If you pay enough attention when you’re running around out in the world, you’ll see some weird people. Piercings, tattoos, odd fashion choices. Tight, tight pants. People that have clearly exchewed the normal patterns of decorum and presentation on a very personal level for the sake of some – what? A need to be different? A driving force of knowledge that what they’re doing is of some benefit to them, whether socially or professionally? What really bakes my noodle is people who intentionally cause themselves to stand out and then immediately begin to wonder why they get negative treatment. Individuality isn’t that bad, is it?
Here’s the disconnect; people are, as a generalization, superficial. In most cases, no matter how accepting we are, there are certain things we just can’t wrap our brains around. this kind of cognitive dissonance forces us to dismiss people we can’t fathom in certain situations. While the terms of the Social Contract are unique to every interpersonal relationship, one of the many near-constants is a need to feel at equal footing with those you’re interacting with. A have/have-not situation is often just as difficult as an are/are-not situation, in that when there’s no sense of community or commonality, fostering a feeling of happy collaboration or exchange becomes very difficult. We’re prone to jealousy, condescention, dismissing people – the list never seems to end. The kicker is that people who are very outwardly into individuality see it as a benefit, a richness of persona, whereas conformers see it as a detriment to interaction, a reduction of similar footing. The interaction conformers have with individualists is lessened because of this automatic assumption and in many cases it ends up being the individualists who lose, mostly because they’re just flat outnumbered.
So who are these people, anyway? You see them everywhere, but in some cases likely weren’t paying attention. Conformers tend to dress well, keep their opinions to themselves, and invest a reasonable amount of time in socal activities and work ethics that fit with their perception of what the ‘average’ is, and in general try not to annoy too many people unless they have to. They’re easy to spot, but you have to look. Individualists are far easier to spot in most cases. There’s something about them that doesn’t seem to fit; hair, clothing, even just a sense of indisputable attitude that causes ripples. Think it’s easy to lump people into two categories? Let’s add a third; the mediocres.
I’m a mediocre. I don’t mean average or unnoteworthy, I mean I’m one of those obnoxious people that manages to pull off a sullen blend of the two; in some ways, I conform well, I keep my hair well styled, I dress well in a blend of business-casual and real-casual clothing… But I have tattoos that are visible in most clothing I wear, and I’m far from secretive about my spirituality – being Pagan while not very discriminated against, still ends up in the category of far-individuality when compared to conformist stricture. There are lots of people like me, who fall into pieces of one of the two extremes but never manage to make it fully to either side. People who present visually as individualist but have incredibly conformist ideals (Hardcore kids weekend goths are a great example of this). The opposite is also true, with any number of people presenting odd and acting normal. Odd clothing, multiple hair colours, but excellent manners.
I mention these things as an example of overgeneralization. If someone presents conformist, we’re likely to accept them in spite of poor manners or uncommon ideals. Unfortunately, this means that people we percieve as not equal to ourselves get lumped in the individualist category because, like it or not, the bulk of us are prone to assuming they are not like us, which makes it difficult to form a social contract in the first place. It’s a rediculous reason, but it’s how our brains work.
I’ll get into the reality of equality eventually, but this was a good place to start. The concepts that govern how we relate to others are fascinating.