For a dear friend who can’t be bothered to seek acceptance but secretly glad to have friends
Barbie once said in The Island Princess that “what makes us different makes us beautiful.” As a little kid, that sounded like a very inspiring quote; it gave hope that you don’t have to be like everybody else to be accepted. But Barbie never told us that it turns out adults like to box things with great clarity, that ‘different’ can take many forms: people with ‘conditions’ are different, feminine men are different, short-tempered people are different, drama queens are different, attention-seekers are different, slow-witted people are different. So many rules in being a human—a socially-acceptable one in that. It’s almost funny, if not ironic, that there are so many different characteristics, but we went ahead and created a model human of what a normal human is not supposed to look like.
And Barbie never told us that when you’re different, it can be challenging. Society will still expect you to be agreeable in some other things. Because if you cannot compromise at all, if you’re 100% unacceptable in society in all aspects, then maybe you don’t deserve to be a part of it. Nobody wants to get shunned from society, right? We’re social animals, and we need society to survive, to strive, because “on a single effort, man wouldn’t be able to fulfill all his needs”1Kullabs. (n.d.). Society and its Importance. Retrieved November 25, 2020, from Nation and Nationality website: https://kullabs.com/class-7/civics-and-moral-education/nation-and-nationality-1/society-and-its-importance#:~:text=Society is one of the,one of most under it.&text=Hence%2C in order to live,for a person to live.. So, we need to be accepted by it. Humans then set on their different paths to seek acceptance: we compromise, we try to prove our worth, and we try to be agreeable—to make friends. But it’s not so easy, is it? There are things about yourself that you need to cover up because if they’re out in the open; they’ll leave you vulnerable to social rejection. Well, in that case, “Show them your true colours,” they say, “be yourself,” they say, “don’t listen to others,” they say. Or, as Barbie said in Mariposa and the Fairy Princess too, “The most beautiful thing you can be is yourself.”
This then begs the question: do we still need to listen or compromise with our society? Or can we live out of the system, be the rebel we know we are, and then fully embrace our difference, freely let our skeletons out of the closet? Will we indeed be happier that way?
Humans as Social Animals: The Initial Purpose and Form of Society
The idea of man as social animals has traversed through time and become one of the central tenets in our interaction. Humans aren’t just naturally attracted but also reliant on social cooperation to continue surviving2The cooperative human. (2018). Nature Human Behaviour, 2(7), 427–428. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-018-0389-1. Over time, there have been many studies about the pattern, development, motivation, and many other aspects of social cooperation and interaction. Still, one premise has stayed the same: men are social animals. Aristotle highlighted the idea that every man has an impulse toward a partnership with others because we cannot flourish on our own3Aristotle. (2003). The politics. In The Civil Society Reader. https://doi.org/10.2307/974417, and the fact that we are capable of speech and complex language indicates our sociability as humans as well.
George Herbert Mead pointed out that the behaviour of all living organisms has a social aspect, be it social in character, or that it has and stimulates a social implication4Mead, G. H., & Morris, C. W. (2013). Mind, Self, and Society. In Mind, Self, and Society. 227–228.https://doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226516608.001.0001. According to him, there is “no living organism that could exist or maintain itself in complete isolation from all other living organisms.”. Furthermore, as humans, we derive our human nature from our social interactions and relations with our community: be it the community as a whole or from our interactions with the other individual members within our community5Mead, l. c., p. 229.. So, not only are we dependent on other people to ensure our physical survival, but on the psychological level, we are also affected by our interactions with other humans within our groups: family, friends, community, or tribe.
