By Steve Gilliland
When I was a young child, a woman lived in our peaceful, somewhat traditional town who decided to change her hair color. She and her husband owned a small variety store. They had two children who never got into trouble, did well in school, and considered college. The husband unexpectedly passed.
Coping with grief takes many different attitudes and comes in numerous ways. Still, the woman, whom everyone liked, and who liked everyone, and helped everyone she met, one morning awakened and changed her hair color.
She went from a brunette to platinum blond. Within days, she became the talk of the town. There were things said about her, behind her back, that were exceptionally mean. She lost customers, her oldest boy got into fights, and in-laws were convinced that she had always been a gold-digger.
The truth? Her husband thought she was beautiful and called her Jayne after Jayne Mansfield (though she looked nothing like the model and actress). To honor his memory, she dyed her hair. That’s it.
The woman could choose to keep her hair color and be a little unique or go back to sensible brown. She kept her hair color. It took several months, but most of her customers returned. She lost a few “friends,” to be sure, but they were negative gossip-mongers and not those who appreciated her soul.
Why are we afraid to be unique? Why is the uncommon so difficult for some of us to accept? I’ve been thinking about those questions a great deal as of late. Hair color is no big deal now (there’s no limit to colors), nor are tattoos, for those who want them, nor plastic surgery, nor eccentric clothes. However, the surface stuff has given way to something else.
Magazines such as Psychology Today spend a lot of time on such topics as uniqueness versus conformity. Psychologists tell us conformity denotes a wide-ranging phenomenon in which people shift their behavior or beliefs to fit in with a larger group. Groupthink refers to the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility.
There is a friction between conformity and uniqueness that is a continual source of resentment. We see examples of this daily. I am not talking about mild disagreements either, like Cubs versus White Sox or Mets versus Yankees, but strong opinions regarding politics, vaccinations, bigotry, and religion.
Why has this happened, and why, when all of us so desperately need to come together on so many issues? I think it goes back to the wonderful woman with platinum hair. The shame of that incident from so many years ago was not hers, but when people learned the story of why she did it, they were ashamed. The key is information.
So many people are afraid to think for themselves and rely too much on inconsistent information, things misheard, things misquoted, half-truths, statistics stated as research, distorted facts, and far-flung opinions. It is why the internet and news overload from one point of view or source is so dangerous.
John F. Kennedy said, “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” Now more than ever, it’s time to think for yourself, be yourself, and return to what is real. Don’t dare to be different.
Dare to be yourself.
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