Be an Individual... like everyone else.

One of the biggest hypocrisies that I can think of which exist in this world is the concept of Individuality.

Especially so, when you put it with its opposite: Conformity.

…And even MORE so when you put this battle into the gladiatorial arena known as Youth.

On one hand, with Conformity, the arguments in favor of it are usually along the lines of, “Don’t rock the boat”. Hearing this, some of us might picture a very straight-laced, suit-and-tie, corporate-type saying it… or a pair of ultra-conservative parents… or you may just think of the word, “fuddy-duddy”. (Which, for some, are the exact arguments AGAINST it) At the very least, I think most people at least subconsciously think of the word “boring”. That is… taking the word and concept at total face value.

For Individuality… it’s presented as the greatest idea since sliced bread. Something about the word gives the image of exciting, fun, cool and sexy. I think you ask anyone the straight-up question with no qualifier or previous information or points of view… “Which is better: Individuality or Conformity?” I think you’ll be told “Individuality” at least 85% of the time. (Allowing the 15% fuddy-duddy factor. This is only my theory, with no scientific evidence to back it up.)

It helps that it’s kind of pounded into our heads… we’ve all had the art teachers that stress “finding yourself” and “being your own person”. Or the James Dean wannabes that say, “Come on, Man, don’t be a sheep”. And not to mention all the fashion advertisements from clothing companies telling you to “express your personal style”. Listening to the words… Individuality is the way to go.

So why do the actions tell us something completely different?

If artists were all truly “individuals”… there wouldn’t be categories like Impressionism, Surrealism, Expressionism, etc. Everyone would be in their own, separate category.

Why does the guy saying, “Don’t be a sheep” want me to follow what HE’S doing?

You know, if it really is my “personal” style… why do they make 500,000 copies of the same shirt and ship all over the country? Shouldn’t they just make ONE and sent it right to me? Hell… why are THEY even involved??? The whole fashion industry is sold on individuality but based on conformity (getting thousands of people to buy the same thing).

When I was young, and even now, we get bombarded with “be an individual”, “be yourself”, “don’t follow the herd”. There are critically acclaimed movies that point out the “Dangers of Conformity” (Dead Poets Society, anyone? Which preaches the dangers of conformity, but actually *demonstrates* the dangers of individuality) and give an overriding message to “be you”.

It definitely SOUNDS like the best option… and I can’t really think of an argument to ever NOT “be you”… but why doesn’t it always feel that way? Because when you ask any kid that’s feeling lonely and ostracized, “What they want”… they’ll tell you they’d give their left arm to just simply “Fit in”.

Hell, I’d almost rather hear the Conformity arguments from the Fuddy-Duddys… at least with them, you know where you stand. A lot of the “Individuality Bombardment Brigade” can seem like they’re not living in the real world.

In school, if you’re different enough in the eyes of others… the last thing the majority are doing is celebrating your “uniqueness”. Unless by “celebrating” you mean such statements as, “Why are you so weird?”, “What a loser.”, “Ugh… freak”, and the ever popular “Why can’t you be normal?”.

Not seeing a lot of incentives to “be yourself” there… or is it just me?

Sure, a lot of kids that say that are the kind that “aren’t worth it”… and that’s what we usually tell ourselves… but it still hurts to hear it. That’s when you start to realize that a synonym for “individuality”… is “alone”. Once you know what its like to feel completely alone in a room that’s filled to the brim with people… you start thinking that maybe “being an individual” isn’t such a great idea.

Now, I am by no means giving 100% endorsement for Conformity. Actually… far from it. I’ve never been one to consciously follow the notion of Conformity… But if I simply did the “preaching what I practiced” without forcing myself to look at a different angle… then this would just be another piece of useless propaganda that you could see in any magazine ad or feel-good-self-help book.

What I *am* doing… is trying to find the right balance.

When you’re young… you’re a bit of a blank slate. Sure, some of us have chemical imbalances, or trouble at home, or whatever life-altering conditions… but it is by no means “too late” for any kid. The person you are in 5 years from that point will be COMPLETELY different, and again so another 5 years beyond that. I believe any situation can be changed given time.

At that age, we’re all filled with advertisements, music videos, flashy images, and at best… *other* people’s opinions. Such as, if your dad is a Cubs fan… YOU are a Cubs fan. (You can figure out some “not-so-nice” variations of that on your own) All the jokes you know were read from a joke book or heard from someone else… who most likely got it from a joke book. (And no kid has ever mastered the art of “the delivery” at that age) Originality doesn’t exist yet… it’s all a spin-off or teeny-tiny variation of something else that you loved… whether it’s a comic book, song, story, drawing, etc. It’s almost like we’re not so much “people” as we are pop-culture repositories… but at that age, you rarely complain about that.