We’ve heard of the earliest form of groups in our then-hunting/gathering society. Back then, our ancestors’ goal perhaps was as simple as ‘surviving the harsh physical world’; to avoid frostbites, heat strokes, or wild beasts. Keep their bellies full and their offspring alive, and they couldn’t do that individually. They didn’t have fangs, claws, or fur, and were exposed to long, vulnerable childhoods. Living in a group helps people feel safe and protected while living in isolation and exclusion tend to create poor physical health6DeWall, C. N., & Bushman, B. J. (2011). Social acceptance and rejection: The sweet and the bitter. Current Directions in Psychological Science. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721411417545. So, they formed hunting/gathering groups, which then evolved into tribes. The goal was to look out for each other and ensure the survival of everyone within their tribes. Now fast forward to 100,000 years after the middle paleolithic era, when homo sapiens were said to experience the first development7Lamoureux, M. (2009). What we know of early human society & behavior. Retrieved November 26, 2020, from http://www.sourcinginnovation.com/archaeology/Arch05.htm of today’s society, the need to survive in groups is still the same. Whether it’s back then or today, we still prioritise being accepted by a community within our society before we can be regarded as a part of their ‘tribe,’ which in turn would make us eligible to receive protection and companionship from them.
But, a good majority of us know that being wholly, or even just partially, accepted by our community can be a challenge in itself. There seems to be a unique, shared value within each community that seeks to align every member’s characteristics to ease the community in moving toward the same goal. And our society as one, giant community that consists of many different, smaller communities, has one definite purpose: to sustain and guarantee the well-being of its citizens. To “avoid self-destruction”8Bittman, M. (2015). What Is the Purpose of Society? Retrieved November 25, 2020, from New York Times website: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/11/opinion/mark-bittman-what-is-the-purpose-of-society.html. To achieve this goal, we can agree that it would be easier to have members with the same characteristics and perception of the community’s purpose, in other words, a homogenous community. But of course, for some divine reason, we are created differently: both physically and psychologically. Where, even though we are hardwired with the same model (ten fingers, ten toes, a nose, a pair of lips, etc.), “each one of us represents a unique mix of different personality traits”9Why are we all different? Why does personality exist? (2018). Retrieved November 26, 2020, from UiO: Department of Psychology website: https://www.sv.uio.no/psi/english/research/news-and-events/events/guest-lectures-and-seminars/nettle.html. This makes things trickier to coexist, where perhaps not everyone could see from the same perspective in reaching the same goal, or maybe their goals are different from the first place.
In that case, we need to set a certain standard or parameter on what kind of path is the better path, just in case someone decides to try out something new and completely fuck things up. We wouldn’t want that, would we? Chaos, after all, is something we must avoid at all costs, what with not wanting self-destruction and all. Standards like how you’re supposed to talk to other people, what you’re supposed to know about the world, what constitutes as good and bad, even beauty standards have something to do with “supporting the sustainability of our future offsprings”10Islamilenia, A. P. (2019). Glitz, Glam, Gloss: The Anatomy of Modern Beauty. Retrieved November 25, 2020, from economica.id website: https://www.economica.id/2019/11/28/glitz-glam-gloss-the-anatomy-of-modern-beauty/ in ensuring the survivability of our lineage.
Rejection: The Implication of Difference
As our civilisation develops, humanity becomes more and more complex. We created education systems, economic systems, arts, and nations. Along with a more sophisticated system, our standards grew in variety as well. Nowadays, people are assessed by their communities based on their table manners, down to the colour of their eyeshadow, their music taste, their education, choice of words, or their choice of beverage. Our world today has much more varied reasons to reject someone who doesn’t specifically meet their standard of an acceptable companion. Aside from having many reasons to reject someone, social rejection consists of various behaviours as well: from ignoring their presence, to actively expelling them from a group or relationship11DeWall, C. N., & Bushman, B. J. (2011). Social acceptance and rejection: The sweet and the bitter. Current Directions in Psychological Science. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721411417545. Most likely we have experienced rejection, or if you haven’t, then you must’ve experienced rejecting people.
The central activity of our communication seems to be the acceptance or rejection: of an identity, a personality, or an idea. Being accepted in a job, receiving a “yes” for a marriage proposal, having a group of friends are all examples of social acceptance. In socialising, it’s only natural for us to select the people we think will be able to help and accompany us forward, and reject those who look like they would hold us back. But have you ever thought of the implication of such rejection? That when someone is different, how would rejection affect them, and what incentivises them to try to fit in?
