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The Bizarre Experience of Being Shamed for Using Proper Grammar (In College)

One of my earliest memories is of my mother teaching me the alphabet. I believe I was three years old, and I distinctly remember her having to bribe me with promises of being allowed to wear my ballerina tutu to preschool if I was successful. My motivation, thus, was cemented. This sort of display became commonplace in my house; my parents were, and my mom especially was, determined that I should be a competent reader by the time I entered kindergarten. I watched very little television, using books as my main source of entertainment, and my favorite board game was Hooked on Phonics, a nonstop source of fun for myself and my two siblings when they grew older. I might not have been the coolest kid out there (okay, yeah, I know, I definitely was not), but I had a damn good vocabulary and my spelling skills were impeccable.  When it came time to start taking the New York State standardized tests in elementary school, I was way over-prepared, and the advantage this presented over some of my peers was extremely evident to me.

My upbringing, as I understand now, was not the same upbringing that the majority of my classmates and friends received. My mom was able to stop working full-time and be at home when my sister, my brother, and I were not at school. She, therefore, had the time – and, more importantly, the willingness and foresight – to spend time with us as we matured, cultivating our little brains into those of questioning, critically-thinking, and articulate little preschoolers before sending us off to school (shout out to the best mom ever though, seriously.)

My parents’ values were also impressed upon me as I grew; they emphasized, much more than I realized at the time, the importance of accepting others, self-improvement, and ambition – but not to the point of detriment to others.  As children of an immigrant, my siblings and I were taught to value travel and the appreciation of other cultures, developing a thirst for exploration that has yet to die in any of the three of us.  With this came an open-mindedness that I believe we share, and for which I am incredibly, irrevocably grateful.

Of course, one must encounter varying opinions concerning his or her general outlook as one goes throughout life. The emphasis, as influenced by my mom, that I placed on proper grammar and spelling, was universally adored by my teachers up through high school, and it (usually) made my friends’ parents very fond of me. In some classes, I think that I became something of a novelty among my peers for my appreciation of academics in general and, especially, English. Up through high school, I never had an encounter in which my use of “big words” and grammatically correct sentences was something about which I was made to feel ashamed – at the most, it was treated like a lovable quirk. In the best of cases, I think it made other people believe I was worldly, and that was not something about which I would ever complain.

Once I reached college, however, things began to change. Whereas I had once been known for my manner of communication in a generally favorable way, I now began to encounter people – specifically one person, actually – who seemed personally offended by my word choices and sentence structure. I have to say, it is one of the most ridiculous and bizarre criticisms I believe a person can give to any other person. This individual was not critical of my tendency to swear occasionally, nor was she offended by the disheveled appearance I sometimes put forth as the result of a forced all-nighter. Rather, it was my propensity for grammar and my vocabulary which seemed, to her, to be inadmissible.  

I was shocked. I could not comprehend the reason behind her apparent contempt for the way I spoke, which seemed to be infectious. Soon, I was being teased by other friends of mine, as well. Was the problem that she thought me a snob, or was it that she thought I was mocking her? Could it be that I had been presenting a different image of myself than I thought I had been doing for my entire life? Did everyone hate me, and this was just the first person to ever make it known?  

I became wildly insecure as a result of these thoughts. This led to a change in my behavior: I was now making a conscious effort to dull my vocabulary and to censor myself around the people who appeared to be so offended by my self-expression. I felt stifled. I felt as though I could not communicate effectively, and it was horrible. Beyond this, I felt neglected as a friend. It was impossible for people to not notice the shift in my speech, but they did not acknowledge it or seem to care in the least. This led to an even greater uncertainty. It was, quite honestly, just sad. In a way, I felt as though I had lost a part of who I was, and that the girl I had been raised so purposefully to be had been buried under a layer of doubt in herself.

Catharsis came upon realization that I did not need the approval of others to validate my own way of being. I had been so concerned with not offending anyone that I had lost a significant part of my own personality in the process of pursuing this goal. It was not as though I had been speaking in offensive terms or perpetuating offensive ideals – there was just some person, who happened to hold some influence over some of her friends, who had an issue with me for some unknown reason. That, I realized, was NOT my problem – it was hers, and I had no responsibility to fix it for her.  
Since this realization, I have been a much happier person. I am far more comfortable expressing myself in a way that makes me comfortable. I do not cater to the whims of everyone else. As long as I am confident that the thoughts I spread when I communicate are positive ones, I do not worry about the way they are perceived. I believe that this may be applied to nearly all other areas of life: the way one chooses to dress, express herself, what she reads, the music she likes, the movies she watches, or how she chooses to live her life as a whole.  

You are not on this earth to please anyone but yourself with relatively trivial little things like the color of your hair or the type of shoes you wear. Be yourself. Everything else will be just fine.

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