There’s one saying I particularly hate: it’s ‘pull up your socks’. It kind of refers I guess to a sense of self-reliance and comes from an era when you were just expected to suffer quietly and not make your life’s challenges a problem for anyone else.
You needed to behave yourself. And if things were bad just adopt the socks-up grin and bear its mindset.
You’re not allowed to wallow in your situation. It basically means you should take responsibility for your own pain. Your own hardship. Your own shit and just get on with it. It’s easier said than done but I kind of get the basic principle and in a way part of me does agree with the underlying ethos. I mean if you are constantly complaining your socks have fallen down and instead of simply bending to adjust them you are screaming for some other sock puller to come and give your foot apparel a good firm tug then you are going to have a pretty miserable life. Well at least in the sock department. (I guess you could just start wearing thongs.) It’s also much more efficient in many circumstances in lieu of waiting for a willing and friendly passing sock puller to pass by, to just pull your own socks up.
But what if you’ve lost the ability to know how to pull up socks? We assume everyone knows how, but if you’ve lived through generational trauma, chances are the ability to pull up socks was lost decades ago. What if your socks are faulty? What if they won’t stay up no matter how hard you pull them? That happens. Everyone’s suffered a limp sock from time to time. You know, the sad hopeless little sock that just can’t stay up no matter how hard its pulled?
What irks me about the saying ‘pull up your socks’ though is how little tolerance it shows for difference or circumstance. I believe it reflects a mindset that has no compassion for anyone who might be currently sock challenged. For instance, the saying assumes that all socks are to be worn pulled up. That’s just sockist. That might be okay for football players and 1973 Geography teachers who liked to team their walk socks with dress shorts, but these days everyone likes to wear their socks differently.
You should never assume there is only one way to wear socks. Some like their socks all crumpled. Some like one up and one down. Some like their socks to be invisible, eg those tiny unpullable sockettes.
There are even some people who don’t have socks. I mean you can’t be expected to pull your socks up if you don’t have any. Many homeless people don’t have socks. They can’t just pull them up as per the classic John Laws listener approach to social welfare. It presupposes that all of us are born equally with the same opportunities, the same family situation, the same access to education, the same level playing field. That we all have the same socks. But we don’t.
Our ethnicity, our gender, our sexuality, our socio-economic background, our mental health… well all that really makes a huge impact on what kind of socks we have (if any) and how often they fall down on us and require a good pulling.
I think the test of any community is their ability to pull up the socks of those who can’t. Or to provide access to socks that will stay up. That’s about the dignity of socks. In the end the whole pull-up-your-socks bullshit is about mindset. I’d like to see a shift perhaps harking back to the insights of of an ancient philosopher, Sockrates, who clearly wore his at half mast. (They’re not much good with sandals.)
‘Remember, no human condition is ever permanent. Then you will not be overjoyed in good fortune, nor too sorrowful in misfortune.’ And that my friends, is the joy of socks.