Erich Fromm came up with the idea that instead of one challenged individual, perhaps our society, as a whole, is “lacking in sanity.” Because in approaching ‘mental health issues’, like many other standards of fitness and acceptability, we only recognise the number of ‘unadjusted’ individuals as the problem. The different ones. We have been doing it for so long that we might have overlooked a “possible unadjustment of the culture itself”12Rosen, B. C., & Fromm, E. (1956). The Sane Society. American Sociological Review, 6. https://doi.org/10.2307/2089119. He called this the pathology of normalcy, a term meant to say that trying to be the clone of everyone else, the innate desire to fit in and be accepted by being like everyone else, is its own form of sickness13Fromm, E. (2016). Die Pathologie der Normalität (1st ed.). Open Publishing..
Yes, there is an implication here somewhere that it’s okay to be blatantly different and be proud of our rebellion against the system or standard. But first and foremost, before you go about spitting “screw you” to people’s faces, perhaps it would be beneficial for us to understand the further explanation of Fromm’s pathology of normalcy. It stems from a more profound dread of existential isolation14Schreiner, M. (2014). Pathology of Normalcy. Retrieved November 26, 2020, from Existential Psychology website: https://evolutioncounseling.com/pathology-of-normalcy/: that no one can ever understand you the way you understand yourself. According to Irvin Yalom, existential isolation is a fundamental isolation that persists despite a “consummate self-knowledge and integration.” It is an unbridgeable gulf between oneself and any other being15Yalom, I. (1931). Existential Pyschotherapy (1st ed.). New York: Basic Books (HarperCollins).. It won’t completely go away, but we can reduce the magnitude of our existential isolation with more frequent and more intimate interaction with people around us, be it friends, family, or anyone familiar16Schreiner, M. (2012). Existential Isolation. Retrieved November 26, 2020, from Depression website: https://evolutioncounseling.com/existential-isolation/.
Existential isolation is a form of interpersonal isolation that we dread the most, regardless if you’re an introvert or an extrovert. Humans have this underlying fear of being socially rejected and not having anyone by their side; of being ostracised17Schreiner, M. (2013). Ostracism. Retrieved November 26, 2020, from Abuse website: https://evolutioncounseling.com/ostracism/. Our brain interprets rejection the same way it would physical pain. The two are so similar to the point people who consumed acetaminophen (Tylenol, a type of pain reliever) before being rejected actually reported a significantly less emotional pain “than people who were not given a pain reliever”18Winch, G. (2013). Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt, and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries, 20. In Publishers Weekly VO – 260.. Seeing the implications of rejection, it’s only natural for humans, who are taught to avoid self-destruction (pain being one form of self-destruction), to want to try and fit in. The pain incentivises them to be like someone else. To be normal, to be less different, so they won’t have to suffer from rejection. Is it logical, then, for people to advocate the contrary? To be different, to face the pain, not knowing how or when or whether it would heal at all?
The Self in Modern Society
Recently we notice campaigns like “be yourself” or Barbie’s “what makes you different makes you beautiful” growing rapidly popular. One case in point is Barbie launching a new doll with the vitiligo skin condition to promote the “what makes you different makes you beautiful” movement. The picture was posted on their Instagram and it received the most likes among all of their Instagram posts thus far19Sharma, K. (2020). Barbie Continues Its Quest for Inclusivity With These 6 New Dolls. Retrieved November 26, 2020, from Vogue Culture website: https://en.vogue.me/culture/barbie-releases-new-diverse-dolls/. In a way, those campaigns are protests for the standard of normalcy or ideal standard. Such as the beauty standard, and then we have campaigns advocating for LGBTQ+ rights (because heterosexuality is not the only sexuality), and campaigns against racial discrimination. Other than that, we’re getting more and more familiar with expressions like “you are your own standard.” These campaigns and sayings are meant to advocate the act of accepting ourselves, regardless of what some conservative values view as ‘different’. That we don’t need acceptance from other people outside of ourselves: as long as we are in peace with our inner selves, then outside forces may never shake us. It’s a beautiful movement, yes.
