This article was written as a response to the following quotation, as a submission for a blogging contest hosted by the NUHA foundation.
All of life is comfort, either sought after, hoarded, or sacrificed in the presence of challenges.
As children, we saw the world through unadulterated eyes, and therefore, responded to it in a way only befitting to ourselves. Our minds sparked instinctual reactions which shaped our individualities, the details which separate us from others, the differences which lend unique perspectives and the potential to brighten the world in variety. But all too often as we age, we relinquish idiosyncrasies because of an unsettling notion: that our unique traits are different than those of others around us, and therefore, vulnerable to their scrutiny, and consequently, threatening a lonesome existence.
Perplexing enough, the young and innocent are often looked at wistfully, because as adults, we admire their boldness to embrace their individuality. As we mature within our respective societies, we often meld ourselves to whatever boundaries of normality they are packaged with. Whether to escape embarrassment, loneliness, or simply the unease of being different than the majority, we forsake individuality for comfortability. The less important distinctions like clothing, hairstyles, etc., are the first to go. But then, and perhaps much more subtly but perniciously, our mannerisms, diction, lifestyle, and even potential career paths become pressured by what is deemed acceptable by the status quo. We allow our authentic selves and intentions to be altered so as to avoid the same scrutiny we were afraid of facing on the playground as children. At its worst, we can find ourselves leading lives marked by regret, as they are disingenuous to who we wish to be, or even, who we are.
Of course, it is not all doom and gloom. There are perfectly logical reasons why some behavior is seen as unacceptable, why societies’ conditions of normality are vital to a functioning ecosystem. The first thing that comes to mind are basic morales surrounding thievery, murder, or even common courtesies in daily interactions. Humbly, I propose that these restrictions to lifestyle alterations are the exception and not the rule. We don’t grow up with ambitions to become adept thieves or infamous serial killers; that’s not the instincts that we end up repressing. And if they are, well, they certainly deserve to be.
Far more relatable, however, are the more innocent and authentic sides of our nature which are also threatened. The harmless details that would color ourselves a little more vibrant get replaced by what is seen as ‘normal’. We press the mute button on our intricacies so that our generalities might flourish, thereby allowing us to camouflage and interact socially with less scruples.
Abandoning those ‘harmless details’ risks an underlaying, greater danger. The smaller choices we make when it comes to the alteration of our authentic selves are indicative of larger, more significant themes. We don’t dress in the wacky fashion we secretly admire. We’re afraid of being mocked. We’ll stand out too much. People on the subway might murmur and stare too long. Similarly, we might not pursue our innermost ambitions. We fear we will be ridiculed for chasing something lofty, or seen as irresponsible, when we pursue a degree in the arts rather than business, for example. We don’t stay up late to journal and solve this week’s newest riddle as to why we feel a strange emptiness when we are around people, instead, we binge the latest series on Netflix or hit the bars. Whether we are aware of it or not, we often adjust our habits and decisions based on our social environment, rather than what we feel is wholesome for our personal growth.
When we pay any credence to expectations of normality, our idiosyncrasies feel caged, as if their brilliance should be censored rather than explored. This has the potential to lead to harmful behaviors of self-deceit and an unwillingness to accept or love ourselves, in all our strangeness and unspoken desires. As a possible consequence, we will outwardly practice the same judgement we place upon ourselves, thus perpetuating a cycle of scrutiny rather than acceptance.
Strangely enough, modern society is talented with putting successful misfits on stages. Fame seems to be one of the few accepted environments for oddities. Entrepreneurs with daring personalities are exalted for their achievements, and thus, their quirks are made admirable, their unusual habits, seen as ingenious rather than foolish. Musicians whom wear ridiculous outfits for performances, or indeed, throughout their daily life, are given a pass by the media because of the attention their preferences and passions gave them. When artists reach higher echelons, their previously unaccepted or discouraged creations are no longer a dilettante’s whims, rather they are deemed a master’s avant garde talent. Ooh! A pattern emerges.
This puts the oddities whom lack fame, financial success, or popularity, in a strange position of feeling that they do not ‘deserve’ or have not ‘earned’ the right to be themselves within society. If there is no interviewer waiting to ask them the motivations behind their unconventional behaviors or ambitions, then they will be looked at simply as bizarre, silly, inconsequential, and in this light, their true natures risk being demeaned to an ambiguous form of immaturity. After all, what good are your odd propensities if they don’t help you foster a stable career and prepare your bank accounts for a family?
Thusly, and even tellingly, that same wistful look we give towards toddlers with strong personalities is often turned into judgement when we see them manifested in adults whom embraced their distinctions. It’s almost nearly an evolutionary byproduct, to single out the odd ones and question their merit rather than encourage their development.
Despite all this, the last thing I want to do is characterize artists or ‘abnormal’ people as victims deserving our pity. The insults and discrimination of society, whether imagined or not, are wounds that go only as deep as each respective individual allows them to. In other words, there’s no need to pretend to be normal if you possess the courage to be yourself. That makes the dilemma rather simple, doesn’t it?
The light of this dilemma is that, within this complex environment, our uniqueness is given an opportunity to flourish not in spite of conflict, but rather, because of it. When we are surrounded by expectations contradicting our own desires, the traits, values, and perspectives we hold closest to our inner voice are given adequate fodder for growth. We can sacrifice the occasional, odd pair of shoes, because we realize it truly isn’t that important to our identity. But, are we willing to forsake the career that we suspect would be most fulfilling for a more accepted and less arduous path?
Every individual faces their own decisions in this regard. What separates the odd balls from those seen as ‘normal’, perhaps, is just how seriously one considers these choices, and just how much effort we put behind the answers we uncover. Not every one of us is neither incredibly unique nor terribly boring, but between these polar opposites are the myriad choices which shape our individuality, and thusly, which sides of us we choose to nurture or starve.
An environment of normalities is precisely the arena necessary to help us hone in on the variations crucial to our inner truths. Struggle, discomfort, fear, and risk, are not merely obstacles but indicators which help us actualize the truly sacred parts of us … or not. When an individual embraces their most authentic self, they are realizing a potential to add their most genuine contributions to the world, and simultaneously, pursuing an enriching satisfaction by simply living. However, when we rely on the judgement of others to dictate our actions, we only act more of the same; and in a society full of tedium, negativity, and stress, more of the same is not ideal.
When an individual grows with their core ideals in mind, what blossoms, (and we have all seen it), is a powerful force of inspiration. Within us is not merely distinctions but propensities, and therefore possibilities at crafting a resonating version of ourselves, one whose actions might just inspire, quite ironically, others to do the very same. The battle merely lends fire to that process, one which may be used to enrich us further.
I propose a final afterthought to Albert Camus’ quotation. If ‘nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy just to be normal,’ what of it? It is not our environment’s responsibility to encourage us towards our truest selves or to pursue deep fulfillment. It is our own responsibility, our own singular story, and thusly, the aforementioned tension is nothing other than a gift, an opportunity to the willing and enduring, to forge ourselves within the intense flames of opposition.