Being different doesn’t mean being bad or wrong, but it can feel risky. As a teenager I got into deep trouble for not wearing my school uniform as I was expected to. As an adult I can see the wisdom of group identity but as a youngster I was exercising my ‘separation’ muscles. I’m still a bit like that. If I feel I’m being coerced into group behaviour I resist with all my might.
Fear is sometimes behind the choice to follow the crowd. We can feel that we belong, we can feel safer. The less confident, can even hide. But dangerous activities are condoned in the name of belonging.
Families, organisations, cultures, societies, countries capitalism require a degree of conformity. People are killed, shunned, shamed for disobeying, for being different. Yet the most influential and moral driven people who have succeeded in creating much needed change have been those with the courage to be different. Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela. And they have suffered for their moral imperative.
So much of our culture is media driven and can suck us into a kind of sheep mentality. We call our media – BROADCAST news, but it offers the narrowest definition of the world you can find. Changing a channel brings you more of the same. Even the order in which it is presented is identical wherever you look. Those that stand out are treated with cynicism and may eventually adapt to be accepted.
Once upon a time travel meant discovering new and interesting places finding people living in vastly differing ways. It was exciting to try new food. Speak new languages and sample unusual living spaces; follow a new road. But more and more the world is shifting into blandness and sameness. We are urged to join larger and larger groups in the name of safety. But when our spaces shrink we grow internally more defensive.
There is an ever present tension between our need to belong, attach to others, and our wish to be authentic and separate. It is a tension that can make us crazy inside, and destroy us if we do not connect within. It is important that we choose this for ourselves.
We can celebrate our difference and choose to ‘fit in’ all at the same time. But it takes courage to stand up and ‘dare to be different’. Sometimes we have to do it and bear the consequences.