In this article, Arabella Lumley reflects on why as a society we have become afraid to be ourselves and cross the boundaries of what is considered so called ‘normal’ behaviour.
Living in a big city like London where everywhere you go you are surrounded by people, whether it be on the underground or on a busy street, you become very quickly aware of what kind of behaviour in public spaces is considered ‘socially acceptable’ or normal and what is not considered normal. You also become aware very quickly that the parameters of what is considered unusual behaviour are quite wide and it doesn’t take a lot to get puzzled faces staring back at you for doing something slightly different to everyone else. However, as long as you keep a straight face, sit still or walk straight and don’t make any eye contact, you will be fine.
Are we really meant to behave in this way? This brings me to my question: why have we become so afraid to behave differently? And why have we become so afraid to express ourselves? The answers to these questions I believe are simple. The fear of what people think and an overwhelming sense of self-consciousness are preventing us from expressing our true selves, for fear that it might make us seem strange or that people may ridicule us. Furthermore, it is not just our behaviour in public places that many of us find ourselves constantly monitoring, what we say most of the time also comes under our own scrutiny and we find ourselves holding back from saying what we really think because we are worried that what we say might be a bit ‘out there’ or perhaps a little bit unorthodox.
But, what I would like to argue is that it is important that we have people in society who think outside the box and are not afraid to think or behave in a way that is different to the rest of society, because they are the ones that push society forward by coming up with new ideas. History is full of individuals who were persecuted and ridiculed because they thought in a different way to the majority but it is those individuals who are remembered and celebrated now because they revolutionised the way we think and how we do things. As such, I think we should remember this when we are judging others as well as ourselves.
So, where does this rigid mentality and fear of what other people think come from? I believe that it originates from evolution as a part of a survival technique we have developed, and it is reinforced by the schooling system. In psychology this desire to ‘fit in’ is called Normative Social Influence, a more widely used term is social conformity. It is believed that our habit of conformity comes from a desire to belong to a group, for from an evolutionary standpoint we know that survival is more likely we if stick together. So to belong to a group we need to agree upon common values, behaviours, morals and attitudes and therefore those who deviate from the agreed upon set of behaviours face social exclusion on at least some level, something which is in our nature to avoid.
Furthermore, these kinds of fears such as social exclusion become deeply embedded into our character at school. At school we are constantly aware of what we say, think or do and are pressured to make sure that we don’t end up a social outcast. Not only this, I believe the education system itself does not exactly encourage originality or uniqueness: at school children are constantly being reminded to sit still, stay in a line, don’t ask too many questions, etc. In short they are reminded that only one type of behaviour is acceptable. Considering this, is it any wonder that we are living in such a rigid society?
To illustrate why I believe it is important and ok to behave a little bit wild and creative from time to time, I would like to talk a little bit about a street performer in New York named Matthew Silver. To some, Matthew Silver may seem like a crazy cook with his long hair and beard, running around Time Square in his underwear doing a performance which he calls the Love Portal, but to those who can see his real creative significance, he is an amazing human being communicating a message of love and showing others the true beauty of being one’s self. In the videos he has on Youtube and on his Facebook, he performs stunts such as running into shops with a sign saying ‘LOVE’ shouting “love is the answer”. In his Youtube video Love Portal and the Enchanted Wackadoodle a person asks him “have you become more crazy acting like this?” of which Matthew Silver’s reply is “No I have actually become more normal…by expressing…by being more vulnerable. Love makes you more vulnerable and when you become vulnerable you face your fears.”
I feel that the real significance of someone like Matthew Silver is that they challenge us on many levels. For example, they challenge us on how we think about those who do not abide by social conventions in public spaces and they challenge us on how we receive the kind of behaviour he displays. Most people’s reaction to his behaviour in his videos is either laughter or judgement which I believe comes from a place of fear, the kind of fear I discussed earlier, namely the fear of social exclusion. But I would argue that it is important that we do not judge individuals like Matthew Silver and rather listen to their message and appreciate their creativity and uniqueness. We can learn something from them and that is that’s ok to let yourself go and do something that surprises people.
I believe that this issue of allowing ourselves to be who we really are is an important one because it is part of a wider issue which is that we need to realise the extent to which fear limits us. This is not just about being brave enough to do something a little bit wild or different in public but it is also about the choices we make like the jobs we choose to do, the relationships we have, the friends we make, the books we read and the activities we do. All of these choices we make need to come from a space of love and passion not fear of what people might think or a desire to fit in. We need to learn to be our most authentic and truest selves, this where true freedom and happiness lies.
From my own personal experience, I have found that the happiest I have ever been in life is from allowing myself to be me. Even though I have thoughts or interests in things that might seem unusual to many, I found that through being myself, I have attracted other people into my life who think like me and appreciate me for who I am. Also, whenever I have done something a little bit crazy in public and crossed those social boundaries, I have found myself feeling alive and empowered. I would like to finish with a quote by the comedic genius Robin Williams who never feigned to be someone else other than himself, “You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”
Can you think of way how being ourselves can benefit society? Let’s start a dialogue!
Arabella Lumley graduated from St Mary’s University College with a bachelor’s degree in English and History. She is an active researcher in the fields of politics, consciousness and science, meditation and ancient history. By bringing awareness through information, her goal is to help humanity understand the power within themselves and assist in the transition that is now occurring. You contact her on twitter.