Conformity

We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves, in order to be like other people.  ~Arthur Schopenhauer

My mother used to tell a story she found amusing. It was about coming to fetch me from school in the first grade. I was standing in front of the class when she arrived, pretending not to know my colors. I don’t remember this event, but this is one of the saddest stories I’ve ever heard.

For I had been happily reading at least since age 5, had known my colors for far longer, and was academically way ahead of most of my first-grade class when I began school. But I had been admonished so strongly not to “show off,” to be like others so I would be liked, that I had hidden my abilities in the quest for acceptance.

It was many years before I was aware of my conditioning, and many more before I could move beyond it. Even still, I find myself thinking, “How will this look to others?” when I decide on a course of action. This is actually a skill that has served me well in career and political situations, but I have had to come to an understanding about the limits on its value. And I have suffered from applying it in situations where it is not needed.

I think this explains why authenticity is so very important to me now. I cannot bear to pretend any longer that I am something I am not. I actually think age is helpful in this regard, as we who are in public service approach retirement and can be whoever we are. How do you deal with this dilemma, in a political world?

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3 Responses to Conformity

  1. Bill says:

    When I went to college, unusual for a boy from my neighborhood at that time, people I knew told me I was turning my back on my own kind. One of the most painful and illuminating experiences of my life was coming to realize that these people I knew so well were, after all, not my kind.

  2. I struggle with this too. I’ve invested alot of time in trying to figure out who I should be so that people will like me. I’m finally learning to just be myself, but it’s not always easy in the work place. People there have come to know me in a certain way – now they’re seeing other sides of me and they think I’ve changed dramatically. I have to laugh a little because, the truth is, they’re beginning to see who I’ve always been – I was just too timid to show my true self. Such a tangled web!!

  3. Pete says:

    It was fun coming accross your comments just after our discussion on Plumline today involving the same concerns.

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