And everyone is on the path to try and “find themselves”. Some just give up the search before others. And we all love the idea of being individuals… because we like to think we’re “special”. Though deep down, we all recognize (and we can credit the movie The Incredibles for this wording) that “saying everyone is special is the same as saying that no one is.

In a world of Individuals… how does one be truly unique?

Which could also bring up the argument that NO ONE is a true “individual”. If “Conformity” truly is the opposite of “Individuality”… then a synonym is “Non-conforming”… and everyone, no matter how “individualistic” they are… does some kind of conforming.

What is friendship… but a version of Conformity? Two people (or more) finding some kind of a common ground, and bonding over it in some fashion. (Look at any group of Goth kids for an example. All considered freaks and weirdoes… all actively trying to be “individuals”… yet all wearing black, listening to Industrial music and being morose.) The simple nature of BEING friends with someone is changing and “conforming” you… it’s just conforming you in ways that you *want* to conform to. Without the friends I’ve met, I never would have gotten into gaming, horror movies, Doctor Who, or most of the Geek hobbies I have. My friends have influenced me, and I’ve influenced my friends. No, I haven’t drastically altered the way they live their lives… nor have they to me. But “conformity” doesn’t have to be major.

Several months ago, I mentioned/stressed how I have “similarities” with my friends, but ultimately, we’re all different from each other… which is true. And the opposite is true. Sure, we’re all different… but we have some things in common… that’s how we *became* friends.

We’re always going to have qualities in common with *someone* in this world… there’s 6 billion of us, and not as many human traits as that. It may take us time to find each other, but eventually you do. In the right settings, those like-minded people tend to gravitate towards each other.

So when we think of “individuality”… it’s never going to be 100% completely-different-from-everyone-else-in-the-world. But the best we can hope for is a unique COMBINATION of particular traits. And when you are “finding yourself” and discovering the hobbies, likes, dislikes, traits, and morals that you want to have and employ in your life… try to make sure you’re picking and choosing the particulars for YOU… and not for/because of someone else. (Parents, that hot guy/girl, the government, etc)

I look at the lesson like this:

Conformity… helps us to love others. Individuality… helps us to love ourselves.

Both are pretty important, if you ask me. And as many will tell you… it’s important to love yourself before you can love others. I think it all goes together nicely.

A certain amount of conformity is important… and to some who’d agree with that… “probably not as much as your thinking”.

Likewise, individuality is important… but to some that would agree with *that*… “Don’t let that go to your head.”

Balance. It’s all about finding the balance.

As for what that balance IS….

What the hell are you looking at me for? How would I know?


fritz said...

I'll agree that balance is important. It is pretty much impossible, with 6 billion plus residents on this ball of dirt, to be truly unique. Which is probably why most of us are content with being perceived (by ourselves or others) as merely "different".

Humans are social creatures (says the anti-social introvert) by nature, and in order to be social and societal, there is a certain amount of conformity in that equation.

One of the big reasons why we aren't a nation of individuals is because of mass production technology. In a capitalist society, it's more cost efficient for the producer to manufacture lots of the same goods (unique is too expensive to produce on a small scale--it's cost prohibitive on a large scale, and rather oxymoronic in quantities greater than one--a point you already made). As a member of the capitalist economy who is not manufacturing any goods, it's my job to consume/purchase those manufactured items. It's in the memo--did you get the memo?

Anonymous said...

i realized that when i was 'trying' to be different i was the same as others.... but i like this article... there is really no true individuality.....

Anonymous said...

I am not going to be original this time, so all I am going to say that your blog rocks, sad that I don't have suck a writing skills

Optimus said...

Very insightful post. I realized that because sometimes you can't fit even if you want, you take the negative (of being alone, different) and make it look better (I am an individual, I am special). So, sometimes it's not just a choice to be cool, but comes out of struggling to fit in. But then everyone wants in a lesser or greater degree to not be alone.

So yes, accepting your individual needs from one side but also your need to connect could be the way to go. Neither is bad.

It's just that sometimes you feel like you can still not connect. Everyone is making casual talk only at parties, no interesting things to talk about, and when you start to talk passionately about your interests or yourself, you realize it's not the style of most people, they might get bored or not have anything to say or even despise the more serious talks.

Either way, I try to learn who I am, when can I have a better time with few people and when I cannot then I stay back to myself. I wish to play in both sides but only when I feel like it's going well.

I bet everyone has different style, limits. Balance cannot be defined because it's different for each one of us.