Many of us are in one of the best years of our life — teenage — and we are sporty, bubbling and full of life. Incidentally, this is also one of the most crucial years of our life, a time for developing our own identity and dispositions. Yet, one common thing among teenagers is the desire to belong to peer groups, to be included in the popular groups of school, college, classes or anywhere else and the burning desire to simply not reveal or revel in our own individualities.
I am sure that if we ask teenagers like us what their views are on fitting in with the crowd, many will reply that they want to fit in, be like the popular kids or go with the flow. If you ask people why they hang out where they do, common responses are that friends hang out there or that it is a popular place. Why do people wear what they wear? Typical replies are that the clothes are in style or that the popular kids wear them.
In fact, this desire for blending in does not go away with the termination of teenage years. Even adults often want to mix in and follow group norms rather than setting the tides for themselves.
The other day my mother told me that she and her friends were planning to go on a picnic to a place near Bhiwandi. That was okay. It meant I got a day entirely to myself. Then, she told me that her friend had suggested they all wear jeans on the trip. The moment she ended speaking, I bursted out into peals of laughter. At my mother’s age, it was silly that she would want to do something that most of us haven’t done since sixth grade.
It was then that I couldn’t resist thinking, “Why do we have the urge to blend in so much? Is it because we are simply too afraid to stand out from the crowd and go against the tide?” Who is actually responsible for changing the long queue of ducklings playing “Follow the Leader”?
Well, when I say don’t blend in, I am implying that you should stand out, right? But, when I say standing out, I don’t mean that I expect my mother and her friends to wear crazy things, like a pink hairdo with oversized trousers, have a funny haircut and wear a high hat that simply outdoes your balance.
If I am not talking about appearance, then what do I mean when I say stand out? Let’s do a simple thing, a mind exercise of sorts. In my high school, we all seemed to blend in because of our uniforms, which were brown and white and a little ugly. It did give a sense of uniformity, a sense of belonging to the Singhania school.
But, every person, despite blending in, is a unique and special individual. Every person stands out as an individual personality with individual charisma. This is exactly what I mean: standing out in terms of integrity, in terms of character, in terms of your own natural persona — the person you truly are.
Frankly speaking, nowadays blending in has become synonymous for unanimity.
Unanimity has been a conventional concept of unity, fraternity and agreement. But, what if I tell you that in today’s world, unanimity is an overrated concept thrown around to overshadow the power of uniqueness. One thing about us is that we mistake everything that’s unanimous for unity, be it an attitude, a decision or a voice. Having the same attitude, the same decision or the same voice doesn’t mean we are united; it makes us similar. Rather, it’s the mutual respect and the tolerance for unique attitude, unique decisions and unique voices that makes us united.
Unanimity is something that is instilled in our minds from the very beginning. We are all treated as unanimous bodies from the moment we first step into school. Despite the fact that every human is created differently by God, unanimity has been the major principle in the very institutions that carve out the humans from a living entity. No human being in this world is identical, but again, it’s our difference that makes us the beautiful species we are today.
Often we see people afraid to showcase their uniqueness, fearing that they’ll be left behind or fail to blend in. Criss Jami, existentialist philosopher and American poet, once said, “When you’re the only sane person, you look like the only insane person.” People consider the “showcasing of uniqueness” as an act of egotism, but it is much more than that. It’s not always about showing off or being egotistical. It’s about being happy. It’s about being comfortable in one’s own skin because lowering one’s perspective about oneself is the same as destroying one’s own self.
The legends we speak of today are called legends for a reason. They did what no one thought could be done. They showed the power of uniqueness over the power of unanimity. What if Einstein chose to agree with his peers? What if Mandela chose to be oppressed? Would the world we live in today be the same?
Let’s focus on a much more common example. Consider a team consisting of individuals of unanimous attitude and another with individuals of unique attitudes. While the latter may sound disheartening, it is the one with the higher success rates. From the evolution of mankind, unanimity is not what makes us great, rather it’s the combination of unique perspectives that does.
Society will always suppress any ideas or voices which go against its principle of unanimity. Anyone choosing to be unique will be laughed at or will be alienated. This is because society judges its citizens by a unanimous measuring scale. Ultimately, it forces them to wear a mask of falsehood and deception. Those who can maintain their originality, despite this, and who can make it without a mask of unanimity will be truly successful. In Dr. Seuss’ words, “Why choose to blend in when you were born to stand out?”
Be your own authentic self. Be real. Be unique.