Here’s the but you’re waiting for: but, can we actually live without acceptance from other people? Can self-acceptance alone substitute social acceptance?
First, let’s talk about social acceptance. While social rejection brings pain and bitterness, social acceptance seems to bring joy and sweetness. Naturally, we feel the need to belong, first because we have an impulse to a partnership, and second because we have this dread of existential isolation. But the need to belong itself is more than just the fear of not belonging: in theory, we want some kind of positive regular social contact in a relationship and a lasting and mutual concern for each other in the said relationship20DeWall, C. N., & Bushman, B. J. (2011). Social acceptance and rejection: The sweet and the bitter. Current Directions in Psychological Science. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721411417545. That makes sense, right? In practice, we feel all sorts of fuzzy, warm feelings when we think about the fact that someone cares about us, that we have someone who worries about us and prays for our well-being. That we’re not facing the world alone, that it’s not just “me vs the world.” The truth is, acceptance does matter. It doesn’t matter who accepts us, we feel happy if someone outside of ourselves accepts us.
Now, self-acceptance is the main focus of the campaigns mentioned above. It is often related to self-esteem and self-love. But, while self-esteem is the way we view ourselves as valuable and worthwhile, self-acceptance is the way we “embrace all facets of ourselves: not just the good or more “esteem-able” parts.” It is unconditional and recognises our weaknesses and limitations as parts of ourselves21Seltzer, L. F. (2008). The Path to Unconditional Self-Acceptance. Retrieved November 26, 1BC, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/evolution-the-self/200809/the-path-unconditional-self-acceptance. It plays a very important part in an individual’s mental health because, with self-acceptance, you’re said to eventually “stop comparing yourself to outside standards.”22Wellness | The importance of Self-Acceptance. (n.d.). Retrieved November 27, 2020, from https://www.consciouslyconnectedtravel.com/blog/2019/2/9/wellness-the-importance-of-self-acceptance-womens-wellness-retreats-morocco-spiritual-retreats-essaouira-self-acceptance-retreats-marrakech. In discussing self-acceptance, perhaps we should first discuss the rise of the “Self” first.
According to Mead, the self is something that arises in the process of social experience and activity. It develops as a result of our relations to the social process, instead of something that is inherent at birth23Mead, l. c., p. 135.. Mead highlighted the idea that “the self is essentially a social structure and arises in social experience.”24Mead, l. c., p. 140.. So, how the self becomes is highly affected by the social experience it goes through. The formation of self begins from a very early age because even though we may not be able to remember our early childhood, there is still something called an “implicit memory.” It’s a concept connected with the concept of “unconscious”, which as its name suggests, unconsciously affects our decision-making and coping behaviours25It’s Not You—It’s Your Unconscious: Why therapy takes so long to work – Part One. (2019). Retrieved November 27, 2020, from https://traumaprofessionals.com/why-therapy-takes-so-long/. The unconscious is neither rational nor irrational, it is arational. It feeds on the conditions it is conditioned to react to, and before the age of eight, we’re only capable of accepting ourselves to the degree we feel accepted by our caretakers, such as parents and family26Seltzer, L. F. (2008). The Path to Unconditional Self-Acceptance. Retrieved November 26, 1BC, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/evolution-the-self/200809/the-path-unconditional-self-acceptance. In that sense, if our early interaction with our family consisted of more rejection than acceptance and validation of our potentials, it’s more likely that we grow up to view ourselves ambivalently. This rejection can take form in how some or most of our behaviours weren’t acceptable to our parents, and we’re then conditioned to view ourselves as inadequate.
