I went to high school on a kibbutz, where as kids, we had a bit of our own world: We lived in dormitories, and outside of school hours, we would set our own schedules, organize our own programs, and celebrate many of the holidays as a separate community.
In all this, there was plenty of room for adolescent culture.
Every year, it was customary for each of the lower grades (in this case, seventh through tenth) to put together an evening program that showcased their talents: Different kids would go up on the stage in front of the whole school and dance, sing, act, or whatever the case may be.
There were also generations of younger and older siblings involved, so that one teenager’s act might be a tribute - if not a jab - at the act of an older brother or sister that had gone on stage before them.
And so, in the time before I reached high school, a certain older sibling caused a huge sensation when he went up onto the stage, “left” a glass of water on a table, and exited. In his absence, other boys from his cohort threw and spilled increasingly provocative things into the glass, until the very climax - in which the original “innocent” victim happened to find his glass again, and drink the entire contents. Cries of “Ew, gross!” rang through the audience.
This was of course all done with full knowledge and consent. As a matter of fact, the “victim” was always watching the proceedings from behind the scenes. The purpose, of course, was to gross everybody out.
This same boy’s younger brother happened to be in my cohort. And so when our turn came to impress the masses, the spectacle was repeated: The glass was left in its place, other boys filled it with whatever they could wrap their minds around, and finally the boy drank everything in the glass, amidst the very vocal reactions of the crowd.
Then came my sister’s time in high school, and in her cohort was the third, and youngest, brother of that same family. And as it was somewhat expected, indeed he climbed onto the stage one fateful evening, with a glass in his hand.
By now, virtually everyone in the audience - all children of local “villagers” - knew the reference. Expectations were high.
The glass was filled again - perhaps with even more extreme things than ever before - and so the proverbial “youngest brother” found himself standing center-stage, raising the glass in his hand. The silence was memorable.
He opened his mouth, and said: “To be… or not to be…”
And then he continued: “As foolish as my brothers?” whereupon he slammed the glass back down on the table - never touching it to his lips - and walked off.
The crowd went wild.
I should note that the original two acts had exactly the intended effect on this room full of wild teenagers. I can’t call those first two iterations a failure. But the crux of this story for me was that this kid - the youngest of three - might have been mocked for not going through with it; but it was quite the opposite: He was celebrated. I remember that moment to this day. Everybody loved him for it. He broke the mold, and came out a hero.
In sharing our vulnerabilities, we often envision being mocked. But reality, in my experience, is quite the opposite: When we share our vulnerabilities, we are celebrated. That is because in truth, people connect not to actions but to emotions. And emotions are vulnerable. And so, a connection built on emotions is real, and strong; whereas a connection built on actions is, pretty much, an act.
The real difficulty of being vulnerable is in the danger of getting emotionally hurt. But if you play it tough, you will lose your chance to love; whereas if you open your heart and are genuine, others will connect to you in a genuine way; and they will cheer your courage, and they will love you. And that strength is invincible, compared to the transitory act of “looking good in front of your peers”.
May we all have this strength, and may we all enjoy these victories.
Photo by Aline Aronsky, Pexels.com