One Black Wall

I recently read a book called Nothing But Blue, by Lisa Jahn-Clough (one of my professors at Rowan University). It’s about a lost girl taking a journey where she meets a number of people who live “unorthodox” lives. Train hoppers, hippies, artists, and others who don’t conform to society’s norms. The main character, Blue, is a bit unorthodox herself. One of the book’s memorable scenes tells how she painted forest scenes on her bedroom walls, then imagined little gnomes living among the trees, so she added mushroom houses for them.

I was never allowed to paint my walls. My mom had the final say in everything that went on in the house. When we were teenagers, my sister wanted to paint her bedroom black (because, teenagers). My mom refused. She said it would make the room too dark and dreary. They argued about it for awhile, and eventually my mom agreed to let my sister paint one wall black. The other three had to stay nice, bland, conformist white.

Except, even though my mom might have the “right” to make this decision since she owned the house, in reality, she had no reason to do it. She never went into that room. It was my sister’s room, where my sister should have had privacy and the ability to make her own decisions. And while the color of your walls might not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of things, this is just one small example of the things parents try to control. I’ve known people whose parents forced them to go to the college the parents wanted, take the jobs the parents wanted, or plan the wedding the parents wanted. Even though they aren’t the ones going to that school, working that job, or getting married in that wedding.

Our society, oftentimes, supports this behavior. We seem to think that people in authority have some right to tell others how to live their lives. And that’s wrong.

Because it leads to churches trying to tell gay and lesbian couples that they can’t marry who they want, even when it’s none of their business.

Because it leads to senators trying to pass laws banning transgender individuals from using the bathroom for their identified gender, even when it’s none of their business.

Because it leads to people trying to tell others how they can live their lives, and that’s just wrong. You don’t have any right to tell someone else what color to paint their bedroom unless you’re the one sleeping in that bedroom with them. And you don’t have any right to tell someone about anything else they can or can’t do in that bedroom, because you’re not the one in there with them.

So next time you think about trying to tell someone else how to live their lives, just remember: they don’t have to have one black wall just because you said so.

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4 thoughts on “One Black Wall”

  1. I really enjoyed this post, Jason.

    It reminds me of how power balances shift between generations over the years. I’ve known a few people who weren’t at all respectful of their children’s boundaries or identities when their kids were growing up.

    Some of those adult children have chosen to have distant relationships with their relatives. The now-elderly older generation are saddened by this. They don’t seem to see how the choices they made decades ago have lead to the quality of their family relationships today.

    It’s not my job to fix this for them, but it does make me very aware of how I treat the people I love.

    1. I don’t think many people know quite how to find that balance. Though I think trying is important. If someone actually cares about their children’s goals and dreams and such, then even if you don’t do the best job, at least you’re supporting them.

      My mom never did that for me, and we haven’t spoken in eight years.

  2. I dunno… I’m kind of half in agreement with you, and half not. My libertarian streak is 100% with you- people don’t have any right to dictate to others about their lives unless they’re personally affected by it. Especially in the larger cultural sense, that’s absolutely right.

    But when you start looking at more personal interactions, like between parents and children… that’s when things get a little messy. Putting aside the fact that it is your mom’s house, as you say, there’s the broader point that everything we do impacts someone else. Your sister painting her walls black would have an impact on your mother, and vice versa, your mother’s decision to keep all walls white would have had an impact on your sister. And again, putting aside the potential economic arguments- would your sister have paid for the white paint if the house was to sell and the wall would’ve brought down the housing value? Doubtful, but still a reality that exists- we can’t argue that a mother looking to the well-being of her children is the same as a politican passing a law to regulate behavior.

    I dunno, at least for me, the matter gets really messy. Some parents are overbearing and make bad decisions, but… at a certain level, what seems like being overbearing does come from the desire to do best by one’s children or loved ones. We can’t get rid of the occasional overreach in that regard without getting rid of the greater good of looking after each other, so… at least for me, I think it’s less of a clear-cut issue. Less black and white, if you’ll pardon the joke.

    1. I can’t really get on board with the argument of the cost of the paint when reselling the house, since my mom decided to repaint almost every room in the house prior to selling it in order to make the house seem as appealing as possible. Also, I don’t see a long-term issue like “this might affect the resale value of our house five years from now” as being a valid argument against letting your child have freedom today.

      I really don’t think my mom had anyone’s well-being in mind but her own. And “desire to do best” doesn’t mean “actually doing a good job.” Some parents force their children into rehabilitation camps to try to “un-gay” their kids because the parent thinks it best. Do they get credit for that because they think they’re doing what’s best? Not in my book.

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