Childhood rejection provides a place for what Jesse Parent called ‘teenage talons to latch upon,’27Parent, J. (2014). Jesse Parent – “To the Boys Who May One Day Date My Daughter.” Retrieved November 27, 2020, from Button Poetry website: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KcIwZ1Dth0c which can also result in more attention-seeking behaviours and acceptance-seeking acts in our adulthood. The implication of a self’s rejection is that it might hinder the growth and development of our social intelligence. According to Mead, social intelligence is an “individual’s ability to take the roles of the other individuals in a given social situation, and his sensitivity to each party’s attitude.”28Mead, l. c., p. 141.. In short, it’s how we adjust ourselves to the person we’re interacting with. Social adjustment is a condition wherein we are one thing to one man, and another thing to another29Mead, l. c., p. 142.: it’s natural, it’s normal, and it’s necessary. It might feel like we’re roleplaying into different characters when meeting different people, and we are. We do it with the hope that we’d be able to communicate our ideas better, avoid rejections, and be accepted.
The Self as a Modern Society
Let’s think of our society as one organism like Herbert Spencer did30Hilts, V. L. (1994). Towards the Social Organism: Herbert Spencer and William B. Carpenter on the Analogical Method. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-3391-5_8. If society is an organism in itself, then individuals (humans) serve as part of it as the cells, whereas institutions are the organs. In this way, cells on their own cannot be separated from the organism, but the organism can still function without one cell (scientifically, we lose and regrow at least 50,000 cells every minute). Gory, yes, the thought that one person might not affect the balance of our society that much. So, in a society this big, how valuable are we, really? Here’s the thing, the society, the organism, works toward one goal, so the point of the cells forming the organs and the organs working is to move as one in achieving the same goal. We cannot move on our own, “No man is an island entire of itself,” John Donne said, “every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
If one of the cells is somehow different, then our natural instinct is to make them the same (the T-cell will try one way or another to cure the defected cell, as our institutions try to do to us as well), or kick them out if they cannot help us achieve our communal goal, right? But alas, this is a mere analogy, because there hasn’t been any scientific proof that cells feel dejected when being rejected too. It’s not even portrayed in “Cells at Work” so it remains a mystery. But the real thing, the real humans, we are a bit different. Our consciousness allows us to turn to ‘self-acceptance’ when ‘social acceptance’ is lacking. But self-acceptance cannot replace social acceptance. In fact, self-acceptance, like any other acceptance, is a coping strategy when dealing with failures31Positive reframing, acceptance and humor are the most effective coping strategies. (2011). Retrieved November 27, 2020, from ScienceDaily website: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110704082700.htm, including rejections. The fact that you are in peace with yourself doesn’t mean you don’t need acceptance from outsiders. And the fact that you have social acceptance doesn’t mean you don’t need self-acceptance: the two are not substitutes to each other, they’re complements.
So, it’s true that rejection and ostracisation can hurt us badly. But, it’s also true that it’s better for our mental health to express our authentic thoughts and feelings and be excluded than to minimize them and be accepted. Of course, we all want to be accepted, but in case there are skeletons in our closet that cannot go out in broad daylight, the question that remains, then, should we try to fit in, or just let rejection wash us over?
Here’s the thing, if we must adjust and ‘act’ in interacting with others, is that us not “being ourselves”? At a glance, it seems so. And that’s one of the things which the campaigns criticise, right? Why do we have to act in order to appease people? But, the truth is, it’s not that we have other ‘Selves’ when we adjust to different people with different characteristics, it’s that we determine the amount of ‘self’ that gets into the communication32Positive reframing, acceptance and humor are the most effective coping strategies. (2011). Retrieved November 27, 2020, from ScienceDaily website: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110704082700.htm. Now, we have discussed before that the Self doesn’t exist outside of its social experience, nor it is inherited from birth. So, a human can only develop the ‘Self’ based on the interaction they do with their environment, and because the ‘Self’ is an arational entity, it adjusts itself to the conditions it is put through. This adjustment doesn’t always mean agreeing with and saying yes to everything, sometimes we adjust by refuting too, yes. But is it wise to put forward our ‘self-expression’ and to ‘be ourselves’ all the time?
