I work in this really strange profession where my “capital” and the “goods I produce” are other people. We live in a society in which tangible, physical data equals success; just like someone in business might use profit margins to show success, mine is shown in the amount of pages my students can read, whether or not they know literary terms, how much improvement they make on the writing rubric.
Looking at “success” in this way can often be very detrimental, because what ultimately happens is, I start seeing my students as my possessions. It will be said, “A student of mine”, “My student”, suggesting ownership over the students; as if whatever success the student has is a single and direct reflection of whatever I did in the three hours a week they sat in my class. Of course, we have all had teachers, coaches, mentors who have pushed us towards greatness, but ultmiately, that ownership resides within ourselves, because while they gave the suggestion, we had to make the CHOICE to follow through.
Where this becomes problematic is when we start seeing other people’s successes and failures as direct reflections of our own. I’ve seen teachers get in fights before, defending “My student”, because “Your student cheated on a test”, or coaches get in arguments, because “Your athlete acted un-sportsman-like”. As the teacher, I can reinforce that cheating is bad, and as the coach, I can set up structures to prevent un-sportsman-like behavior, but at the end of the day, I’m not in control of student or the athlete (and, the same goes for when the student or athlete finds success).
We see this same concept of ‘possession over other people’ in relationships as well. We see this in “Once Upon a Time” as well. The Evil Queen, Regina, always refers to Henry as “Her possession”, and “My son”, and she uses Henry as a pawn in her transactions with other people. Or, I think one of the hardest parts of a break up (other than the identity crisis that ensues) is that you can no longer call them “MY boyfriend”, or “MY girlfriend”. You are no longer privy to knowing where they are, who they are hanging out with, when they are going to bed, what they are eating for dinner. But, hopefully, they are still EXISTING. Just because you do not have ownership over them, and you can’t tag the term “MY” to them any longer doesn’t mean they are gone.
Of course, the only reason we seek possession over others is because we feel a lacking in ourselves. Perhaps we never received our own scholarship, so when “our student” gets nominated, we vicariously attach our own efforts to it. Perhaps we never sacked the quarterback in our own football career, so when one of our athletes does it, we fill that void and tag it to ourselves. Perhaps you feel unstable about your relationship, so you insist on MY boyfriend in order to give yourself the illusion that you have some sort of stability.
But, we should never want to have power and control over other people because by seeking power and control over others, you are therefore suppressing someone else’s agency in order to inflate your own. 50 Shades of Grey is an excellent example of this (which is why I refuse to read it). From what I understand of the plot, the “heroine” never stands up to Christian Grey, but instead, is a submissive character the whole time. But, by playing the submissive character role, she’s subjecting herself to an immense amount of psychological trauma, thus detrimental her experience of the world. Or, when we use derogatory terms towards others (‘bitch’, ‘cunt’, ‘bastard’, etc.)–ultmiately, we are putting down others in order to elevate our own status.
It has been proven that language influences our thought structures (which is why, as an English major, I would advocate for the importance of learning to communicate effectively). For example, in the famous Elizabeth Loftus study, she asked participants to view a short video clip of cars colliding into each other, and found, when she asked, “At what speed did the cars seem to be going?”, answer largely depended upon whether she said, “when they collided with each other?”, “when they crashed into each other?”, “when they hit each other?”. Denotatively, “collided”, “crashed”, and “hit” all mean the same thing, but the change in language changed the thought structure of the participants. Or, why we try to say “a student with disabilities” instead of “a disabled student”; because, when we say, “disabled student”, we are limited that student to one single identity of “disabled” rather than the disability being just something they have, but not something they are defined by.
In my own life, I’m trying to use this theory of language and thought in order to shift how I view my possession over other people because I really should never want to have possession over others. Instead of “my student”, I’m trying to say, “a student of mine”. Instead of “my dancer”, I’m trying to say, “a dancer on the team”. Instead of “my boyfriend”, I’m trying to say…..well, actually I don’t have one of those so I don’t need to worry about that 🙂
As we all see from the Evil Queen Regina, having possession over other people just leads to disastrous ends…