The need to be special
Every day, people all over the world discover they have a need to be “special”.
This “need” is actually a misplaced one, as the real need that drives the desire to be special is a very normal and fundamental human need to be accepted.
However, thanks in part to advertising, people today believe that they need to be special as a way of ensuring that they are accepted. Being accepted is a normal human desire. If one was accepted in ancient times, it meant that you got to live in the community and not be banished by your tribe. Banishment often put you in a survival or more likely lethal scenario of trying to survive in the wild alone. Ignore the heroic sole survivor notions of Hollywood – living alone in ancient times was usually a death sentence – you’d either starve or become some predator’s lunch.
Conform, or else
Because there is so much judgment of people these days, it is normal that one can feel less than secure in one’s level of acceptance. If one is exposed to modern advertising, we see constant reminders that we need to dress a certain way or behave a certain way to be accepted. This message is reinforced in school playgrounds and classrooms, as well as when we go to work. Churches emphasize conformity as well, and, when we get home, family sends the same message. In fact, it is hard to find a place where we do not have this sort of message being given to us: conform or be excluded.
Why is there such a drive in the modern world for conformity? Interestingly, it arises from the same source – a need for acceptance. The deal is: “If you do what I say, I will feel better, as it will appear to me that you are accepting my ways.” This is a way of coping with insecurity – coercing others into conformance with our beliefs and ideas. If we can get enough people to join the “I agree with Frank” club, we’ll rest easier, knowing that all these people are “on our side”. This also drives the need to get as many converts to our side as possible, as then we don’t have to examine our beliefs or ideas, as so many others are already on the same wavelength. We can hide in the crowd, safe from self-examination and introspection. This hiding in the crowd is used by most everyone these days, and it is insidious. We support a limited range of sports teams, and usually the local one, regardless of performance. We watch local news and read the local newspapers. When someone says they are moving into our area, we feel vindicated in our own choice to have moved there. If someone moves out, we question their decision, if not their sanity. We may even suddenly remember that we did not really like them all that much, so good riddance…
Round and round it goes
It becomes a vicious circle, with our need for acceptance driving our desire to have others conform to our ways. Every day, we see the world through the optic of “does this decision confirm my established beliefs and previous decisions?” That which does not reinforce the status quo is shunned or consciously ignored, as to pay attention to it would possibly open the door to questions about how we got here in the first place. Our egos seem to be too fragile to contemplate abandoning established and entrenched ideas, except in times of turmoil, when they reluctantly relinquish the known and search desperately for the new known, that which will become the new standard.
As time goes on, we have more and more conformity in the world, with world styles getting closer and closer together each year. The Internet and TV have encouraged this a lot, as images of how to be are transmitted constantly to all four corners.
We are bombarded with images and admonishments to be like each other, and if we buy product X we will be an individual, albeit identical to all the others. There is a constant tension between the need to be seen as an individual and the need to be accepted by the global tribe. No wonder stress is a major problem for many people.
So, what is the way out of this quagmire? Simply put, it is to notice the drivers in our behaviours, consciously question what we are doing and how we feel when we don’t do something. This feeling is often going to be one that is uncomfortable. Nevertheless, noticing this feeling is a step towards getting free of it. If we notice fear, for example, when we contemplate undertaking some activity or project that would be considered “weird”, accepting that fear and then releasing it, and thereby it’s hold on us, enables us to make decisions without emotional drivers taking control. As we proceed to notice and release these feelings each time we have to make a decision and consider making one e different from last time, the power of these conformance emotions will diminish. Eventually, they will have little if any hold on us. We will be able to make decisions without our internal fears of rejection or non-acceptance arising to keep us in line. We will taste true freedom.
Copyright 2010 Robert S. Vibert, all rights reserved