In my freshmen year of high school, I chartered for my own club: Latin Club. I only needed 15 signatures out of the 4,000 students on campus to get the club approved. By the day the form was due, I looked back at the bulletin board, and I received an outstanding amount of “0” signatures.
My best friend explained it to me this way, “People don’t want to revive a Dead Language. So just give up on it now.” Well gee, thanks Mom, I love you too.
After crying myself to sleep… for three weeks, I finally sought the truth toward what really caused my peers’ lack of motivation to sign-up. The majority of the responses were the same. They noticed the petition, but they also noticed how it was completely blank. To avoid being the outlier, the only name on the sheet, they didn’t even bother to look twice, even if they were interested. I came to the conclusion that they were encumbered with the same issue that affects the majority population: struggling to maintain their beliefs in the face of others.
Being different in times when individuality is condemned can be difficult, but when I and so many others choose to conform, we are unknowingly contributing to the intolerance which fabricated this epidemic in the first place.
According to Saul McLeod, a psychologist from The University of Manchester, I do not stand alone. He explains that today’s generation often cease to embrace who they are due to their fear of being excluded or stigmatized for their differences. This should not be a surprise when society, whoever and whatever, is constantly structuring us for our differences.
Mike Jeffries, the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, has publicly stated, “[We want to market to] the cool kids… the attractive all-American kid with a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong.”
Other companies have joined in on the bandwagon of publicly condemning individuality such as Urban Outfitters. They sold a product “that resembled a uniform forced on gay prisoners in Nazi concentration camps” (Cavan Sieczkowski, Huffington Post).
A Deloitte study found that 83 percent of employees have reported changing an aspect of their appearance to which religion they follow, to fit in and avoid prejudice at work, proves that many do listen to a distorted sense of what constitutes normal.
Many have not only become victims of conformity, but accomplices in the calluses of our nation: the hate-speech, the bigotry, and the prejudice that still thrives. By choosing to stay silent, to conform, the ultimatum many unknowingly send is this: You can’t be yourself. Look even I changed, so if you don’t you’ll be on the outside. This creates a continuous cycle of intolerance.
I’m not a professional at life, but I’m pretty good at noticing things. At libraries one of the main things you must abstain from is speaking in order for others to succeed in their tasks. In the case of conformity, substituting silence for shouting, might be the only way to liberation.
I have personally witnessed that it takes only one person to break the bully’s chains. I was sitting on a bench with my friend, in a park, when I spotted a woman wearing a hijab. She was on her matt, faced toward the direction of Mecca, following an age-old ritual for prayer. The moment of tranquility was broken as a man ran up to her and pulled her hijab back: exposing her hair. When she tried to get up, the man forbilily pushed her down.
He yelled,”Go to hell! We know what your people did!” No one did anything. Everyone just watched as this hate crime unfolded before us. Maybe it was the shock or the fear to do something about it, but as I saw everyone looking at each other, worried, but not taking action, it became clear that a unanimous decision was reached: no one was going to stand up, to speak up because they would be the only outlier to help.
At first I wanted to intervene, but hey,”Everyone else wasn’t and they’re probably right. Right?” Luckily, this ordinary man ran up to the harasser and began screaming at him in French. Someone who knew no English and understood that no one would back him up, still went in to help a complete stranger. The silver lining is, after he made the first move, more people joined in to do the right thing. Even myself. Now, if the guy who only spoke French did not mutinize being bullied into silence, the attack would have just brutally continued.
It does not take a lot to break the cycle of conformity. When we do, it’s not so scary to be different anymore for embracing our individuality, can lead us to accomplish great things. Kenneth Waters was falsely accused of a murder he never committed in 1983. He was sentenced to life in prison (The Innocence Project). Everyone believed he was guilty, but Betty Anne, his sister.
Since no lawyer would take on a case that was already closed, the high school dropout and mother of two, went back to school to eventually become an attorney. After 18 years of being wrongfully imprisoned, Kenneth Waters was set free by no one but his sister.
Betty Anne stayed true to her beliefs, which allowed her to defy the odds, and not only change her life for the better, but her brothers too. She took an extra glance and took out a pen to sign her name on a blank sheet that said Kenneth was innocent.
We can all carpe diem, seize the day, if we choose to confront our biggest indifference. Dr. Seuss, my childhood hero, explains it best, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind won’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind. [So] think left, right, low and high. Oh, the things you can think up, if only you try.”
Whether it’s petitioning for Latin Club, speaking up against a hate crime, or publicly embracing your beliefs when it is condemned, choosing to be the outlier can break the silence, subsequently ending the cycle of intolerance. As what my club saying would have been, “Per aspera ad astra”: through hardships to the stars. So let us endure all that conformity throws at us because at the end of the day we know how to confront, outsmart, and defeat the bully within.