In the wise words of Slavoj Zizek, “Well, I think most people are monsters secretly. I like to live in a society where you do whatever you want. Just please don’t express yourself too much, you know? I like people who know how to control themselves, I believe in proper manners.”33Slavoj Žižek on Synthetic Sex and “Being Yourself.” (2015). Retrieved November 27, 2020, from Big Think website: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xYO-VMZUGo. Proper manners come from the belief that we must have a certain set of conducts in treating other people, like the code of chivalry, or table manners. So, as long as people conform to these standards and treat us well, we can accept them despite their difference, but not necessarily because of it. What I’m trying to say is that there will be people who understand what you think is different about you, and yes, what makes you different might just be the thing that makes you beautiful. Zizek also said that what makes you fall in love is always a sign of imperfection, anyway. He has a point. But when the majority seems to be petulant in rejecting your ideas, it’s also a good idea to take a step back and evaluate yourself from the perspective of our society, by perhaps asking yourself:
How do I make them listen to me? Why was I rejected? What do they want to listen to? It helps to not be self-centered at times.
A Character Study of Ko Mun-Yeong in “It’s Okay to Not be Okay”
The ‘rebellions’ that we have discussed above can be found in a character that went popular earlier this year: Ko Mun Yeong, as portrayed by Seo Ye-Ji in the drama It’s Okay to Not be Okay (IOTNBO). Now, this part might contain spoilers, so if you’re still in the process of watching the drama, then proceed at your own risk. Ko Mun Yeong is the lead female character in IOTNBO, who is a children’s book author, but ironically has an antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). People with ASPD are generally characterised as having, among others, “disregard for right and wrong”, “repeatedly violating the rights of others through intimidation and dishonesty”, “hostility, significant irritability, agitation, aggression or violence”, and “lack of empathy for others and lack of remorse about harming others.”34Mayo Clinic Staff. (2019). Antisocial personality disorder. Retrieved November 27, 2020, from Mayo Clinic website: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/antisocial-personality-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20353928. These are characteristics that would make someone not only ‘different’ but also blatantly unacceptable in society, right? And they wouldn’t want much to do with people anyway.
Throughout the series, Mun-Yeong always said what she wanted to say. Sounds like fun? A patient in “OK Psychiatric Hospital” got admitted because she suffered from delusions due to her daughter’s death and mistook Mun-Yeong to be her daughter. Mun-Yeong, with her own terrible mommy issues, got offended and said some things which roughly shook the patient awake out of her delusions, prompting her to pass out while Mun-Yeong calmly walked away from the scene with a lone tear falling down her eye. (Trigger warning: self-harm) In several scenes, she’s shown to be fascinated with her blood and cut her skin to satisfy that fascination, and in another scene, she held the sharp end of a knife to block an attack while remaining indifferent, then watched her blood trickling down her hand. In the first episode alone, she didn’t hesitate to stab a guy who was causing unrest during her book-reading event, but she stabbed the lead male instead, Moon Gang-Tae, played by Kim Soo-Hyun.
Ko Mun-Yeong is, in short, unlikeable, hostile, has no filter, manipulative, and feels no remorse. Despite having a terrific fashion sense and an enchanting beauty, not many people could put up with her; people tend to despise her, and her publisher was in a state of emotional breakdown half of the series because of Mun-Yeong’s antics. Contradictory to Mun-Yeong’s “Fuck you, I am my own rules” personality, Gang-Tae always keeps his sufferings to himself. He swallowed his tears and marches on in life like a strong soldier because he was afraid of people feeling burdened with his problems or that people would make fun of his autistic brother. He’s very aware of people’s feelings and expectations and tries his best to fulfill them or let them down easy.
