Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Upstream swimming

"It takes courage to grow up
and turn out to be who you really are."
-- e.e. cummings

This Cummings quote is a good example of the poet's art --- capturing the essence of a thing in a few words. Prose writers usually go the other way, taking a small idea and wasting a lot of words on it. I'm a prose writer.

The quote got me thinking again about authenticity, and the way things work against our achieving it.

It does take courage "to be who you really are," to breach the rules, go your own way.

In the 1950s, and even in the 1960s, a married couple who consciously decided to have no children were urged to reconsider by family and friends. In that era, it was seen as odd, even a bit selfish. Sixty years later, we have a wide range of domestic arrangements, and the pressure to procreate is much reduced.

In the peace and love period of 1965-1975, there was much talk about "doing your own thing," but that usually looked a lot like everyone else's thing. The norms had shifted, but they were norms nonetheless, and most young people conformed. A decade earlier, love beads, flowers in your hair, sandals, and bell bottoms would have marked you as a rebel. By, 1969, you were a follower.

Teenagers are most susceptible to the pressures to conform. In our uncertain, formative years, we want to fit in, be part of the gang. In my day, that meant blue jeans and a duck-tail haircut. Today, a stud in the lip and a tattoo say you're cool. Strangely, the word "cool" is still cool after 60 years.

But social norms and protocols regulate adult behaviour, too, even for those who have reached high levels of status and achievement. Observe, if you will, the universal acceptance of the tuxedo and its accoutrements as appropriate attire for galas and other "society" events.

In fact, it seems to me that the upper crust is guided by lifestyle rules to an even greater extent than the rest of us --- the right careers, neighbourhoods, clubs, resorts, social events, and vacation destinations are expected if raised eyebrows are to be avoided.

The same applies in the world of work. One is expected to observe unspoken rules of behaviour that mostly discourage independent, creative approaches and reward conformity. Showing up on time is highly prized. Crazy ideas, not so much.

Artists, entrepreneurs, inventors, and other creative types seem to be the exceptions, but I suspect there are rules that govern their worlds, too.

Are all these rules, protocols, and expectations necessary for the smooth functioning of society. What would it be like if everyone just behaved as they "really are?"


Wouldn't it be fun?


  1. Doug, sounds as if you are you sitting all comfy in a lawn chair beside an emerald lake somewhere, sipping a cold beer dreaming in the hot August sun.

  2. Instead of the emerald lake, I've got algae in the bird bath. Otherwise, you got it right.