15 Dec 2010

“…under no circumstances”

When I was in high school I remember they (the teaching staff) made the whole grade play a game in the large sports hall. The object of the game was basic: to form groups of a set number, and this number changed with each round. The one challenge was that everyone was affixed a paper label to their back, and upon which certain conditions of acceptance were written, i.e. “accept me only if your group has an odd number,” or “accept me only if your group has only one girl,” etc. Much like the game of Celebrity, everyone else but you could see these conditions and no one was to reveal to anyone what their conditions were. Unlike Celebrity, the aim of the individual in this game was not to guess one’s own conditions, but only to find acceptance in a group. Once each group found their set number of members for the round, they sat down, having completed the round; at the end of each round, those who had not found acceptance in groups were left standing. And so the process was that you would rush around and do a little turn to reveal your conditions of acceptance, then await a verdict of acceptance or rejection.

While there was no objective reason to feel humiliation at being one of those left standing at the end of a round, the game’s real-life analogy was hardly subtle, and so, round after round, neither was the sense of public degradation. Worse still: high school public degradation. Needless to say, round after round, I was left standing, having been rejected from every group I approached. I could see that others’ conditions made the variables of each round change, such as “accept me only if I’m taller than all your members,” (conditions that would be rather cruel for an unusually short person, for example) and so the analytical side of my thinking figured, if shouldered with difficult conditions, the best course of action was to seek acceptance quickly and frequently at the start of each round, when variables were much lower — the more members a group had, the more variables to contend with. Rejection from every group I approached continued, but with each rejection I figured I must be closer to figuring out the winning pattern: Perhaps I could only find acceptance in a group of all boys? Perhaps only if I was first to join? Or last? Maybe I needed to find a group who already had a specific other person, whose named was written across my shoulders but unknown to me? None of these proved accurate.

When the game ended we were allowed to take the label off our backs and see what the mystery was that was preventing our acceptance throughout. Mine: “accept me under no circumstances.”