This kid could just as likely become a convict or President. It’s a fact of life.

For those of you that did not have to ride the bus to school this is unfamiliar territory. Chances are, however, at one point you went on a field trip and had a taste of just how competitive the seating market is. You probably suffered your first panic attack during this instance. That’s understandable.

The years spent riding the bus are the most character building years of one’s life. If you were picked up and dropped off, everyday, worry-free, care-free, by your parental guardian…you are the most naïve of all. But it’s not technically your fault. You don’t know any better – you’re naïve that way, and you have hard lessons to learn ahead of you. Instead of discovering the truth about social justice at an early age, you struggle with your rose-colored lenses for several years. There’s no way around it.

The societal constructs of the America are made obvious by school bus placement. Forget the IQ tests and the personality tests. Once a year, assign one person to take a clipboard onto a bus, and write down the name of kid, and their seat number, and let that be that. There is no better gauge than witnessing a kid put their status as a human being in jeopardy every time that sliding door opens, the steep steps are climbed, and the first glance is taken onto a sea of humility and doubt.

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