This series has a very wide spectrum about what’s wrong and what’s right, and it addresses many things that are wrong about our relationship with other people. But between Mun-Yeong and Gang-Tae, the latter was shown to suffer more due to his unspoken feelings. The anger bubbling up inside of him was caused by his own fears of rejection from the people around him when they see the baggage he’s been dragging with him all these years. Like Erich Fromm said, in this “sane society”, we like to label “unadjusted” individuals and we try our best to figure them out, to treat them, sometimes even walk away from them if we feel their baggage is too heavy to walk with. That they’re slowing us down. Humans seem to have this obsession with perfection that the imperfection of an emotional scar on someone seems like a great deal of defect.
Mun-Yeong, on the other hand, says what she wants to say, does what she wants to do, and stabs whomever she wants to stab. I’m not advocating for stabbing just about anyone who annoys you, but perhaps Mun-Yeong has a point. Sometimes, there’s no use in sugarcoating your words just so you won’t hurt someone’s feelings. Sometimes, I said. Sometimes too, you don’t have to laugh at everyone else’s jokes when you don’t feel like laughing. Why do we have to fake something to get something out of someone, anyway? If we really are sentient beings capable of empathy, why do we need people to be nice to us in order for us to accept them? Why do we let our friends cover up who they really are just so we won’t be uncomfortable?
Well, How about Accepting?
These are questions I’ve been asking myself for the past four, five months. Like any other rebellious teenager, I was triggered by the fact that we have to suck up to people and not anger them, more often than not at the expense of our own anger. We get angry when we have to cover up our identity, we feel like a coward and sometimes a failure for only being able to follow along, and we can’t do much about it. What feels even more pressing is the existence of posters and quotes like “Break the rules” or “Be yourself” or “don’t listen to others, focus on you.” They make me feel like a failure. The truth is there’s nothing wrong with being the same as everyone else. There’s nothing wrong with seeking acceptance and avoiding rejection, that’s natural, and it’s not a sin to embrace that. Sure, that makes us a coward in people’s eyes, but by courageously being the same as others in this modern society, that’s us actually being different from the majority, and that’s us being brave too.
Fromm might be right in the sense that our society is too focused on singling out people who are different, but he can be wrong too. Trying to be like everyone else is not a sickness: it’s a natural state, for which ‘being different’ is an unnatural occurrence. But do we need a cure for either condition?
There’s more to life than chasing happiness by being yourself and saying what you want to say. The truth is we still need a functioning society without war and fire every now and then, and we do need to ensure our sustainability. We can’t do that if people say “fuck off” every time they dislike something or someone. Part of growing up is dealing with things that we don’t like, right? It feels heavier, harder, and more cowardly to suck it up and conform. Whether you conform or rebel, it all depends on how you see life: what’s the meaning of life to you? Are you trying to leave a legacy behind, so people won’t forget your name? Are you here to care for the people you care about? Are you here just to get by and await death? Whatever you’re here for, whatever you choose to be, be proud of it. Our world today is progressing to accept more and more values. So, whether you’re the same or different, do it with pride knowing full well you choose to be so.
We’ve talked about being accepted and rejected, but social interaction and communication go both ways. As in the case of self-acceptance, it’s much easier to control our own actions, be it to ourselves or to others, than controlling the external environment. And since our society is a giant organism that consists of many different individuals, we need to work toward the same goal even though we can’t expect everyone to be the same as us. So I guess if someone is willing to fight their demons for your acceptance, it’s not a bad thing for us to fight our prejudice and learn to deal with their ‘difference’. We’re all different, and if the difference is to be excluded, if we’re all only focused on accepting ourselves without learning to play along with others, we would only ever be a society of rejects, not knowing how to go where we’re headed as one.
Besides, how do we decide what’s wrong and what’s right? What’s good and what’s bad? Well, that’s a story for another time, look out for it. But for now,
Grow out of your vanity, and let empathy be the seed of your legacy.
|↵1||Kullabs. (n.d.). Society and its Importance. Retrieved November 25, 2020, from Nation and Nationality website: https://kullabs.com/class-7/civics-and-moral-education/nation-and-nationality-1/society-and-its-importance#:~:text=Society is one of the,one of most under it.&text=Hence%2C in order to live,for a person to live.|
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