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Going Commando: Advice for the Not-So-Easily Offended

November 19, 2009

It is difficult to provide advice for students without being blunt. Were I addressing an audience of elementary school students, my approach would be different. I might euphemize at length. I would censor myself more carefully. I certainly wouldn’t discuss today’s topic. Honestly, I thought that this was probably too risque for a blog I consider to be rated PG-13 and possibly, once in a while (think butts and bras), mildly R for ridiculous, yet real. And then last night on my guilty pleasure Glee, I heard this from the mohawked babydaddy Puck, played by Mark Salling: “I love the days when I don’t wear underwear—full commando.“ There it was, my popcultural permission slip: use the c word—it’s okay.

You might have thought my advice about back cleavage was directed mostly toward females since it focused on thongs. It wasn’t. Guys, if your underwear is going to show (I wish it wasn’t), it should be cute and clean, two more useful c words. You too can be guilty of cracking and it isn’t pretty. Today, however, I’m focusing on another kind of exposure. Perhaps you have heard of Sharon Stone’s infamous exposure of her ladyparts as she crosses her legs for an audience of interrogators in Basic Instinct, the 1992 thriller written by Joe Eszterhas. It’s also been hard to miss the flashing of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Brittney Spears, all of whom eschewed underwear and went commando. But today I focus on manitalia, the bits and pieces, frank and beans, twig and berries, ham and eggs, junk, and big business of guys.

The moment I’m going to describe is, I hope, very rare in the classroom, but if it happened to me, perhaps you might encounter it too. Dealing with it gracefully is challenging. My advice here is meant to be preventive: If you are going commando, regardless of your gender identification, do not wear loose shorts and beware of propping your leg up on a desk or table.

Here’s what happened: I was teaching a graduate education course and had assigned a group activity. As I walked around the room, checking on students‘ progress, I noticed that one young man who was wearing loose athletic shorts had his foot up on the group’s table. I could see everything. I could tell from their glances toward me that other females at the table could too, and that they were uncomfortable, but didn’t know what to do. They knew him, but they weren’t friends with him. Knowing him to be somewhat quiet and shy, I don’t think that he was deliberately showing the stuff.

As I walked by the group, I asked the only other male at the table, sitting next to the flasher and thus unable to see the problem, to help me with something. I took him to the other side of the room and had him help me with a faux task—moving some boxes from one place to another. I told him what was happening and asked him to pretend that he had seen something as he walked back to the table and to ask his classmate to put his leg down. All of us were going to have to be in classes together for several more quarters and I wanted the situation handled with a minimum of embarrassment for anyone.

As a teacher, I’m aware that sometimes no matter how badly a person needs to hear something, and no matter how right it is that I tell her or him, we are never able to overcome that moment in the future. It affects our relationship forever. Personal things are the most difficult. It’s my job to tell students that their work needs work, but even then, I have to be careful how I do it. This is true for anyone in a leadership position of any kind. In this case, I feared that if I said something, the student would find it hard to talk with me again.

The ability to think through the ramifications of your actions and make choices from among multiple response options is an important soft skill that professionals practice daily. Handling difficult situations gracefully is something you can practice in school and apply in all aspects of your life. Going commando is a choice too. Choose wisely.

Have you ever needed to say something difficult to someone? How did you handle it? Would you do something differently the next time?

We never forgive those who make us blush.
• Jean-Francois De La Harpe

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