Write about a time when no one believed you.
The first thing that comes to mind when I read this prompt is high school, senior year. Us seniors were a part of a class wide English game involving the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. It’s a popular dystopian novel. Most of us had to read it in school. It’s where the phrase “Big Brother is watching you” came from as the population in the novel is constantly controlled through surveillance. Personally, it wasn’t my cup of tea, but I did enjoy the game my senior class had to do because of it.
In the book, there are these people called Thought Police. They’re normal members of society who make sure everyone else is following the rules of society. Your neighbor could be one. Your family member or co-worker. If they caught you breaking a rule, they turned you in, and you faced punishment. My senior class did something very similar so we’d understand the kind of world in Nineteen Eighty-Four. We had rules we had to follow and here were a few of them:
- Don’t talk about the game to anyone–ESPECIALLY UNDERCLASSMEN. If asked about the game, say a specific phrase that I no longer remember.
- Greet your teachers by saying: “I am eager to learn today.”
- No chewing gum or eating during class.
- No looking at your phone during school hours.
- No passing notes in class.
- No having earbuds in during school hours.
- No talking during class unless called upon by a teacher.
- Don’t be tardy or absent.
The game lasted for about a week and at the end of it, we may have had to write an essay. Here’s the kicker. The word count for the essay started at 500 words–no big deal. However, if you got caught breaking a rule by the Thought Police, 500 more words would be added to your essay. 500 for every rule you broke. Pretty sure some of my classmates got up to 10,000 words. There was a way out, though. By the end of the week, if you could correctly identify a Thought Police, you didn’t have to write the essay at all.
So who were the Thought Police? They were other members of my senior class. My fellow students, and you know what? I was one of them.
I was a Thought Police. The very first day the game started, I got the email. To be a Thought Police and stay a Thought Police, you had to turn in at least five rule breakers each night. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the idea of turning my friends in for silly rules. I’m a loyal person, not a snitch. The idea of turning my friends in and increasing their essay word count felt like betrayal to me. I wanted to decline. I didn’t want to be viewed as the ‘bad’ Thought Police, but then I realized something. If I became a Thought Police, then there would be one less for my friends to worry about. If I declined, the job would go to someone who would likely be more than happy writing me and my friends up for breaking the rules. So, I accepted with the vow that I wouldn’t rat out anyone I considered a friend.
Yet, I had to be careful. I couldn’t let anyone know I was a Thought Police else I would have to write the essay. Thought Police had different rules from normal students. If you got outed, you wrote the essay with the word count to however many rules you broke. If no one pegs you as a Thought Police, you’re off the hook. You write nothing. I remember the day before the game started. My classmates were either hoping to become Thought Police-or making alliances to out the Thought Police. No one wanted to write the essay no matter how long their word count was. I knew when I became a Thought Police I had to be EXTREMELY careful.
I lost count of how many times I lied to my best friends about being a Thought Police. I remember being in my history class with two of my animal science friends. We agreed we would look out for each other. We’d be the three musketeers against the Thought Police. Help each other out them so we wouldn’t have to write the essay. I felt terrible. Here I was, a wolf among sheep. Neither of them suspected me. They broke rules right in front of me, and it was my obligation as a Thought Police to turn them in. But, they were my friends. I took the job to protect them.
I wish I could say I soared through that week without anyone realizing I was a Thought Police, but one of my friends did figure it out. He cheated, really. We were outside of school, in church, and he asked me. Of course, you can’t lie in church, so I had to tell him the truth. Thankfully, he promised not to out me as long as I racked up the essay word count on a different student. That other student was a bit of a bully to my friend, so I obliged.
Throughout the week, more Thought Police were added to up the stakes. The list of rule breakers grew over a page each day. One of my best friends came to me in English class a few days into the game and admitted she became a Thought Police the night before. She said she had no intention of writing me or our other friends up for breaking the rules, but she wanted me to help keep an eye out for other rule breakers. I could’ve admitted my guilt to her. Told her I was a Thought Police too since she was trusting me with the knowledge of her being one, but I didn’t. I played the part of an innocent non-Thought Police because I didn’t want to be overhead by potential eavesdroppers. My friend bought it, and I informed her of all the students I saw breaking rules. Students I turned in as well. Students that were not my friends.
It was a fun week, playing Thought Police, but I remember being thankful when it was over. No more lying, no more sneaking about, and no more trying not to get caught breaking rules. I remember when the list finally went up outing all the Thought Police. I lost count of how many of my friends and fellow students got mad at me seeing my name up there. No one had a clue I was a Thought Police. Which meant no one turned me in so I didn’t have to write the essay (and my word count definitely reached over 3000).
As good as it felt to get away with being a Thought Police, it bugged me when my friends didn’t believe why I did it. I told them I did it for their sake. I didn’t write any of them up, but I got a lot of doubt in return. I then, found out one of my close friends was also a Thought Police. I had broken a rule right in front of her and she wrote me up for it. If she was willing to do that to me, then others believed I would do it too. I’ll admit I was hurt. The loyalty I felt toward my friends didn’t quite go both ways, but I wouldn’t change how I handled that week. I got away with being a Thought Police and I stayed true to my friends. That’s a victory in my eyes.
Hard to believe it’s been over ten years since then. It makes me think of all those stories where someone plays the bad guy for the sake of good. You see it in Star Wars, in Harry Potter, and much more. Those characters always get a bad rap. Their friends and family hate them because they “betrayed” them, when in reality, they did it for them. I got a little taste of it with our Nineteen Eighty-Four game.
That’s what I think of when I recall a time no one believed me. What about you?