Live and Let Live

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“He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away. ~Raymond Hull”

I currently live in a society hell bent on accomplishment, and I currently live in a society where one of the greatest accomplishments happens to be individuality. Yet for a society such as mine, it is often amusing to me how little individuality can be found. As I drive through town, observing the passing and surrounding cars, most of them are high end luxury sedans and SUVs; most the same brands, most the same colors. As I walk through the hallways at school, I see the same “unique” styles of clothing on the majority of the students. What is ironic is that the owners of these items consider themselves special for possessing them. And in no way is this constrained to material things, for often musical preference falls under the same scrutiny. Some of us claim our music “sounded better before anybody knew about it”, and some of us make a point of dropping band names in conversation or adding non-mainstream playlists to our own selections. The issue may not always present itself in the same form, but it still consistently grips us with its power. Today, what seems to be individuality is really the opposite; rebellion against conformity has become the new conformity.

I can respect people who wear certain clothes because they like those clothes. I can respect people who listen to certain music because they in fact like that music. What I can’t respect, are the people who do things because they assume that doing them will make them unique. It’s the difference between liking the Beatles without regard to how many others like them, versus liking the Beatles because of how many people like them.
If we’re going out of our way to be different, we are heading in the wrong direction. We should be doing what comes most naturally to us. Whether or not our tastes agree with those of the majority, either way our choice is perfectly acceptable as long as it’s our own unbiased choice. But if our choice comes from the tyranny of the majority, then we are only cheating ourselves of our full potential as distinctive individuals.

We too often look at “different” as if it means better or worse, while different means nothing more than “not the same”. What is “different” changes all the time because differences rely on comparative norms. Norms are what change from generation to generation, city to city, and nation to nation. What may be completely out there or a little odd in one town, may be considered as normal as “the girl next door” in another! For example, if the Lamorinda area were the only world we knew, we might make the conclusion that the norm is blonde, light-skinned, and conservative. Imagine the different conclusion we would make if our only known norm originated from living in Berkeley, California. These two places are no more than 5-10 minutes away from each other yet the contrast is shocking. However, these differences are only significant if we are making judgments, because to gather an accurate reading or a result from such a minute part of an immense group is impossible. In statistics this is referred to as “restriction of range”, or what we commonly call narrow-mindedness. It is human nature to consider what we know and understand to be better than what is unfamiliar to us. Unfortunately, the more we judge and compare, the further behind we fall in acceptance and the journey to being our own person.
It sometimes wears me out, to think about how preoccupied we can become with elements of life that distract us from the big picture. Life is supposed to be fun; smiles are desired, laughter is key, and tears of joy always trump tears of sadness. Life is about those blissful moments when we can close our eyes, tilt our heads up, smile to ourselves and let our minds be consumed with happiness. Wherever we go there will always be love and appreciation for all types of people, just as there will be judgments made against us. To agonize over what others think of us is a never ending, vicious cycle that can never be won.
We are all perfectly imperfect in our own truly individual ways. We must simply be ourselves, because we weren’t born to fake it, and in the end we will never be content worrying about our accomplishments in the eyes of others. The most satisfying accomplishment of all would be to look back in five or ten years time, and be able to say, “That was me, this is me, and that will be me… Damn, I did good!”





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