10 February 2007

Count me out

I went to a leadership conference for college students today, a freelance assignment for the newspaper. I only try to do assignments where I can either have fun or learn something. I suppose this falls under the latter category, because suddenly I was far, far out of my element. It was like a trip to the land of the Path Not Taken.

I have a theory: smart people fall into about three categories. There are smart people with no social skills and boundless enthusiasm for one small slice of the world. We call these people engineers, scientists, inventors and geeks. Then there are smart people with lots of enthusiasm and lots of social skills. Those are the business leaders, ministers, salespeople. And last are the smart people with good social skills but endless, grim humor and cynicism. Those are the journalists, bloggers. You know the type. You probably ARE the type.

So there I was, a journalist trapped in the middle of Future Business Leaders - the type of people who have been in student government since fifth grade. People who volunteer for things. All the time.

I hoped to do my usual disappearing into the woodwork thing. Lay low, take notes. One of my journalist mantras is "Don't be the news," a reminder to stay out of the middle of the story, no matter how strong my feelings are about what is going on.

The first act was a motivational speaker named Nancy. She was peppy! She was convincing! She had a catch phrase, which was "It's ZING time!" (no, I am not making this up).

ZING time meant that it was time to get enthusiastic and involved. As in ama-ZING! She had these students chanting "It's ZING time" and shooting both hands in the air ("An exclamation point!") to show their utter enthusiasm for ZING.

Guess who wasn't ZINGing along with the crowd? Miss Journalistic Crankypants. It wasn't that I was trying to be a jerk. I was just doing my job and staying uninvolved.

After a few ZINGs, Nancy stopped.

"Excuse me," she said, fixing her gaze on me. "But you're sitting there and smiling at me and you aren't participating."

Oh crap. I was sitting at a round table in the middle of a huge meeting room and now 100 college students were staring at me.

"Why not?" she asked me.

"I'm a reporter," I said. "I'm just trying to maintain my...um...journalistic distance."

"Well now," she said. "We're all going to watch as she does it for all of us. "

ZING? I was supposed to ZING?

"What time is it?" she shouted, looking at me expectantly.

Message to Nancy: don't play battle of wills with a non-joiner. Because resisting peer pressure has been my stock in trade my whole life. I am the fifth child in my family, and one thing I learned early was that, the more people try to goad you into something, the worse idea it probably is (examples: Eating that unsweetened chocolate. Saying "Shit" at the dinner table at age 4. Thanks, sibs, for teaching me about peer pressure).

I sat there like a rock. The crowd groaned and "OOOOooh"ed at me dramatically.

I sat there, tension building. I could feel my heart pounding a bit but I didn't flinch. Nancy leaned over expectantly. Silence. I held my ground. Our gazes locked. She realized that she had met her match, her ZING-less rival.

"Oh well, we can still go on and get our energy back," Nancy said, recovering nicely. "What time is it?" The crowd roared "It's ZING time."

I did get a good rush of adrenaline from being singled out in front of so many people. My shaky notes for the next few minutes attest to that. But damn it, I held fast to the code of the non-joiner - don't let them grind you down. Because if you participate, the ZINGers of the world win.

(Nancy later apologized for embarrassing me in front of the crowd. She said she had thought I was a staff member, which would have been a lot more fun. I thought it was actually kind of amusing because I am weird that way. Also because I thought "I am SO blogging this.)

22 comments:

meno said...

This smart person type #3 salutes you. Wish i'd have seen it.

spotted elephant said...

Good. for. you. Don't ever let perky people push you around.

*applauds*

Mr Stapler said...

F@!# the F*$#ing Zingers and their F!$@ing Zinging!

Christina said...

I'm a bit of type #1 and #3, and there's no way I would have joined in either. Perpetually perky people frighten me. I prefer to hang back in the shadows and soak it all in.

Schnozz said...

In my case, as it probably is in yours, pressure to do something makes me ALL THE MORE DETERMINED not to do it. I would not have done zinging of any sort, and I am proud that you did no zinging yourself. Stay true, sister. Stay true.

Mignon said...

Meno, you liar. You and I are 1 & 3. No hiding.

SueBob, you rock. I was picturing you quietly flipping her off in your head and everyone waiting expectantly... so cool!

MsLittlePea said...

Wish I could have seen that!

super des said...

You're such a better person than me. I would have either made a (rude) snarky comment or left or something worse.

But I can't stand those kinds of "speeches" anyway.

Holly Capote said...

I am 1, 2, and 3, and encourage all of you to be all three too. Range rocks.

Uncharacteristically Sober said...

While reading I thought I was one of those business leader types but then I realized; I'm cynical and bitter and I would have cracked her upside her head for calling me out like that. I only join if there are cocktails involved and that's IT!

Laurabob said...

I am so conflicted about being the sibling who handed you the chocolate...

Izzy said...

Nobody's gonna make me ZING against my will either, dammit!

gingajoy said...

that sounds amaZINGly annoying. could make a good episode of The Office.

Heather B. said...

Oh yeah. I don't do zinging. And you're shocked I'm sure. Zinging, among other things, kinda scares me.

Kristen said...

ZING time? how about it's DECAF time?

Damselfly said...

Wow, you're good. I used to freelance for the local paper, too, and after a few years of that, my journalistic distance disappeared and was replaced by more of a "join 'em and you'll get better quotes" kind of tactic.

TB said...

It takes a really special person to be that kind of motivational speaker because of the level to which you have to buy into your own bullshit. And it IS bullshit. I would have given anything to see you stand off against Little Miss ZING.

qofs said...

Oh...Oooooh I HATE Those cheerleader types.

I vote we start a NOZINGERS allowed club. To rival their joinyness.

Did that make sense?

mothergoosemouse said...

I didn't really want to admit that I was #3 (assuming you think I'm smart, that is), but when I got to the ZING business, I remembered how much I hate shit like that.

And I'm bewildered by the fact that the whole group bought into it. They're a bunch of people I hope I never work for.

Suzanne said...

Another type 3 here, just chiming in to say that Nancy should go zing herself.

Calvin said...

There are also smart people with NO social skills but endless, grim humor and cynicism. That would be me.

claire said...

wow, i'm late in commenting on this one, but Wow.

Good for you for standing up to the weirdo. If it were me, i would have crawled under the table to make everyone stop staring at me. Though, that probably would have drawn some more attention... I guess what i'm saying is, i would have died. DIED.

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