This post is an elaboration of #7 from a list of things I learned early in life.
The world is full of other people who would benefit from your adoption of their worldview. And there certainly are significant synergistic benefits that arise from maintaining a common culture within a particular community. Conformity often leads to social harmony and a stress-free life.
However, the world is not entirely altruistic. There are unhappy individuals who have chosen to attempt to maximize their domain of power at the expense of the happiness of others. These people will attempt to force you to fall in obeisance to arbitrary rules of conduct that serve only their own interests. Here are some frequently-uttered phrases heard from the lips these sorry souls.
- Stop trying to be someone you’re not!
- You’re [nationality]! You should act [nationality]!
- Why don’t you act your age?
- That’s just not right! Why can’t you act like everyone else?
It may well be that these phrases actually do reflect the observation of a real weakness, and a bit of introspection may do you good. However, in most cases, these phrases are simply attempts to make you conform to the social agenda of the utterer. They’d like you to feel guilty about who you are in order to co-opt your behavior to advance their own interests. Don’t be bullied away from trying on a new identity simply because it is threatening to the agenda of the arrogant or self-centered. From my experience, the more urban a community, the higher the percentage of such social bullies. Tokyo certainly has its share.
Sometimes, you may have identified some aspects of your identity you want to change, yet acting outside the identity that your friends are familiar with may incite them to ask “Who do you think you are?” Ignore them. If you are confident the change in identity will have long-term benefits, don’t apologize. Either they’ll eventually accept your new identity, or you’ll find new friends. Sadly, the world is too full of social circles in which all participants have condemned themselves to a stagnant existence simply out of fear of ridicule. You may want to reassess the value of your friendships if your social context smells of stagnation. Surround yourself with persons who laud attempts at change.
Even if the world were full of altruism, conformity would still be undesirable in many cases. The mere static inertia of tradition is not enough to warrant conformity. Traditions should be continually reassessed. If there is a belief or practice for which there is no sufficient defense, stepping outside of tradition to pioneer a better way may actually be the altruistic thing to do. There will probably enormous resistance from the status quo, but learning to lead others down a better road has its own rewards.
So understand who you are, who you can become, and the steps necessary to journey from here to there. Then unapologetically take those steps. Create your own unique identity rather than passively conforming to the entrenched identities of others.