THE ONLY MEMORY I have of my sixth grade year was standing up for this girl who was being terribly bullied by the whole class. I don’t remember what she was being bullied for, and I don’t remember the exact words that I said when I stood up and said something to defend her. What I do remember is the class falling silent and slowly agreeing with me, a class of young, impressionable students who should have known better than ostracize someone for reasons not even worth remembering 7 years later. But of course, all of them, myself included, were victims of their unadulterated adolescence, where everything was good and clean fun, even at the expense of putting someone down just to have something to laugh about.
Looking back at it now, I don’t commend myself for what I did. Though I don’t remember the exact words that I said, I remember thinking to myself, again and again, before I finally got the courage to stand up: this isn’t right. This doesn’t make sense to me. Yet everybody’s doing it.
It wasn’t about acting nice or playing the hero or “giving voice to the voiceless”; 12-year-old me would have been a hell of a lot more compassionate if I had managed to think of those things. It was realizing something so plain and simple, so easy to do, and something that even a little kid like me could do. And so I did it.
At nineteen years old, being fully aware of the politics and power relations that dominate all areas of public and private life, I fully understand how doing something like that in this day and age is not as easy. It’s like what they always say—common sense is not so common. We see ostracism in all forms, shapes, and sizes, yet we break our backs just to avoid looking at it. Women are being harassed everyday on the streets and people still think it’s socially acceptable, something to be expected. Sometimes, it’s not even other people that’s being abused: it’s ourselves. And the abuser? Also ourselves.
But the thing is, even though things are not as easy as they once were, they could still be simple. When people talk about the path less travelled they always allude to Robert Frost’s famous poem. They relate it to things like grandeur and doing something absolutely extraordinary and being the “chosen one”, being the one in a million. Our generation is obsessed with standing out from the many, whatever that means, and which ranges in a million different ways: from uploading the next viral video on social media to staging the next people power revolution.
However, I argue the opposite. Taking the path less travelled shouldn’t have to mean resorting to desperation (though there is nothing wrong with that, either). It’s not always about a call to arms or being the loudest or being the first or being the only one. Taking the path less travelled could be as mundane as not following your daily routine; sometimes taking the path less travelled could be making the conscious choice that you’re going to have a good day, and you’re going to abide by it. If only people would realize that so much could change in a day simply by deliberately altering their disposition the moment they wake up, then they’d be a lot more relieved and a lot more empowered to soldier through their day. Because sometimes getting up is not so easy.
We live through the daily motions of life, get lost in the competition and pressures of it, the ebb and flow taking us in a hundred different directions, that we start to live life passively. Taking the path less travelled does not have to be magnificent or spectacular or standoffish; sometimes walking in a straight line, or saying ‘no’, or finally saying what we truly mean or going for what we truly want could count as the unfamiliar path. Every time I feel myself disappearing beneath all the noise I use my twelve-year-old self as inspiration, how it had been so easy to snap out of it. How it had been so easy to say something out loud, something I believed in, without fearing that it could be wrong or others might not agree with it. It is this very consciousness that I hope stays with me as I grow older and move on to the bigger, heavier, harder things. As I near the end of my college journey it has only become more apparent that using my twelve-year-old voice in situations where I feel trapped or helpless has helped me overcome situations by getting down to the basics and asking myself these questions—why do I feel so bad about this situation? Is there something wrong here? Is there something I could do to change it?—and the last, probably most powerful, can I do it?
Asking myself these questions does not make me braver or more powerful or smarter than other people. It does, however, help me see clearer that which I already know, but probably am too preoccupied to notice. More importantly, asking myself these questions makes me realize that the answers to them aren’t as difficult as they seem.
The only hope I have for the future is being able to use this consciousness to reach out and help others in need, and in turn, tell them what they already know, but might have simply forgotten.