The Courage to be Ourselves

On the need to push back against unquestioning conformity

“But most people…” is how my husband often starts sentences.

A lot of the time, he doesn’t know what to make of a wife who cares little for popular culture and refuses to embrace any kind of dogma.

If I don’t know something, I’ll come out and say so rather than pretend I do.

And then I’ll seek to educate myself.

This is why I love the internet: All those who have access to it can find out information on almost anything. As long as we’re prepared to put in the work and do our due diligence, the internet offers limitless learning opportunities.

The little kid with big blue-green eyes who used to asked “But… why?” has grown into an adult who is still asking the same question.

I’m not afraid to admit I haven’t got much of a clue about life and am winging it.

Keeping an open mind and being honest about how little I know is more important to me than being right or indeed blending in at all cost.

Maybe it’s because I started life smothered by an overprotective mother who saw socializing with kids my age as optional.

Maybe it’s because I used to stare at the world askance wondering what life was all about. And I still do.

Maybe it’s because I was curious about things deemed uncool, like radio and books. Instead of listening to hip bands, I grew up listening to the BBC World Service, Deutsche Welle, and France Culture.

And whatever other foreign sounds the dial picked up and I couldn’t understand.

Back then, the world lived in my radio and my one goal was to go explore it.

To some extent, I had already started. I wrote extensively to fellow humans scattered around the world, some I had met on my summer travels with Dad, and many I did not know personally.

My epistolary partners came from all echelons of society and they were teens like me, adults, and seniors, including an elderly Australian priest I met in Malta. My being staunchly secular didn’t prevent us from connecting, quite the opposite.

By writing candidly about our daily lives and our differences, my pen pals and I honored our shared humanity, regardless of whether we lived in France, America, Costa Rica, Norway, Malta, the US, Ireland, or South Africa to name but a few of the countries I exchanged letters with.

A lonely kid will make their own entertainment.

And a lonely kid whose access to TV is strictly regulated will soon develop other interests.

I quickly realized radio had the best pictures and books were portals into alternate dimensions. Both fed my imagination and provided clues about how other humans did human. They taught me my experience wasn’t the only one there was, a valuable lesson during one’s formative years.

It mattered not one jot to me that my musical tastes and cultural interests were at odds with those of my peers.

Instead of automatically co-opting what was put in front of me by fashion, media, or other kids, I followed my curiosity.

It often took me on meandering journeys through other cultures and led me to develop lifelong attachments.

At one point for example, I fell in love with traditional Irish folk music and sought to understand the complex history that often informed it.

I also was enthralled with some painters like Marc Chagall.

And whenever I visited my father in Paris, I took him on a grand tour of whatever exhibitions were going on at various European cultural institutes. In response, he took me to eat the world because food has always been a passion of his.

And of course I fell head first into foreign languages.

Back then, the French public school system and the educators where I lived were generous with their time and knowledge. There were extra classes for the kids that wanted them.

I took them all with the same enthusiasm a prisoner grabs a bunch of keys. I found some that fit and pursued those with gusto and dedication, losing a couple along the way, finding another later in life…

In practice, this meant a lot of falling in love with places and a lot of moving around because such is the wondrous freedom and personal growth potential afforded to all citizens of EU member states.

At no point in my life have I ever felt the need or desire to conform.

And doing so still hasn’t occurred to me.

Although I’ve got a good idea of who I am after spending five years cooped up in my head with major depressive disorder, I still haven’t quite figured how to be a human in the world.

While there are some people I look up to — most of them regular folks like you and I, many outstanding, and a few in the public eye — I also realize we’re all the product of a different environment and upbringing.

Even if we happen to share many similarities and interests.

Our respective identities all intersect but humans can’t ever be carbon copies of one another so why even aspire to be?

The desire to belong sells, which is a paradox in such an individualistic society.

Some of us think we can buy into acceptance and success with the right words, the right attitude, the right ideas, the right posts on social media but how many of us stop and ask what makes those right?

And most importantly, according to whom?

Ours is a culture that appeals to the lowest common denominator to achieve critical mass because this is how capitalism works.

This so-called culture consistently fails to encourage critical thinking. When the masses are docile, societal enlightenment and individual self-actualization are impossible.

But when everything we consume and pay attention to is designed to numb us, how can we even become our best self?

Curiosity is a muscle that requires regular exercise otherwise it atrophies.

It is our intellectual DNA, our cultural capital, and our agency.

Without it, no personal or societal evolution is possible.

I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between the US and the EU. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

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The human condition is not a pathology・👋ASingularStory[at]gmail・ ☕️ https://ko-fi.com/ASingularStory

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