“It is a mark of respect to fire that the pot sits on top of it without complaining; it is with the same regard that fire does not set the pot ablaze, but only cooks its content.” – Nigerian proverb
Growing up I got the impression that peer-pressure was a generational disease for teenagers. And that after successfully going through that phase without falling, one would be able to resist pressure from one’s peers and live a life according to one’s own understanding. How wrong I was. E. E. Cummings was so right when he argued that “to be nobody but yourself – in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight”.
Peer-pressure never ceases. And it gets worse as one gets older. The responsibility of being responsible means that one is forced to conform to all manner of norms in order for one to be accepted in a certain light. In adulthood, in addition to one’s peers pushing for compliance, the general society in its bid to protect its culture expects the adult to behave in prescribed ways. And this is so ingrained in us that dissenting voices are quick to be punished by an unthinking majority. It does not matter that each of us must cross the river of life at different points. It does not matter what adverse effect those norms have on the individual; one simply has to conform in order to be accepted.
The shared sense of belongingness makes it extremely difficult for one to go rogue. From prescribed attitudes at work, to demanded characterisation of the individual by religion to the drama of friendships and networking, adults are constantly being bullied by their peers to fall in line. Nobody talks about falling out of line because the loss of privileges and opportunities that comes with not subscribing to the prescribed attitude is too great for too many individuals to even think of expressing their contempt for some of the things they have to do on a daily basis. Whether out of spite or a hatred for our own cowardice, the unthinking mob generally hate individuals who are brave enough to break with tradition and become themselves.
Humans have always been cruel to one-another – but shared norms provide a uniquely powerful set of tools for them to propagate their cruelty to those they cannot stand. Let us remember that bullies generally want others to behave according to their prescribed rules. Anyone who does differently is seen as a threat and must be whipped into line. How does that translate in everyday life?
Very often, when individuals strive to be different their peers talk about them like they have been diseased with a plague. They cut them off from certain circles, deny them previously held privileges, and generally discriminate against them. Interestingly, because this happens unconsciously, many people would not count themselves as bullies. They would admit they discriminate – but ask how many of them support dissenting voices and you will be surprised at the scantiness of the numbers.
It is great for people to fall in line. It makes for easy management and governance. In the Industrial Era, such attitudes were the best. The mechanisation of everything also inspired communities to demand people to behave in particular ways. But in our era, when creativity has become the essence of management and business, inspiring individuals to fall in line is more like destroying the fabric that brings about synergy. People who see, think or act differently are not necessarily dangerous individuals. They just have rough edges just as the porcupine has a coat of sharp spines or quills that protects them against predators. There is, however, plenty of evidence that shows their different perspective helps the rest of us to be more open-minded about issues, and subsequently creative with solutions.
Many of us do not see ourselves as bullies, but we are. And it is about time we understood that individuals who dare to be different – not in an unethical way, but in a manner to bring out their individuality – do not do so to spite the majority. More often, it is the result of an awareness of their uniqueness. Humans were created with freewill. That means we are to seek, to ask and to knock on doors to find ourselves and our essence. We are not robots, who have to swallow everything fed to us like programmed apps. Our humanness lies in seeking, in asking and knocking on doors. Without that we cannot find our uniqueness, and without our individuality we cannot harness the synergy of our coming together.
As a society, we have lost a great amount of talent because we could not encourage people to be themselves. We are always whipping people into line through subtle discrimination and exiling. Thus, many among us act hypocritically. We would rather say “yes sir”, even if a suggestion is wrong, than to express our truest opinion. But ask yourself whether you are comfortable with all the hypocrisy around you. If you are not, then learn to encourage people to be themselves…
Kodwo Brumpon inspires individuals and groups to aspire to think that which is true, positively respond to that which is beautiful, and nudges them to let goodness govern their actions. Comments, suggestions and requests should be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org