Be This Guy

A friend recently posted this heart felt plea on Facebook, “Don’t feel stupid if you don’t like what everyone else pretends to love”. I don’t know what specific incident prompted her to post this but I think I got where she was coming from.

Being different can be bloomin’ hard.

Most of us don’t like being the odd one out; being on our own; being out on a limb. We like to belong, to feel part of something, to be part of a group.

Groups don’t like it if someone tries to leave or break away either. They try to pull you back by cajoling, persuading or threatening.

manThere are so many voices, thoughts, social pressures, fears trying to nudge us back into conforming with a group…..staying put…doing what those around us are doing. Wanting to fit in and be like our friends, neighbours, family members, colleagues seems to be a deep rooted need for most of us. We might not feel comfortable with something, we might want to pull away from a group or change a behaviour, but so many factors stop us from making the change, from stepping away, from being true to ourselves.

It’s often easy to see this trait in others but not so easy to recognise it in ourselves.

Our pragmatism is someone else’s weakness.

Nazi Salute

Being brave enough to defy the rise of Nazism is obviously an extreme example. But Fascism didn’t happen overnight. There were hundreds, thousands of moments, events, decisions, conversations, which took a society incrementally to a point where not raising ones arm in a Nazi solute looks like a potentially life threatening act of incredibly brave defiance.

(“This guy” is actually shipyard worker August Landmesser. You can read the tragic story of him, his wife Irma and their two children here.)

We all experience hundreds of moments every day where we have to decide whether to do what feels right or blot out these feelings and fit in with how others are behaving. Most of these moments are small, inconsequential things on their own. But every time we ignore that inner moral compass we reinforce a growing habit of conformity, of dishonesty. The more we do it the more comfortable we get with it. Gradually the calibration on our compass shifts and we can convince ourselves that what once seemed wrong is now OK.

Human beings are such fragile, ephemeral things. It’s perhaps no wonder that they are so apt to huddle together, to dress the same, to eat the same, to hold the same beliefs.

Mostly this is for the good. But when things go wrong the same power of conformity can quickly become a negative force.

So we should celebrate and rejoice in those with the courage to question, the courage to stand their ground, the courage to say no. They keep us on our toes. They make us pause and reflect. They help us find the right course when we are unsure of the way and they help us stay on course when we are at risk of drifting off it. They remind us to keep checking our moral compass.

Compass 2

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8 responses to “Be This Guy

  1. Thought provoking post John, thank you.
    I heard a definition of culture recently (when I remember I will send the link) that fits quite nicely.
    It went along the lines of, “culture is the invisible 300 pound Gorilla that nudges you into behaving like everyone else”.
    What happens when you resist a 300 pound Gorilla can be quite significant (probably not in a good way), even if they are invisible.
    Thanks for the post
    Chris

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    • Thanks Chris. I look forward to the gorilla link.

      This is such a fertile area I am sure I will be coming back to it many more times. In so many areas of life we find ourselves in one place often because of chance but then find that if we try to leave then that gorilla just doesn’t want to let us!

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  2. This is brilliant and so true, sometimes it takes bravery to be brave. Being true to yourself can be hard and daunting. Having confidence in yourself is really important and even if you dont have the confidence ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. Thanks John for such a timely reminder for me. Jo

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    • Thanks Jo. It’s been fascinating seeing the different things people have taken from this short piece. I’m just delighted that you found it useful. John

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  3. The example you quote from above about refusing allegience and support of something evil is not purely something that happened 70 years ago. Two people that used to be in my life, have been held by authorities for the past 12 years (along with 49 others) in metal shipping containers in Eritrea, for their refusal to bear arms (conscientious objectors).

    Being true to yourself under our easy way of life is easy. Doing it when being tried and under hard circumstances is something else.

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    • Thanks Jamie. Certainly agree that there are lots of pretty nasty regimes and situations out there. But actually I think ‘doing the right thing’ is something most of us find quite difficult even when we are living in a comfortable, free society.

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